President Trump’s most recent claim accuses his predecessor of tapping his phones at Trump Tower weeks before the 2016 election. By itself, that’s a bad enough charge to levy at one’s political opponent without sufficient evidence. But it’s worth looking at Mr. Trump’s motivations more closely.
A recent Breitbart piece is generally accepted as the origin of the president’s tweet, which adheres to Mr. Trump’s trend of consuming a significant portion of his news from alternative sources. The president’s motivations are, per usual, shrouded in a muddled fog of rushed secrecy. It has been postured by some that this accusation is a deflection to distract from the scrutiny the Trump administration has received for possible ties to Russia. Trump’s camp insists the tap actually happened, though they have failed to compile any compelling evidence. Though, if Trump Tower was indeed tapped, it could have been for reasons that are well within the legal realm. At this point, Trump is either trying to beat the feds to the punch and cast doubt on the tap’s legality, there was no tap and he believed a phony tabloid, or he willingly lobbed a serious accusation at Mr. Obama with the intention to rile his base into a frenzy, renewing a vitriolic response to his adversaries while potentially hiding the aforementioned Russian ties in the process. The truth will not likely be kind to the recent White House tenant.
But it’s the second possibility that is the most nefarious. If President Trump truly believes this crock, it’s likely that his chief strategist, Steve Bannon (a man whose beliefs could have seriously adverse implications on policy), has at least a little sway over him. At best Trump is intentionally citing the kind of fringe outlets that deny the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place. At worst, he’s fallen prey to the manipulative work of conspiracy theorists.
Occam’s razor suggests that it’s more likely that the president is trying to divert attention from something else or a legal tap was warranted. But that doesn’t make the other possibilities any less unsettling.