President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in Washington, DC on February 24, 2017.
Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images

On Trump’s wiretap allegations, White House’s defenses don’t add up

Updated
It’s been a couple of days since Donald Trump first alleged that he’d “just found out” that former President Obama had tapped the Republican’s phone before the election. Trump described this as a “fact,” characterized it as a scandal along the lines of “Nixon/Watergate,” and condemned his predecessor as a “bad (or sick) guy.”

It’s quickly becoming apparent that the president’s latest conspiracy theory isn’t true, and Trump’s tantrum came in response to a report he saw on a right-wing website. But White House officials are nevertheless rolling out a series of arguments in support of their boss. Let’s consider them one at a time:

1. The White House won’t comment. Yesterday, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration wants Congress to review the nonsensical allegations, adding, “Neither the White House nor the President will comment further until such oversight is conducted.” Just 43 minutes later, Spicer ignored his own declaration and started commenting further. Several of his White House colleagues have also done interviews on the story.

In other words, when the White House press secretary said no one from Trump’s team would comment on the story, the truth was pretty much the opposite.

2. Trump believes what he’s saying. On NBC this morning, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in reference to Trump’s anti-Obama allegations, “I think the president firmly believes it did [happen].” That may be true, but Trump firmly believes all sorts of strange things with no real connection to reality, so this is hardly compelling.

To be sure, insights like these matter in the context of the is-he-lying-or-is-he-bonkers debate, but what ultimately matters is whether the charges are true, not whether Trump thinks they’re true. (Note, The Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine, added this morning, “White House sources acknowledge that Trump had no idea whether the claims he was making were true when he made them.”)

3. Secret evidence. Kellyanne Conway told Fox News this morning that Trump “has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not.” That’s generally true, but in this case, it’s also irrelevant. When all available evidence suggests the president pushed a wild-eyed conspiracy theory – which is to say, the latest in a series of wild-eyed conspiracy theories embraced by Trump – it rings hollow when a White House official effectively says, “There’s secret evidence that you can’t see.”

Of course, Trump could declassify the information he “just found out” about, and bolster his claims, but I have a strong hunch that’s not going to happen.

4. There’s the “potential” Trump isn’t lying. Sarah Huckabee Sanders told ABC News the “potential” exists that the wiretaps happened and “if” Trump’s claims are accurate, it’s an important controversy. But that’s not an argument. I could say the president is a space alien; there’s the “potential” this is true; and “if this is accurate,” it’s a big deal, but no sane person would take such a claim seriously.

5. There’s fake evidence. Sarah Huckabee Sanders also told ABC, “The wiretapping has been discussed in The New York Times, BBC, [and] Fox News.” In reality, each of those outlets ran pieces about wiretapping, but none of them ran coverage of Obama ordering a wiretap on Trump. The White House is pointing to news accounts that do literally nothing to bolster Trump’s conspiracy theory.

6. Truth, schmuth. A White House official told Axios’ Mike Allen, in reference to Trump’s claim, “Even if it turns out not to be true that they surveilled Trump Tower, he will have a very good point to make about the level of sabotage coming from Obama holdovers.” That’s insane. Presidents don’t get to lie to the public in order to prove some unrelated point about a different thing the president likes to whine about. “Even if it turns out not to be” is a not-so-subtle admission that even the White House suspects Trump is deliberately pushing a bogus line.

In case this isn’t obvious, the credibility of the executive branch of a global superpower matters. There will likely come a point sometime soon in which the White House asks Americans – and perhaps much of the world – to trust the president and his team about something of great importance.

Given recent developments, many will find that impossible for reasons that have nothing to do with cynicism, and everything to do with Trump’s and his team’s breathtaking dishonesty.