The CNN headline sums it up: Trump defends wild claims: "I'm President, and you're not."
Cringe, it’s official: CNN’s interview recap shows that we have entered the Looney Tunes arena on this whole Trump thing. As in, every week brings new stories of breathtaking ridiculousness, set in a cartoonish fantasy world where societal and political norms are thrown entirely out of whack.
In Looney Toons, this is endearing. A bunny always takes a wrong turn at Albuquerque, has a stuttering pig as a straight man, and can have a hunter eating out of the palm of his hand anytime he decides to cross-dress. In Trump Tunes, it’s much less enjoyable: The central figure is always a bit apoplectic, and the upshots are altogether unsatisfying.
Let’s recap the latest episode, in which Obama could be seen as Bugs Bunny and Trump as, you guessed it, Elmer Fudd (though I doubt he’d want to grab Obama-in-drag by the *****). Twenty days ago Trump took to Twitter first thing in the morning (you know, as you do) to blurt out a bombshell accusation. “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!”
And: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
And: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
Welp, it looks like it’s Obwama-season. Where is that wascally pwesident?
Now, no president can order a wiretap against a US citizen; rather, officials at the Justice Department must seek permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to do so. So either the DoJ knows what did or did not go on, or else Obama shimmied up a drainpipe in a black cat suit to install gear from the Spy Store himself.
This seemed at first quickly headed for the drainage pipe of the 24-hour news cycle. Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis denied the allegation in civil and concise terms: “Neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any US citizen,” Lewis said, adding that “any suggestion otherwise is simply false.” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, also was skeptical from the beginning. "The dimensions of this are huge. It's accusing the president of the United States of violating the law. That's never happened before," he said on camera in the aftermath of the initial tweets, captured on CNN, FOX News and MSNBC.
The voices of distortion had started to kick in though, because, you know, slander and all that. The administration needed to throw something at this and have something stick.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer (ably filling the shoes of a certain cartoon porcine character) seemed girded when he was prodded out there during a daily press briefing to answer reporter questions on the subject in early March. He took the classic tactic, and said the president meant to use “wiretap” in a metaphorical sense, in quotes—even though no quotes are found in the tweets.
"The president used the word wiretap in quotes to mean broadly surveillance and other activities," Spicer said. Uh-huh. Not that this is better, by the way. Surveillance for political ends is indeed, as Trump, noted, Watergate type stuff. And if it’s not true, then there’s that whole slander problem again.
KellyAnne Conway (come on, has to be Daffy Duck, just as Steve Bannon must be Taz) did her part, rambling on about microwaves being spy gadgets and other nonsense during a segment on the Today Show.
And just ahead of what would be Comey’s definitive denial, the White House suggested that wily ole’ Obama simply circumvented US intelligence forces and asked the UK to do its dirty work. Spicer, no stutter in sight, cited a FOX News claim to that effect, prompting a denial from GCHQ ("nonsense, utterly ridiculous and should be ignored") and Downing Street (“We've made clear to the US administration that these claims are ridiculous and should be ignored. We've received assurances that these allegations won't be repeated”).
Last week, Trump-Fudd doubled down, telling FOX News that there would be "some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks,” to justify his claims.
And during the awkward visit from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Trump said during a joint press conference that "at least we have something in common, perhaps," referring to the US eavesdropping on her cell phone during the Obama administration. Merkel looked uncomfortable.
FBI Director James Comey—last in the news for re-opening the email investigation on Hillary Clinton days before the election in what many saw as an anti-Hillary political move—was called to the Hill to explain.
Comey simply said it wasn’t so. Earlier this week he confirmed to lawmakers that there is an ongoing investigation into Russian ties to the president, and he also appeared to lay the surveillance issue to rest. Unless of course, Obama had one of those ultra-cool spymaster microwave ovens installed in Trump Tower to do his thing.
"With respect to the president's tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI," Comey said, noting that he was also authorized to speak for the DoJ, which also has no evidence of surveillance being ordered against Trump.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, a Pepe Le Peu if there ever was one, held a news conference to cover claims that he hadn’t even yet bothered to share with his own committee.
"I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions, the intelligence community incidentally collected information about US citizens involved in the Trump transition," he said, offering no concrete evidence. "Details about persons associated with the incoming administration—details with little apparent foreign intelligence value—were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting…I want to be clear. None of this surveillance was related to Russia, or the investigation of Russian activities, or of the Trump team."
Even if true, “incidentally collecting” information—basically, picking up chatter from outside the targeted communications as part of a legitimate surveillance operation—is not the same as President Obama personally ordering the illegal wiretapping of a political opponent during election season. But trump supporters seized on it as if it were a smoking gun, evidence of the Nefarious One doing the Nefarious Things they always knew he was nefariously doing.
Who needs facts?
Trump said he felt “somewhat vindicated” by the statement.
Last week, Nunes himself had said, "We don't have any evidence that that took place... I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower." But here he came off as a man desperately trying to curry favor with the big boss—a bit like a certain skunk and the cat he’s madly in love with.
He also was predictably eviscerated: The Intelligence Committee is carrying out an independent investigation into any ties between Trump’s administration and the Russians, and member Democrats pointed out that his lack of impartiality when it comes to Trump would seem to compromise that goal. Nunes yesterday apologized to members of the committee for his actions.
And around and around and around we go. If this is anything like the voter fraud allegations that Trump wanted Congress to investigate (but talk of which mysteriously died because…there was no voter fraud!), this may soon finally fade into the background, one more chapter in the ongoing series of ridiculous distractions and distortions that have come to characterize American politics during the Trump Era. It is, in a word: Trump Tunes.
PS: And it’s all sadly missing Chuck Jones’ brilliance.