Trump does it again

Last week I revealed US President Donald Trump’s secret to always winning an argument. Today we’ll have a look at his latest scandal and whether he’s pulled it off again.

But first, what about his budget and the tumbling stockmarket yesterday?

By tying together his new budget with the repeal of Obamacare, Trump forced the voting politicians to pick sides. His gamble backfired and the budget was rejected.

This gave us the biggest stockmarket decline of Trump’s presidency. A decline of not 3%. Not 2%. But 1.2%. Devastating, right?

The “rout” broke a 109 trading day run without a 1% or bigger decline, a record going back to 1995.

So much for Trump bringing on economic doom and gloom… The one time he doesn’t get his way is the one time stocks fall. And even then, it’s nothing compared to previous presidencies.

How Trump’s budget will play out is beside the point for us today. It’s Trump’s politics that are heating up. And despite being a critic, you have to hand it to the guy for being so slick that nothing sticks…

The Trump wiretapping paradox goes too far

The Trump wiretapping saga is another lesson in how to let your opponents paint themselves into a corner. Just look at this headline and subhead from the Financial Times:

FBI confirms probe of Trump links to Russian campaign meddling

‘No information’ supporting Obama wiretap claims, director tells Congress

Smells like a contradiction to me. They’re investigating Trump, but not investigating him either. But is it really that simple?

The issue here is how literal you take Trump’s initial claim. Trump accused Barack Obama of wiretapping him at Trump Tower in a Twitter post. The words “wires tapped” was in quotation marks, indicating it wasn’t meant literally. The rest of this is in the same vain.

Did Trump literally mean Obama crept into the air-conditioning shaft of Trump Tower dressed as the guy from Mission Impossible? Does Trump believe he then accessed the electronic control panel with an iPad and disabled the security system before installing CIA equipment from the 1960s to listen to the pulses flowing down Trump’s copper phone lines? Having transcribed the conversations while hanging upside down in a lift shaft, Obama abseiled down the rubbish chute and emailed his mates at the local paper to let them know what he found?

Because if all of that didn’t happen, then Obama didn’t wiretap Trump.

I doubt that’s what Trump had in mind when he tweeted his accusation. But the denials of the politicians, FBI, CIA and Britain’s GCHQ rely on that literal interpretation of Trump’s tweet.

Don’t believe me? The New York Times explained it like this:

What’s missing is that Trump’s assertions, however overinflated, nonetheless echo certain aspects of The New York Times’s reporting from recent weeks. That, in turn, has allowed his administration to assert that the basis for his claims rests, in part, on reporting by The Times.

On the surface, there are similarities. Both The [New York] Times and Trump have referred to wiretaps. Both have referenced White House knowledge of the investigations. And both have described efforts by officials from the Obama administration to involve itself in the continuing investigations of Trump and Russia.

Yet there are also significant differences. For one, as The Times (and others) has made clear, these investigations have been conducted by the F.B.I., intelligence agencies and Congress, not by Obama himself. The Times has also said Obama administration officials sought to spread intelligence about a possible link between Trump and Russia to ensure a trail of evidence for investigators, but it said Obama himself was not involved.

This is utterly hilarious. Because Obama didn’t literally do the legwork, you can’t accuse him of anything. Everyone else in the Obama-led government was tapping Trump, but the then-president wasn’t doing it himself, so he’s off the hook.

The New York Times wrote about how Trump’s aides were being wiretapped. The FBI confirms the investigation too. But then both deny there is any evidence of it… because Obama didn’t do it himself… which is what Trump literally tweeted after all.

Are they serious?

The Clinton way

All of this comes down to “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” type denials. That denial was technically true too, depending on your definitions of sex. It is also technically true that Obama did not wiretap Trump. Under the desk dealings don’t count.

It remains perfectly plausible that Obama asked either the CIA or the FBI to monitor Trump’s aides, and thereby Trump, because of connections to Russia. Or that he was made aware of their own independent investigations. At the very weakest, Obama is on some level responsible for his intelligence agencies activities, even if only at the administration level. Especially if, as The New York Times claimed, his administration tried to use that information in the election.

But remember, if the various politicians and heads of intelligence agencies said, “Obama didn’t wiretap Trump,” they’d still be telling the truth. Technically… just like Bill Clinton was. Only this time it was his wife Hillary who was on the receiving end of the benefit in the campaign.

The only thing more absurd would be for someone to claim Trump’s tweet was wrong because it was only his aides that were monitored, not Trump himself. Who do you think Trump’s aides talk to!?

The other denials from the intelligence agencies are equally weak. They say it would be illegal to wiretap Trump without a warrant, so it couldn’t have happened. But WikiLeaks released information showing how the CIA can hack into electronic devices, technically not “wiretapping”, and that it uses overseas intelligence services to do the dirty work in order to get around judicial constraints. The GCHQ’s denials mean just one of how many agencies is ruled out?

So the media is reporting Trump is suspicious because his aides had to be monitored for connections to Russians, while also claiming such monitoring of Trump never happened, just of his aides. For heaven’s sake, which is it?! Is this about Trump or his aides? Remember, when Obama’s government is doing something, it has nothing to do with him…

If you do want to take Trump’s claims literally, the key question is whether Obama was briefed by Congress, the FBI or CIA on the investigation of Trump’s aides. That’s what it comes down to in between all the obfuscation.

On that, Trump tweeted: “FBI Director Comey refuses to deny he briefed President Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia” during a hearing on the matter. Once again, Trump’s power to convey the key message to his audience is excellent. He’s probably just as misleading as the rest of them, but at least he is on point.

The Russian scapegoat

Making things even more ironic, the whole issue with the Russians is their attempt to hack the Democratic Party servers. That’s what the US intelligence community concluded happened. But the WikiLeaks document dump showed how easy it is to disguise the source of such an attack, specifically to make it look like it was coming from Russia.

Here’s my point: the extent to which the media has been countered by Trump’s tweeting and WikiLeaks’ dumping is profound. Without releasing any evidence to the contrary, they’ve still proved that the other side’s evidence is extremely circumspect and contradictory. And the nature of the denials of government officials is absurd.

Instead of realising the paradox, the FT concludes that the new information is a “severe setback” for Trump in the “mounting scandal”. In my opinion, it might just vindicate him. At the very least it discredits his opponents.

The question is whether the typical voter figures this out. For now, they seem to be going with their gut feeling that Trump is marginally more credible than the likes of a Clinton and their denials.

Until next time,

Nick Hubble

Category: Geopolitics

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