Donald Trump’s relatively calm and controlled speech to Congress last week caused several analysts, including this one, to wonder whether the President might turn a corner and henceforth stop his loony outbursts. It took only a day or two for Trump to respond with a resounding and emphatic “No!” His series of spectacularly raving tweets on Saturday made clear not only that the U.S. president has no intention of behaving reasonably and responsibly, but the increasing pressure of his so-called Russiagate affair is making him go bonkers more than ever before.
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Trump accused Barack Obama of wiretapping phones at his campaign headquarters at Trump Tower in Manhattan in October. He can’t make up his mind whether that makes the former President bad or sick. He thinks it’s like Watergate, which is somehow understandable, but also like McCarthyism, an analogy that challenges even the most fawning and flexible of historians. In between one ludicrous allegation and another, Trump found time to deal with the cardinal question of whether Arnold Schwarzenegger resigned or was fired as his replacement on "The Apprentice." Seriously, you can’t make this up, no matter how hard you try.
Cynical American commentators – like their Israeli counterparts who proclaim Benjamin Netanyahu a “magician” every time he incites against Arabs or leftists in order to divert attention from some embarrassment – explained once again that Trump is creating a ruckus so that the media will deal with his tweets rather than with his ties to the Kremlin or with the false statements made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to Congress about his meetings with the Russian ambassador. According to his logic, Trump doesn’t mind if the “mainstream media” views him as the village idiot, as long as it stops digging around in his affairs. His “base,” which eagerly lapped up his lies about Obama’s birthplace, will be just as happy with any other cock-and-bull accusation, ludicrous as it may be.
Another explanation is linked to Trump’s exceedingly thin skin. The current barrage of unhinged tweets, according to this view, is a direct result of his anger at the fact that his honeymoon with the media in the wake of his speech to Congress was cut short so quickly because of the Sessions scandal. Trump was reportedly incensed with Session’s announcement on Thursday that he would recuse himself from investigations of Trump-Russia ties, because in Trump’s world, one never apologizes or admits a mistake but always attacks, attacks, attacks instead.
But all such explanations about the inner purpose of Trump’s paroxysms and all of the reports that Trump based his attack on another story that appeared on the controversial Breitbart website are dwarfed by a possibility that seems just as feasible as all the rest: that Trump is right. Not that Obama tapped his phones, but that federal agents did. There have been sporadic reports to that effect in several news outlets, including the Guardian, but this would be the first official confirmation. Thus, Trump may have taken the lid off a pressure cooker that will soon blow up in his face.
True, some people who believe Obama capable of anything will have no problem advancing the theory that the former president hired his own group of Watergate-style “plumbers” to eavesdrop on the Republican candidate, though only God and Trump would know for what purpose. Trump’s tweets, however, refer to a “lower court” that failed to approve a request for wiretapping his headquarters, which means that a higher court did. That means that the FBI, after being duly authorized by the Justice Department, succeeded in convincing a special tribunal set up in accordance with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that despite the danger of being accused of improper interference in the political process, there was enough “probable cause” to suspect that Trump and/or his underlings were in contact with a foreign entity or foreign intelligence service (and we all know who that might be). If this is the case, then Trump himself may have offered the noose from which he might ultimately hang, politically speaking.
As soon as Washington recovers from another one of its recurring shocks, there is certain to be a growing demand to expose the material on which the FBI based its surveillance request, if it exists, and what it may have found out, if the wiretapping took place. Democrats will be particularly incensed to learn that while FBI Director James Comey was concealing the possibility that the GOP presidential candidate might be guilty of treason, he found it necessary to publicize an extremely damaging letter about Hillary Clinton’s emails just nine days before the elections. The new mayhem will undoubtedly expand polarization in Washington as many Republicans jump to Trump’s defense. But it takes only a few Republicans who haven’t lost their conscience to turn the demand for an independent investigation of Russiagate affair into an ultimatum that can’t be refused.
It’s tempting to say that Trump, in his mindless impetuousness, has hurt himself. Instead of trying to shift the media’s focus from his Russia ties to other matters, he has now ensured that it will intensify, get ugly and stay around much longer. But there’s always the possibility that Trump knows very well that this affair isn’t going to go anywhere until it is resolved and until it exacts its toll, which, in this case, could be his presidency.