Believe it or not, the six-minute showdown below with Jon Karl and Jim Acosta is an abridged version. The full director’s cut, which includes Spicer spending upwards of 10 minutes rattling off media reports of Trump aides being investigated by the feds for connections with Russia, runs closer to 20. (He even mentioned the Andrew Napolitano claim about Obama using Britain’s GCHQ to spy on Trump. The GCHQ, which rarely comments publicly, piped up today to say it’s nonsense.) The spark that lit the fuse here was the announcement this morning by Richard Burr and Mark Warner, the two top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, that they’d seen no evidence of surveillance at Trump Tower. Right, says Spicer — as of now. There are still days to go before Comey testifies on the Hill publicly. It may be that the FBI has found nothing yet on surveillance of Trump and his team but that they’re still looking.
To which Warner, upon hearing that, replied in a statement: No, this is pretty much our final verdict.
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) March 16, 2017
Yeah, why on earth would Burr and Warner have put out a press release knocking down the suspicions about Trump Tower if they weren’t very confident based on their briefings that there’s nothing there? Comey must have told them definitively that there’s nothing to Trump’s charge (which would corroborate this story, published the day after Trump first started tweeting about wiretapping). It’d be completely humiliating to Burr and Warner if they spoke up publicly to say, “nope, no surveillance here” and then Comey turned around and said, “We weren’t finished yet! We’ve found something!” Their statement this morning was obviously meant to be conclusive. But Spicer’s holding a weak hand here in having to defend this so he’s playing the cards he’s been dealt. And he makes a mighty fine show of it. Remember, although millions of people may be watching, he’s really performing for an audience of one. Nothing makes the boss happier than seeing his spokesman get in the media’s face, especially if it’s in defense of something Trump himself has said.
I missed this bit in Trump’s interview with Tucker Carlson last night, by the way:
Donald Trump alleged that Barack Obama wiretapped him after he read an article published by The New York Times in January…
“I’ve been reading about things,” Trump said. “I read in January a New York Times article. I think they used the exact term ‘wiretapping.’ I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier where he was talking about certain, very complex sets of things happening. I said, ‘Wait a minute, there is a lot of wiretapping happening.’”
I wrote a post about that very same Times article just a week ago. It did indeed mention Trump aides turning up on wiretapped communications. But it never said who was wiretapped, or where (it was almost certainly Russians, not the Trump staffers they were in contact with, who were the target of the ‘taps), and it surely never said anything about Trump himself being surveilled. Quote: “It is not clear whether the intercepted communications had anything to do with Mr. Trump’s campaign, or Mr. Trump himself.” How he got from that to “Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory,” I don’t know, but given how many people have misread that Times story, I guess it makes sense that a man with access to every bit of intelligence in America’s arsenal would misfire publicly about it too.
Anyway, Spicer’s surely right that the media hasn’t spent as much time on the gradual collapse of the “Trump/Russia collusion!” theory as they have the “Trump wrongly accuses Obama!” story. It ain’t just the White House that’s trying to move some goalposts on the subject of campaign-related surveillance. Here’s Spicer followed by Jake Tapper with a brief history of goalposts in motion.