Put his tweets together and the President’s paranoia goes something like this: The deep state is out to get him with a coordinated witch hunt unlike anything this country has ever seen. He’s been cheated, bugged and now spied on as they try to bring him down. Maybe. Meanwhile, the real criminals, who he vanquished despite long odds in 2016, walk free and the Department of Justice won’t even investigate them.
All that comes from his Twitter feed, the direct channel we have into what he’s thinking at any given moment.
Early Friday morning he’d been watching Fox Business Network and quoted one of the network’s anchors, David Asman.
” ‘Apparently the DOJ put a Spy in the Trump Campaign. This has never been done before and by any means necessary, they are out to frame Donald Trump for crimes he didn’t commit.’ David Asman @LouDobbs @GreggJarrett Really bad stuff!”
He’d planted this new idea of an infiltration to his followers Thursday, again by channeling Fox News.
“Wow, word seems to be coming out that the Obama FBI ‘SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.’ Andrew McCarthy says, ‘There’s probably no doubt that they had at least one confidential informant in the campaign.’ If so, this is bigger than Watergate!”
And then he went further:
“Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president. It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a ‘hot’ Fake News story. If true - all time biggest political scandal!”
It would indeed be an enormous scandal if the FBI had secretly tried to sabotage Trump’s campaign by inserting an informant. It does not appear that is the case, however.
The New York Times and The Washington Post have both reported that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe did receive information from some sort of informant. The Times reported that person met with Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, two key figures in the Russia investigation. Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to authorities and is cooperating with Mueller. CNN has reported that the confidential intelligence source is a US citizen and and the individual has been a source for the FBI and CIA for years. That’s a big difference.
There is currently a fight between Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican who’s the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and the Department of Justice about documents relating to the person who gave information to Mueller and whether giving the House committee more information would jeopardize sources and methods of the intelligence community.
Those specifics that we know – a person with value to the intelligence community giving information to Mueller – are quite a bit different from the quote that made it onto the President’s Twitter feed: “…Obama FBI ‘SPIED ON THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN WITH AN EMBEDDED INFORMANT.”
Receiving information from an informant is certainly different from “implanting” one, which the President later argued, seeming to channel Nunes.
So unless he is reading reports we are not, the President is tweeting these things and doesn’t know if there was an implanted spy.
“I don’t know for sure, nor does the President, if there really was one,” Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer for the Russian meddling probe, said Friday on CNN.
It’s not a stretch to compare this new angle on the conspiracy the President feels is pitched against him to his unfounded allegation, also fueled by Nunes, that he had been surveilled and wiretapped by then-President Barack Obama. Giuliani made the connection for us.
“For a long time we’ve been told there was some kind of infiltration,” Giuliani said. “At one time, the President thought it was a wiretap.”
Given that the source of this quote is Giuliani, just be prepared for him to be corrected at any moment, given his track record of the last two weeks.
Actually, Trump’s “informant” tweets of the past two days bear a lot of similarities to the “wires tapped” tweets of the spring of 2017. That’s when he posted these:
- Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!
- Is it legal for a sitting President to be ‘wire tapping’ a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!
- 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!
While we now know there was surveillance of Trump aides, including campaign chairman Paul Manafort, as part of what would later become the Russia election meddling investigation, there was not then and still is no evidence that Obama tapped Trump’s phones.
But that didn’t stop Trump White House officials from tying themselves in knots to explain the President’s words.
The entire news-consuming public dove into a wiretapping rabbit hole.
Kellyanne Conway, at the time, said at one point that electric appliances could have been used for the wiretap, but later walked that back.
Trump defended the claim to Time magazine, arguing that he might have meant surveillance rather than technical wiretapping. He later tried to tease the issue of Obama surveilling him during a CBS interview but when John Dickerson kept asking him about the claim, he abruptly cut things off.
There are echoes of that obfuscation in Trump’s tweets and Giuliani’s shrug this morning. And the path to misinformation is the same. There is a sliver of something – an intelligence source or a FISA warrant for an aide with foreign connections – that on the President’s Twitter feed becomes twisted into a conspiracy directed at him.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Asman’s comments were made on Fox Business Network.