We take our humor wherever we can get it these days.
…[Trump] claimed his predecessor ordered a wiretap of the phones at Trump Tower in New York, Mr Trump’s campaign headquarters.
James Comey, the FBI director, asked the Justice Department this weekend to publicly reject Mr Trump’s assertion, unnamed senior American officials told the New York Times on Sunday.
Those “unnamed officials” really get around these days. They spend so much time talking to the press, it’s a wonder they get any work done.
Comey is presently still the head of the FBI. I don’t know how long he’ll remain in that post, but why wouldn’t he issue a public disclaimer that the FBI did anything of the sort, if the FBI didn’t do anything of the sort? So what’s this business with begging a spokesperson to do it?
Then we have this:
A spokesman for the FBI and the spokeswoman for the Justice Department declined to comment, the Times reported. The department has so far not released any public statement.
Mr Obama has said the allegations were “simply false”. His former intelligence chief also “absolutely denied” the claims. But Mr Trump told a friend: “This will be investigated, it will all come out. I will be proven right.”
I’m not sure who I’d put my money on, but I wouldn’t bet a whole lot of dough against Trump.
Finally, we have the punchline, the part that made me laugh:
Mr Trump offered no evidence and is believed to have based the claims, made in a series of tweets on Sunday, on press reports.
And we all know how much press reports are worth.
On January 19th and 20th 2017, The NY Times reported that wiretaps of people on the Trump team were passed along to the Obama White House, one of the story’s authors was Michael S. Schmidt. On Saturday that same Michael S. Schmidt was one of the reporters who wrote the story, “Trump, Offering No Evidence, Says Obama Tapped His Phones.” That’s right, the same NY Times reporter who was one of the sources for the President’s claim, said that there was no evidence for the claim.
Ah, but there’s a flaw there, too. Did you catch it? Jeff Dunetz, the author of the paragraph I just quoted, is ignoring how clever the Times can be with this sort of thing. That Times headline doesn’t say there is no evidence; it says that Trump didn’t offer any. That’s the meme that all the Trump critics are using, and as far as I can see it’s absolutely correct that Trump offered no evidence.
Of course, a lot of people will read it as meaning there was is no evidence. But that’s the goal.
It’s not the only meme out there, either. Another is to focus on the word “ordered,” as Ann Althouse points out:
From what I’ve read, “ordered” is the weasel word that allows anti-Trumpsters to make flat statements portraying Trump as out of his mind. But the notorious Trump tweets do not say that Obama “ordered” a wiretapping. They ask if it is “legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election?” and refer to what a court had done. Though Trump didn’t precisely say this, any “order” came from the court. He then said “President Obama was tapping my phones,” which isn’t to say that he “ordered” it. I think the story Trump is relying on is that the FISA court granted a warrant (after some funny business to get around a previous denial), not that Obama just “ordered” it. Then, Trump tweeted that Obama had gone “low… to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process.” Trump portrays Obama as doing something, not “ordering” it.
Another word to pick apart is wiretap. You may note that, in his original tweets, Trump put the term in scare quotes. There may or may not have been a reason for that (with Trump it’s hard to be sure), but my guess is that he meant to do it and that his purpose was to use the word in a generic, colloquial sense of “listening to the communications of” rather than the legal sense of a literal wiretap.
If you look at all of this back-and-forth in a certain way, it becomes absurdist. That’s my mood today, anyway.