Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump made a big accusation on Wednesday in an interview with the New York Times: Former Obama Administration national security adviser Susan Rice likely broke the law in requesting the names of Trump campaign officials caught up in the broader surveillance of Russian officials seeking to meddle in the 2016 election.
Donald Trump says Susan Rice broke the law. His evidence? Nothing.
"Do I think? Yes, I think," Trump told the Times, when asked whether Rice committed a crime.
Big stuff, right? The President of the United States accusing the top national security adviser in his predecessor's administration of breaking the law! Trump must have some pretty conclusive evidence to make such a charge, right? Right?!
Wrong. Or, at least, not proven -- or anything close.
When pressed for evidence to back up his claim, Trump offered none -- instead doing what he often does in these sorts of situations: Promising that all will be revealed at some indeterminate time in the near(ish) future.
Trump promised he would reveal the evidence to back up his explosive claim "at the right time" in the Times interview. He offered no further guidance of what that "right time" might be or if it ever will come.
It is of course possible that Trump really does have evidence that justifies his claims about being wire-tapped and/or about alleged criminal activity by Rice. He is the president, after all, and is likely exposed to lots of information that the rest of us aren't.
But the burden of proof for these allegations lies squarely on Trump because, well, everyone else in a position to know simply isn't saying the sort of things he is.
A top national security official asking for the unmasking of a American citizen caught up in the incidental collection of surveillance data is not a crime. In fact, according to most national security experts, it's a routine measure often designed to assess the seriousness of a situation or a threat.
Leaking such information would be a crime -- and seems to be where Trump was headed in the Times interview. But, Rice publicly denied that she did any sort of leaking of classified information in an interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday. "I leaked nothing to nobody, and never have and never would," she said.
In the face of such a categorical denial, it's incumbent on Trump to come forward with his promised evidence that led him to conclude Rice committed a crime. If the former national security adviser is lying about leaking classified information to the media regarding top staffers to the Trump campaign, that's something the public needs to know about -- and authorities need to act on -- immediately.
The alternative explanation is that Trump is simply making an allegation without any clear and indisputable evidence to back it up. Given what we know of the initial Trump wire-tapping allegation, it's hard to rule that out as a possibility. Trump has never come forward with even a scintilla of evidence that what he claims about Obama ordered the wiretap are true. Instead he and his allies have sought to muddy the rhetorical waters regarding what the definition of "wire-tapping" actually is.
The implications of that explanation are serious and concerning. If the President of the United States is willing to freelance like that with no evidence to back him up, it makes it hard to know when he is speaking from a position that is fact-based and when his comments are simply opinions.
When you are the most powerful person in the United States -- and maybe in the world -- that's not a good place to be.