Forced to explain his allegation that President Barack Obama “wiretapped” Trump Tower, President Donald Trump misquoted the New York Times, said he “wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Twitter,” and talked about how much money Celebrity Apprentice made for NBC.
The explosive charge is looking more and more like purely invented bogus — White House officials are under fire for refusing to provide evidence, and even congressional Republicans are stuck refusing to defend Trump’s claim.
After his rally in Nashville, Tennessee, on Wednesday night, Trump sat down for an interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson. Pressed by Carlson, here’s how Trump justified his accusation that Obama committed a felony and illegally “tapped” his phone lines right before the election (transcript via NBC’s Bradd Jaffy):
TRUMP: Well, I've been reading about things. I read in, I think it was January 20 a "New York Times" article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier the day previous where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said, ‘Wait a minute; there's a lot of wiretapping being talked about.’ I've been seeing a lot of things.
.@TuckerCarlson to @POTUS: “Why not wait to tweet about [‘wiretapping’] until you can prove it?” #Tucker pic.twitter.com/kKPykfpRH4— Fox News (@FoxNews) March 16, 2017
The Times did use the term “wiretapped data” in a headline on January 20, but in a report claiming that intelligence agencies were monitoring Russian officials. The story said nothing about a wiretap of Trump Tower — much less of Obama “ordering” one against Trump.
It’s hard to know what Trump’s “a lot of things” refers to, but on March 3 Baier did raise the possibility on Fox News that Obama tapped Trump Tower. Trump, who, as Carlson points out, has access to a vast array of intelligence data as president, admitted he did not attempt to confirm this claim before tweeting it — though he did use it as an opportunity to say that his CIA director was doing a “fantastic job.”
CARLSON: Every intelligence agency reports to you. Why not immediately go to them and gather evidence to support that?
TRUMP: Because I don't want to do anything that's going to violate any strength of any agency. We have enough problems. And, by the way, with the CIA, I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked, and a lot of things taken — that was during the Obama years. That was not during us. Mike Pompeo is there now doing a fantastic job.
Carlson later asked Trump to explain if he sends wild allegations over Twitter before checking in with his staff. That set off an unprompted 127-word digression into the kind of coverage he was getting from CNN, Fox News, and NBC.
That was followed by an explanation that “most of” his tweets “are good,” so it wouldn’t be that big a deal if he makes “one mistake in a month” — not that this one, mind you, was sent in error (emphasis mine):
TRUMP: Well, let me tell you about Twitter. I think that maybe I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Twitter, because I get such a fake press, such a dishonest press. … I think Fox has been fair to me, but if you look at CNN and if you look at these other networks, NBC — I made a fortune for NBC with The Apprentice. I had a top show where they were doing horribly, and I had one of the most successful reality shows of all time. I made — and I was on 14 seasons. And you see what happened when I was not on. You saw what happened to the show was a disaster. I was on — I was very good to NBC. And I — they are despicable…
So, the news is not honest. Much of the news. It's not honest. And when I have close to 100 million people watching me on Twitter, including Facebook, including all of the Instagram, including POTUS, including lots of things — but we have — I guess pretty close to 100 million people. I have my own form of media. So if I tweet two or three or four or five times a day, and if most of them are good — and I really want them all to be good — but if I make one mistake in a month — this one, I don't think is going to prove to be a mistake at all.