Fairly early on Saturday morning, Donald Trump started sharing some thoughts. Before hitting the golf course again, the president told the public that he'd "just found out" that former President Obama tapped his phones during the presidential election. "This is Nixon/Watergate," the Republican said. "Bad (or sick) guy!"Almost immediately, nearly everyone, including White House officials, began wondering where the president heard this unhinged conspiracy theory. As NBC News and other major news organizations reported
, it wasn't from official sources.
A senior U.S. official in a position to know told NBC News that Trump's allegations have no merit, and the president did not consult with people within the U.S. government who would know the validity of the charge before making claims on his favored communications platform.
It seems safe to assume Trump "just found out" about this deeply strange conspiracy by reading a report
from Breitbart News, a right-wing website that was run by his chief White House strategist, Stephen Bannon.This is no small realization. Under normal circumstances, after Americans elect a normal president, we'd expect information about surveillance operations to come from law enforcement and intelligence agencies. But Trump, who is anything but normal, didn't rely on administration officials or intelligence professionals to give him information through formal channels; he apparently started communicating with the American public because a right-wing website triggered some strange thoughts in his head.Worse, this wasn't the first time.Trump recently told the public about terrorist violence in Sweden that didn't exist
, not because of something that appeared in the Daily Presidential Briefing, but because of something he saw on Fox News.Last week, the president also started pushing
a strange line about the national debt because he didn't rely on members of his team
for basic facts.
[Keith Hennessey, who was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as director of the U.S. National Economic Council] wrote that it was "more concerning" that the tweet shows Trump continues to rely on TV rather than his advisers."Until his staff figure out a way to ensure he doesn’t make such easily rebutted claims, you should not echo the president’s economic arguments or claims without first verifying both their accuracy and substantive merit," Hennessey wrote. "This unfortunate situation will persist as long as President Trump continues to take his numbers and policy arguments from TV pundits rather than from Mr. Cohn, Director Mulvaney, and Secretary Mnuchin."
In this case, Trump saw the bogus argument on Fox News
, which got the information
from a strange right-wing blog that's notorious for publishing nonsense.The public may not appreciate just how quickly a sitting president can have any question answered. Donald Trump can pick up the phone and say, "I'd like some information on security threats in Sweden," and very soon thereafter, a group of people will appear in front of him, providing him with as many details as he'd like. If he wants to better understand the deficit and/or the debt, he can make a simple request and have a half-dozen economists in his office, ready to give a tutorial.This applies to practically any topic, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's a perk of the office.But Trump doesn't avail himself of this unique access to unlimited information, because he has conservative media outlets filling his mind with strange ideas. It's a problem that the president relies on nonsense he hears from the far-right, but it's a bigger problem that it's often the only thing
Trump relies on.