Many Americans are getting nervous about what is happening in Washington. Never have they seen a sitting president refer to his predecessor as a “Bad (or sick) guy.” If attacking former President Barack Obama is President Trump’s idea of how to unite the country after a divisive election, this nation can’t help but worry about its future.
Trump defamed Obama’s character Saturday in yet another one of his pre-dawn tweet explosions in which he accused the man he replaced of spying on him during the presidential campaign. “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory,” Trump tweeted at 6:35 a.m.
Less than two hours later, he was tweeting that Arnold Schwarzenegger was “fired” as host of The Apprentice, the TV show Trump created 13 years ago, because of “pathetic ratings.” Trump’s pivot from one of the most serious allegations made in the history of the republic to the fate of a rather trivial television program isn’t just confounding, it’s scary.
The president offered no evidence for his allegation that Obama bugged Trump Tower. The apparent source for the charge was a recent article on the Breitbart website that repeated an unsubstantiated claim by right-wing radio host Mark Levin that the Obama administration received authorization to spy on the Trump campaign. That assertion has been vehemently denied by both FBI Director James Comey and James Clapper, who was director of national intelligence under Obama.
It’s no simple feat to do what Trump has alleged. Two laws determine when the government may use wiretaps. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 applies to gathering information related to the conduct of foreign powers. The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 applies to criminal investigations. In either case, a court order is required before surveillance is allowed.
Is Trump suggesting Obama broke the law and didn’t get a court order to bug Trump Tower? Otherwise he, as president, could have obtained from the Justice Department all he needed to base his allegation on evidence. Comey and Clapper say no such evidence exists, which suggests Trump may be trying to distract from calls for an independent investigation into his election campaign’s contact with Russian officials.
Has America elected a president who would slime his predecessor to divert attention from allegations about his own conduct? The truth will come out. Trump will likely get his wish that Congress investigate his charges. Both the House and Senate intelligence panels may include his allegations in probes of his Russian ties. They may even ask for his tax returns.