Trumpistanian whispers

The Times reports from the hall of mirrors where it gets to correct the lies of Trump and Trump’s people about what the Times has reported in the past that Trump and Trump’s people are citing as justification for Trump’s lies about Obama’s dastardly wire tapps [sic] of Trump Tower.

Two senior White House officials suggested on Monday that President Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that President Barack Obama had tapped his telephone was not meant to be taken literally, arguing that Mr. Trump had been referring more broadly to a variety of surveillance efforts during the 2016 campaign when he made the incendiary accusation.

“He doesn’t really think that President Obama went up and tapped his phone personally,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary.

In fact, Mr. Spicer said, when Mr. Trump charged in a Twitter post last weekend that Mr. Obama “had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower,” he was referring generally to surveillance activities during the 2016 race — not to an actual telephone wiretap.

“The president was very clear in his tweet that it was, you know, ‘wiretapping,’” Mr. Spicer said, using his fingers to make a gesture suggesting quotation marks. “That spans a whole host of surveillance types of options.”

Hahaha yeah sure Spicey, the president was “very clear” that he wasn’t saying what he was saying. It’s always “very clear” what he means by those random quotation marks he sticks in for unfathomable reasons in apparently arbitrary places. It’s not at all that he has the bad habit shared by many semi-literate people of using quotation marks whose meaning is undetectable. Some people use “them” sort of like pepper “or” hot sauce, to add a bit “of” flavor. It’s not true – it’s a lie – that Trump was “very clear” that the quotation marks on “wiretapping” meant “not really wiretapping.” In fact such a reading would render the tweets gibberish, since they were all about his outrage at that very wiretapping. If he really meant “wiretapping”…then what was the outrage about?

No, Spicey, that won’t fly.

The remarks were the first time the White House sought to explain the accusation Mr. Trump made in a series of posts on Twitter saying Mr. Obama “was tapping my phones” and calling the former president a “bad (or sick) guy.”

The explanations came as the Justice Department asked the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee, who had given a Monday deadline to produce proof of Mr. Trump’s claim, for more time “to determine what if any responsive documents exist.”

How much time? A little under eight years, perhaps?

Then there were Kellyanne Conway’s exciting new claims about spy microwave ovens and stuff.

The unusual and shifting explanations from Mr. Spicer and Ms. Conway reflected the contortions that members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle have employed to explain the president’s explosive accusation, which he has yet to address personally. Neither Mr. Trump nor anyone at the White House has presented any evidence for the claim, instead asking Congress to investigate it as part of its inquiry into Russia’s interference in the presidential election.

Both the House Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee have requested that the Department of Justice provide evidence it may have for Mr. Trump’s charge, but Mr. Spicer said on Monday that the president had not instructed the department to furnish any.

He suggested that Mr. Trump had relied on multiple news reports, including in The New York Times, to make his charge.

And there we enter the Hall of Mirrors, where the Times gets to explain that the Times never said what Spicey implied.

“It is interesting how many news outlets reported that this activity was taking place during the 2016 election cycle, and now are wondering where the proof is,” Mr. Spicer said.

The Times and other news outlets have reported extensively on surveillance in the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign, particularly related to Russia’s efforts to influence the election. But The Times has never reported that intelligence or law-enforcement officials were themselves spying on Mr. Trump. What The Times and other news organizations have reported is that American intelligence agencies have communication intercepts that officials believe show contacts between associates of Mr. Trump and Russian officials during the campaign.

Still, several far-right websites, including Infowars, which traffics in conspiracy theories and whose eccentric operator, Alex Jones, has interviewed Mr. Trump, have erroneously asserted that The Times and others had reported that the president was under surveillance.

In a story dated March 6, Infowars cited a Jan. 19 article in The Times detailing how American law enforcement and intelligence agencies were examining intercepted communications as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and Trump associates.

“Flashback: NYT admits wiretaps used against Trump,” the headline read. The story noted that The Times “didn’t specifically mention that Trump himself, or Trump Tower, was bugged,” but the caveat has not stopped Mr. Trump’s supporters from insisting that The Times was a source for the president’s tweet.

Of course, there’s a sense in which that can be perfectly true. Trump is thick as a plank, so he could easily have misunderstood something he read, or believed something Alex Jones said, and in that way “sincerely” derived his story from the Times reporting.

The chain could go like this:

The Times reports on surveillance in the United States during the 2016 presidential campaign–>Alex Jones translates that to “the Times reports on wiretaps on Trump by the Obama administration”–>Trump translates that to “the Times reports that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.”

Trump is the one with the nuclear codes.

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