In the White House, the Bannon-Miller Axis of Weasels is ready to merrily watch the world burn for the sake of pleasing their master’s mercurial moods and their own dark nationalist fantasies. For them, these outbursts aren’t bugs, but core features. They want the Trumpbartian war over all else, and, contrary to what official Washington tries to believe, the Axis wants Trump ragey and dangerous, which is why they’re feeding his paranoid talk (perhaps made vivid for him by his own eavesdropping instincts) about President Obama “tapping” him in Trump Tower.
In Congress, the breathing room Trump’s not-totally-insane speech to Congress bought Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell has already been nearly eliminated by this President predictably and colorfully departing the rails just hours later.
For the intelligence community, it was one more chapter in the war Trump and Bannon have waged on them since the first days of the Administration. Bannon’s desire to purge the intelligence community and reshape it into a Muslim-and-Mexican Hunting Agency has already pushed career professionals in the IC to their breaking points. One said to me this weekend, “Trump has a pair of twos, at best. The IC has a royal flush.”
The remnants of the conservative right watch as the Trump Troll Party grunts tweet-derived talking points from an obvious madman, abandoning principle, reason, fact, and intellectual rigor. The irresistible, gravitational draw of his charismatic lunacy has pulled even smart conservatives into its field. I had a heated series of messages with a conservative writer this weekend who wouldn’t even bring himself to acknowledge that this absurd moment was a creation of Trump’s fevered imagination and fueled by a Trumpbart conspiracy fantasy. It perfectly illustrated the post-logic right; they will contort themselves beyond recognition to back up even the most ludicrous propositions if they can scream “but Obama!” and “lock her up!” and “but the MSM!”
Embracing Trump’s wiretapping story requires belief in a a concatenating chain of ever-more ridiculous assertions to be true.
First, it requires a chain of command in the intelligence community and federal law enforcement that doesn’t exist. There is no secret channel that magically makes wiretaps, surveillance, and massive national security investigations appear full-blown from the brow of the President. As General Mike Hayden noted, “That’s not how the plumbing works.” Electronic and surveillance coverage warrants are issued either under Title 3 (typical for criminal investigations) or under FISC, but the Trump-right must now believe that Barack Obama could instantly order the might of the entire intelligence community to target Donald Trump at a political whim.
Second, they have to believe the FISC court would approve a FISA warrant against Trump or his associates without specific probable cause that directly illustrated imminent risks to our national security. FISA warrants are issued in major terrorism and espionage cases based on information that typically comes up from the intelligence community, not down the chain in the form of a White House order, despite the fever-swamp rantings of the Trumpbart media. FISA targets those who are “agents of a foreign power.”
Third, they have to believe that the FBI, CIA, and NSA et al would illegally implement electronic surveillance of a U.S. citizen for purely political reasons in the heat of a Presidential contest. It would mean that dozens of senior and likely hundreds of less-senior intelligence and law enforcement personnel would have to agree to engage in an ongoing criminal conspiracy to commit continuous, multiple felonies.
Fourth, they must simultaneously believe Barack Obama is both the evil mastermind of the anti-Trump strategy in the 2016 election and a moron who engaged in a set of wildly illegal and ineffective actions with a massive paper trail. If Obama controlled the entire intelligence and law enforcement process, how did James Comey’s finger-on-the-scale actions in the closing days damage Clinton so profoundly and ignore Trump so thoroughly?
Finally, you have to believe that despite being hellbent on destroying Trump even at the cost of breaking the law, he never whispered in the ear of the appropriate minion to have Trump’s tax returns appear somewhere, WikiLeaks-style. Trump’s obsessive lying about his tax returns, his utter stonewalling of their release, and the manic reaction to any mention of them tells us there’s something there that he’d kill a puppy to protect.
The first relevant FISA warrants were requested in June of 2016, when it looked like a certainty we’d see Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office. Why issue them at all, given the risk of disclosure? Given the polling at the time...why bother? Even those warrants were rejected for being too broad. Given the polling at the time, why bother? Additionally, if the White House controlled this process so thoroughly, why were they rejected?
Conservative defenders of Trump are reduced to variations on, “The crafty Kenyan Marxist Muslim mastermind can do anything! He could have suborned them! He could have used his mind control powers to make the FISC, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and other agencies do his bidding!” Even if you accept the absurd notion every person involved would willingly engage in felonies at the behest of an outgoing President, the idea of wiretapping Trump tower to simply trawl for dirt that was never guaranteed to produce a show-stopping result is ridiculous.
Trump is stress-testing Congress, hard. He expects their full-throated defense of this madness to shatter the sky with its volume. He expects his media allies to turn this into a Watergate-style scandal against Obama to distract from the beets-and-vodka reek covering his business dealings, his senior advisors, and the pro-Putin claque that surrounds him in his Kremlin outpost on the Potomac.
It’s a race now to see if Congress, the press, and the American people outside of the Trump Reality Distortion Field will let him get away with it.