Donald Trump enjoyed his 11th golf course trip since taking office eight weeks ago this weekend — and perhaps it’s time for him to start thinking about a permanent vacation.
Before his presidency even hit the 50-day mark, before he had even achieved one significant legislative victory, Trump accused his immediate predecessor of an impeachable crime, via a Saturday morning tweet.
How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017
Under pressure, Trump’s defense has become that he used “quotes” in his tweet so he could mean almost anything. This is fiction. And if you trust your own eyes, you can see that it’s not true of Trump’s second tweet on the subject, where he attempts to put his accusation in context.
Trump’s tweet clearly conveys that he is accusing President Obama of a high crime and/or misdemeanor on par with our one president forced to resign from office. And it has become increasingly clear that he made this accusation based on the blatherings of an AM radio host typed up into a post on Breitbart.
Whether or not Trump himself believes the accusation is impossible to discern and wholly irrelevant.
“[A]n accusation by a president isn’t like an accusation leveled by one private citizen against another,” Bloomberg’s Noah Feldman wrote. “It’s about more than factual truth or carelessness.”
Since the president of the United States is imbued with a presumption of seriousness, not to mention the vast wealth of information from the largest intelligence machine ever assembled, Congress rushed to investigate his fever dream and found nothing. Soon the Trump Administration flailed wild accusations against British intelligence in an effort to quell the stink emanating from this scandal. That claim was voiced by a Fox News analyst — an analyst whom Fox News won’t vouch for.
On Sunday, House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, who has been doing his fair share of PR work for Trump, joined several other members of Congress and the Department of Justice in noting that there is no actual evidence to support Trump’s claim.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) — who is the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee — made it clear that he feels we’ve already gotten to the bottom of “this wild goose chase:”
Rep. Schiff on Trump’s wiretap claims: “I hope we can put an end to this wild goose chase.” https://t.co/APesDSfYge
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) March 19, 2017
Perhaps Trump knows of facts we don’t. Far more likely, this a Steve Bannon-concocted plot to tarnish the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, by casting a pall on any surveillance that may reveal troubling or potentially illegal dealings.
Again, the motivations do not matter, as Feldman noted.
Obama cannot sue Trump for libel nor ever match the power of Trump’s current bully pulpit or powers of state.
So this false accusation is a wild abuse of power and perhaps the first potentially impeachable offense of his term — if you don’t count his possible rampant violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, in the form of foreign money paid to his properties and foreign copyrights awarded to his “brand.”
“Given how great the executive’s power is, accusations by the president can’t be treated asymmetrically,” Feldman wrote. “If the alleged action would be impeachable if true, so must be the allegation if false.” In short, he may be vulnerable to impeachment now.
Even many Republicans seem to understand the perilous situation into which Trump has driven them and his presidency. Republican House Majority Whip Tom Cole called on Trump to apologize to Obama. And Texas Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican who won a district Hillary Clintion carried in 2016, has echoed Cole’s call.
Would Trump’s apology mean anything?
Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic of the Lawfare blog argue that Trump’s words require doubt, even when he is taking the Constitution’s solemn oath of office.
“The idea of Trump’s swearing this or any other oath ‘solemnly’ is, not to put too fine a point on it, laughable—as more fundamentally is any promise on his part to ‘faithfully’ execute this or any other commitment that involves the centrality of anyone or anything other than himself,” they wrote.
You could argue that all presidents are worthy of suspicion and their words should never be invested with a presumption of honesty. This is a productive stance for journalists, critics, and academics but it would paralyze government. Likewise, taking a pathological liar — or bullshitter — at his word puts government, as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, into a useless paroxysm that occupies our resources as real threats mount.
You could still argue that this is nothing new. Former George W. Bush press flack Ari Fleischer suggests that Obama accused Bush of violating the Constitution by endorsing torture.
But we know that torture actually happened. And Obama assiduously avoided prosecuting or ever raising the specter of prosecution for Bush or Dick Cheney or anyone for torture, to the disdain and disgust of many on the left.
Trump accused Obama of a crime and then demanded evidence for said crime. And he did this to a man with significantly more power and esteem than 99.999 percent of all Americans. Impeachment is the only remedy for this kind of casual “oppression” that will only escalate unless it is checked.
“Anything else would give the president the power to distort democracy by calling his opponents criminals without ever having to prove it,” Feldman wrote.
Or — even more frighteningly — as the government bends further and further to Trump’s will and agenda, the president can call his opponents criminals and demand that the government “produce” evidence that proves the charge, whether or not such evidence exists. We know that’s true because this is exactly what Trump is demanding right now.
And just because we have a House of Representatives utterly derelict in its duties and consumed with cutting rich guys’ taxes and uninsuring everyone else, we shouldn’t ignore the only safety valve the Founders left us to prevent such tyranny.
Should our worst assumptions prove true, impeachment has to be on the ballot in 2018 if we hope to remain a democratic republic.
IMAGE: Barack Obama pauses during an interview in Washington, January 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria