Trump lowers the bar for presidential behaviour – again


Donald Trump's early-morning accusations - without evidence - have blown up the rulebook for presidential behaviour
Donald Trump's early-morning accusations - without evidence - have blown up the rulebook for presidential behaviour
'When they go low, we go high' Michelle Obama said during Donald Trump's campaign. He has just gone very, very low

Donald Trump’s – shall we agree on unorthodox? – style of campaigning attracted fervent supporters, and that is why they took the equally unorthodox step of voting for a reality show host they saw as an outsider who would ‘drain the swamp’ in Washington.

Truth is, Trump has flooded the swamp with generals and billionaires, family and old-school political insiders. The blue-collar Americans who voted for him are further removed from a voice in the White House than ever.

Trump’s presidential style became even more unorthodox this weekend, when he accused Barack Obama – in an all-too typical barrage of early-morning tweets – of authorising illegal wiretapping of Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential election.

Trump did not present the barest shred of evidence.

The then-director of national intelligence, James Clapper, and Obama’s spokesman have denied the accusation.

As commentators have pointed out, in the US – or any civilised country – for a leader to accuse his/her predecessor of abuse of power without proof isn’t throwing out the rule book: it’s blowing it up. The attack was personal and the charge was astonishing.

Trump’s assertions appeared to be based on unproven reports by Breitbart News – the far right website run until recently by his chief strategist – and talk radio hosts.

America and worldwide, there’s a widespread belief that Trump is attempting to distract media and public attention from a genuine investigation, based on rather more substantial evidence, about his campaign’s contacts with Russian officials and bankers.

A more unkind observation, harking back to Trump’s allegations about Obama’s birth certificate, has been that the free world is now in the hands of a ‘conspiracy theory president’.

The White House has now asked Congress to investigate Trump’s allegation.

Press secretary Sean Spicer did not provide any evidence for the claims, but said reports about “potentially politically motivated investigations” were “very troubling”.

He did not specify what reports.

Congress is already investigating Russian interference in the election, and American intelligence agencies have concluded that hackers acting on behalf of the Kremlin broke into Democratic party servers in support of Trump.

Clapper, on NBC’s Meet the Press, denied any wiretap operation at Trump Tower.

“For the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw,” he said, “there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate or against his campaign.”

Host Chuck Todd asked whether he would know about any federal court order authorising an FBI surveillance operation.

“I would know that,” Clapper replied. “Something like this absolutely.”

“And at this point you can’t confirm or deny whether that exists?”

“I can deny it,” he said.

“There is no Fisa court order?” Todd pressed, alluding to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which approves sensitive surveillance requests. “Of anything at Trump Tower?”

“Not to my knowledge,” Clapper said. “No.”

A surveillance operation would have required a warrant from a federal judge who had been convinced investigators had probable cause of a serious crime or that a targeted person was working for a foreign power.

For months, outlets such as the Guardian, BBC, New York Times and Washington Post have reported on requests for such a warrant and a larger investigation into possible links between Russian officials and Trump associates.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after he misled vice-president Mike Pence about conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Last week attorney general Jeff Sessions disqualified himself from the investigation after it was found that, while under oath before the Senate, he had not disclosed meetings with that ambassador.

It is ironic that in his tweets Trump accused Obama of “a witch-hunt worthy of McCarthyism” (smearing someone’s character without evidence). Roy Cohn, Trump’s early attorney and mentor, was Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel during his 1950s’ investigations into communist activity in the US.


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