President Donald Trump got up bright and early Saturday morning and tried to change the story. On a day when front pages around the country (including the New York Times and Washington Post) featured pieces on the possible ties between his campaign and Russia, Trump launched a strange tweetstorm that is a bit difficult to decipher but seems to have been at least inspired by the latest right-wing media talking points.
First, Trump appears to be trying to defend his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, again by saying the Obama administration was the one that set up the “first meeting” between Sessions and the Russian ambassador.
But then things take a weird turn and Trump launches an attack on Obama in which he compares him to former president Richard Nixon. But in the middle he goes back to defending Sessions. Maybe it helps to read the tweets in order as part of one paragraph? Let’s see:
The first meeting Jeff Sessions had with the Russian Amb was set up by the Obama Administration under education program for 100 Ambs...... Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism! Just out: The same Russian Ambassador that met Jeff Sessions visited the Obama White House 22 times, and 4 times last year alone. 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! 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! How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
If you’re wondering, What on earth is Trump talking about? Then it’s likely you don’t spend much time reading right-wing media. The idea that Obama abused his power to undermine Trump has become a popular talking point of the far-right outlets. On Thursday night, radio host Mark Levin flat out accused Obama of masterminding a “silent coup” against Trump. That was picked up by Breitbart, where senior editor-at-large Joel Pollack ties Levin’s claims together to create a story line that begins with the June 2016 request to monitor Trump and several advisers (which was denied) and ends with the Washington Post “targeting” Sessions.
Although there is obviously no evidence that Trump was inspired by the Breitbart piece, there is one key sentence that suggests he might have been. While going through his whole explanation of how Obama tried to undermine Trump, Pollack specifically writes at one point that in October the previous administration “submits a new, narrow request to the FISA court, now focused on a computer server in Trump Tower suspected of links to Russian banks. No evidence is found — but the wiretaps continue, ostensibly for national security reasons.”
You might be thinking, Who cares? It’s clear Trump wants to change the story, so why give the fringe conspiracy theories the time of day? Well, because not everyone sees them as that. Case in point, as soon as Trump went on his tweetstorm, the anchors over at Fox News were positively giddy. “A sitting president going after essentially an incoming president would jack up this whole story,” Ed Henry says. Abby Huntsman agrees: “This could totally change the entire conversation.” And then even though we know Trump has often been inspired by cable news for his tweets, Pete Hegseth says the president knows stuff we don’t so we should listen: “The president has been pretty astute of getting ahead of the news cycle with more information—because he knows it, he sees it, he has intelligence briefings, we don’t—he tweets it, we speculate about it and then more information comes out to affirm it.”
Update at 2 p.m.: Obama's spokesman, Kevin Lewis, denied in a statement that the former president ordered a wiretap on Trump:
"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. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen. Any suggestion otherwise is simply false."
Earlier, Obama's former foreign policy adviser Ben Rhodes also denied the claims, noting that “No President can order a wiretap."