Rand Paul once called Donald Trump a “delusional narcissist” and an “orange-faced windbag.” Which makes the fact that the Kentucky senator has emerged as the chief defender of the President’s unproven claims of being wire-tapped by the Obama Administration all the more amazing.
“This was a witch hunt that began with the Obama administration, sour grapes on the way out the door,” Paul said Tuesday of the reported requested unmasking of Trump campaign officials by former national security adviser Susan Rice. “They were going to use the intelligence apparatus to attack Trump, and I think they did.” (Paul took it even further, arguing that Rice should be subpoenaed to force her to tell Congress what she knows about the unmasking efforts.) Rice denies the allegation.
The Trump-Paul alliance is, like most things in Washington, a marriage of political convenience.
Paul has long been an outspoken opponent of the breadth and reach of the so-called security state, insisting that things like the Foreign Intelligence Services Court and the broad-scale listening programs exposed by Edward Snowden run directly counter to American civil liberties.
He clearly sees a chance in this Trump-Russia controversy – all of which stems from a tweet by the President alleging he had been wiretapped by President Barack Obama – to score political points on the idea that the government is listening to everyone all the time and that it is a very bad thing indeed. And, remember that the controversial Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows for the bulk collection of data from Internet service providers, is set to sunset at the end of the year – and Paul believes that it’s possible he can win the fight against re-authorization.
For Trump, he is happy for any defense he can get for his allegation in search of evidence. His claim of being wiretapped has been totally debunked by, among others, FBI Director James Comey, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and even House intelligence committee Chair Devin Nunes.
At this point, Trump’s best (only?) way out is to muddy the water enough regarding wiretapping that he can clam he was right and move on. Paul is very much helping him do that, conflating Trump’s wire-tapping claims with the broader idea of a surveillance state.
It’s worth noting here that Paul’s conflations aren’t, well, accurate. We know from Clapper that no FISA order for the wire-tapping of Trump Tower exists; “I can deny it,” Clapper told NBC’s Chuck Todd when asked directly about the existence of a FISA order.
But, for Paul and Trump that’s besides the point. Their mutual interests intersect in creating the idea of an all-knowing, always-listening intelligence community who is using the information they gather for their own political penchants.
So, Paul and Trump are friends. For now.