The breaking story on Saturday was — when everyone was expecting a weekend of non-ending investigative, speculative, and opinion-driven reports on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other members of the Trump administration concerning their possible ties and/or meetings with Russians — the four-part Twitter rant of President Donald Trump and his accusations against his predecessor that then President Obama ordered his campaign wiretapped prior to the November election. Like many of the conspiracy theories the current president so often bandies about as if they’re historical truths, he wrote that he’d just found out that President Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped, that it was illegal, but in no way offered anything to substantiate the claim. But as the media hops on board to take the latest ride on the Trump crazy train, it should be noted that the president just might have gotten his latest paranoid-seeming scenario from the right wing media.
CNN, while reporting on the Trump Twitter accusation of former President Obama illegally wiretapping his presidential campaign, and while as yet not being able to find anything but official denials of there ever being a wiretap — legally or illegally, authorized by Obama or not — on Trump’s phones, did find a trail of articles and television reports by conservative media outlets, including Breitbart News and Fox News Channel, that disseminated the speculative assumption of right wing radio personality Mark Levin. He claimed that the real scandal associated with the Trump presidency did not concern the Russians, but instead could be found in the wiretapping of the Trump campaign during his bid for the presidency.
CNN correspondent Brian Stelter, digging into what might have been the prompt for “our conspiracy theory president [to be] at it again,” noted that President Trump might have gotten the information for his Twitter posts, the accusations within which he offered no verifiable proof, from intelligence briefings, which means he may have been divulging classified information with his tweets. Barring that, Stelter said that right wing media, beginning with Mark Levin’s radio show on Thursday, may have provided the spark that lit the gunpowder trail of right wing media reports that eventually (less than 48 hours) made it to the volatile keg that is President Donald Trump.
The first tweet was fired off by President Trump. It was followed by three more. All were posted inside of a half hour.
Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Stelter explained that Mark Levin had been talking about a “silent coup” being made by President Obama and his aides, parts of which have been carried over from the administration into their post-administration lives (something which is feeding the Obama secret army conspiracy theory that President Trump spoke about on Fox & Friends last week), that he suggests began when Trump was still running for president.
“How many phone calls, if any, have been intercepted by the Obama administration and recorded by the Obama administration? And all the other transition officials involved in foreign policy and national security and defense policy. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the real scandal.”
Levin’s words were soon picked up by Breitbart News, which was ran by Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon before he signed on to then candidate Trump’s presidential campaign. That story and its speculation as to why Levin’s words might be true was then further reported and extrapolated from in other right wing media outlets (like Fox News Channel) — all of which, Stelter suggested, may have heavily influenced President Trump’s decision to post the accusations against former President Obama.
Still, without any real evidence either way in the matter thus far, it is difficult for the media to report on the veracity of the claims, either in the accusatory corner or the denial corner. And therein lies the problem with conspiracy theories and verifying their claims. The evidence may never exist as hard evidence, leaving behind a bit of doubt that there might be some veracity to the accusations. And so the conspiracy theory lives on…
CNN also reported that a former senior U.S. official who had direct knowledge of investigations being made by the Justice Department under the Obama administration has said Trump’s phones were never wiretapped.
“This did not happen. It is false. Wrong,” he told CNN.
Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis called “any suggestion” that then President Obama or any White House official ordered any kind of surveillance against then candidate Donald Trump was “simply false.”
“A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” Lewis said in a statement Saturday afternoon (per NBC News). “As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false.”
But why would President Trump go on Twitter and accuse President Obama of wiretapping his phones if there’s no real truth to the claims? As mentioned earlier, the press was geared up for a run at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who seems to have lied by omission during his confirmation hearings about meetings he had with the ambassador of Russia. So, by accusing former President Obama of illegally wiretapping his campaign’s phones and sensationally comparing it to McCarthyism and stating it was worse than Nixon/Watergate, the general media would have to report on the accusations.
It is known as a distraction. The fact that Trump might have based his accusations on a conspiracy theory does not matter if the intent was to get the media to backtrack along the gunpowder trail. Nor does it matter whether or not President Trump actually believes what he posted to Twitter. It is enough that he misdirects with the accusation, which, given the nature of shadow governments and intelligence agencies and such, can never be totally debunked to everyone’s satisfaction, no matter what the evidence.
All of which goes back to Mark Levin, who was correct: The scandal now is the possibility that the Obama administration, legally or illegally, may have wiretapped Trump’s phones during the presidential campaign. He helped make it so. That’s how conspiracy theories work.
And Obama wiretapping Trump would be a big scandal, a huge scandal, one that Jeff Sessions likely hopes takes at least most of the media’s attention off him.
[Featured Image by Mario Tama/Getty Images]