WASHINGTON, March 18, 2017 – The world is an increasingly dangerous place. With North Korea developing nuclear weapons which may soon be able to reach the U.S., with ISIS threatening terrorist attacks throughout the Western world, with Russia trying to restore parts of its old empire and working to destabilize NATO and the EU, a time will come when some action of one kind or another will be necessary.
When that happens, we need a president who will be believed by Americans and the world. At present, President Donald Trump is in the process of bringing his credibility into doubt.
In a series of self-inflicted wounds, the president has made serious charges for which he has provided no evidence whatever. His claim that his predecessor, Barack Obama, “tapped” his phones during the 2016 presidential campaign appears to be without any foundation at all.
Rep. Devin Nunes of California, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, declared, “We have no evidence that that took place,” saying “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.” Mr. Nunes, a Trump supporter who served on the president’s transition team, said: “Clearly, the president was wrong.”
FBI Director James Comey asked the Justice Department to issue a statement refuting the president’s claim. Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), who has been a strong Trump supporter, said that the president owes Mr. Obama an apology: “It’s not a charge that I would have ever made. And frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling proof, then I think the president, you know, President Obama, is owed an apology in that regard…If he didn’t do it, we shouldn’t be reckless in accusations that he did.”
Compounding the situation, President Trump provoked a rare public dispute with our closest ally after his White House aired an explosive and unsubstantiated claim that Britain’s spy agency had secretly eavesdropped on him at the behest of President Obama during the presidential campaign.
Angry British officials rejected the allegations and secured a promise from senior White House officials never to repeat it. But President Trump himself refused to back down, saying the White House had nothing to retract or apologize for because his spokesman had simply repeated an assertion made by a Fox News commentator.
Fox News disavowed the report.
Judge Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News commentator, made a strange and unsupported accusation, citing three unnamed sources, he said that Britain’s top spy agency had wiretapped Trump on behalf of Obama during the 2016 campaign.
Then, White House press secretary Sean Spicer, trying to make the Trump claim of wiretapping seem plausible, repeated the claim from the White House podium. The following day, Fox News anchor Shepherd Smith said on-air: “Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-president of the United States was surveilled at any time, anyway. Full Stop.”
Why is the President of the United States citing political commentators about foreign intelligence matters when he has the intelligence community of the U.S. Government a phone call away?
Foreign policy analysts, Republicans and Democrats, have expressed astonishment that President Trump would, with apparently little thought, endanger the U.S. intelligence partnership with Britain. Kori Schake, a former national security aide to President George W. Bush who is now at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, said, “It illustrates the extent to which the White House doesn’t care what damage they do to crucial relationships to avoid admitting their dishonesty. America’s allies are having to protect themselves against being tarred with White House mendacity.”
Eric S. Edelman, an undersecretary of defense under President George W. Bush, has written about the stresses between the U.S. and Britain in recent years.
“I hope that this latest episode doesn’t drive a stake through the heart of the strongest remaining element of Anglo-American partnership,” he said.
Julianne Smith, who was a deputy national security adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden, said that Mr. Trump did not appear to realize how much American intelligence agencies depend on Britain in dealing with threats around the world.
“He will probably live to see the day when he will regret firing off such an egregious insult to Britain and then failing to apologize for it,” she said.
Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, their equivalent of the NSA, is usually tight-lipped on allegations relating to intelligence matters. In this case, however, it issued a statement calling Napolitano’s accusations on Fox News “nonsense” qualifying his comments “… utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”
Donald Trump entered the White House with a very precarious relationship with the truth. For five years he led the “birther” campaign in which he promoted the false idea that President Obama was not born in the United States.
“I have people who have been studying the issue,” he said in an interview in 2011. “They cannot believe what they are finding.” He persisted even after President Obama produced his Hawaii birth certificate, and backed away only when the Republican nomination was his.
He briefly stipulated what everyone had long known, that Mr. Obama was born in the United States. He immediately changed the narrative saying that it was Hillary Clinton who had initiated the birther conspiracy.
Many hoped that, once elected, Donald Trump would change, that he would avoid false claims, such as charging that the father of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) was involved in the Kennedy assassination. This, however, was not to be. With no evidence whatever, he claimed that millions of illegal aliens voted for Hillary Clinton, the real reason for her receiving the majority of the popular vote. He claimed his Inauguration Day crowds exceeded that of his predecessor, which the U.S. Park Service showed not to be the case. He claimed that he received more electoral votes than any president since Ronald Reagan. In fact, he received the least.
All of these false claims were almost immediately found to be untrue. He even said that sun was shining during his Inaugural address, although it was raining. Didn’t Donald Trump think that the truth would quickly become known? How can such reckless behavior be explained?
The lack of truth in the Trump White House is hardly a partisan issue. Mr. Trump’s false wiretapping charges have been completely rejected by our largely conservative intelligence establishment.
James R. Clapper, Jr., the former director of national intelligence at the time, declared, “There was no such wiretap activity against the president-elect at the time as a candidate or against his campaign.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who is conducting one of the investigations into Russian meddling during the 2016 campaign, complains that the Trump Justice Department is stonewalling his requests for relevant documents.
Conservative columnist Donald Lambro, writing in The Washington Times, notes that,
“Both Russia’s clandestine interference in U.S.politics and Mr. Trump’s disturbing habit of making explosive political charges, without supporting evidence, have dramatically overshadowed the first two months of his presidency….What a mess. Meantime, really it is surely the height of political irony that Mr. Trump, who brands any and all news media revelations about his presidency’s troubles as ‘fake news,’ is being accused of the very same thing.”
Those conservatives in the media who take a “Trump, right or wrong” position are doing a disservice to the country, and to the president as well. Charles J. Sykes, a former conservative talk-show host, and author of, “How The Right Lost Its Mind,” notes that
“During his first week in office, Mr. Trump reiterated the unfounded charge that millions of people had voted illegally. When challenged on the evident falsehood, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, seemed to argue that Mr. Trump’s belief that something was true qualified as evidence. The press secretary also declined to answer a straightforward question about the unemployment rate, suggesting that the number will henceforth be whatever the Trump administration wants it to be. He can do this because members of the Trump administration feel confident that the alternative-reality media will provide air cover. It will be incumbent on conservative media outlets to push back. Conservatism should be a reality-based philosophy, and the movement will be better off if it recognizes that facts do matter. There may be short-term advantages to running headlines about millions of illegal immigrants voting or secret United Nations plots to steal your guns, but the longer the right enables such fabrications, the weaker it will be in the long run.”
When ABC’s David Muir challenged Donald Trump to back up his repeated claim that millions of people voted illegally, which he insists is the reason he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes, rather than admitting he had no evidence, Trump said: “You know what’s important? Millions of people agree with me when I say that.”
The message here is that facts don’t matter. What does matter, in Trump’s view, seems to blind trust in whatever he says. In all this, Trump knows exactly what he is doing. In his 1987 book, “The Art Of The Deal,” he called it “truthful hyperbole,” which he described as “an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”
“We’ve never seen anything this bizarre in our lifetime, where up is down and down is up, and everything is in question, and nothing is real,” said Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity and the author of “935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America’s Moral Integrity,” a book about presidential deception. In Lewis’s view, the president’s untruths are a deliberate strategy to position the nation’s leading news organizations as the enemy of the administration. “Fact-checking becomes an act of war by the media.”
For any administration to succeed, it is essential that the President of the United States is believed, both by Americans and by our friends and adversaries in the world. At present, this is not the case. When a crisis does occur, and the president seeks to rally Americans, and our allies, to necessary action, the element of trust which is essential may well be lacking.
Donald Trump must want to do better than leaving the legacy of being a president known for crying “Wolf.” And then not being believed when a real wolf appears at the door.