It didn't take long to come to this: President Donald Trump is offering alternative facts about his alternative facts.
Two weekends ago, apropos of nothing, President Trump woke up early on Saturday and tweeted: "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my 'wires tapped' in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!" And then: "Is it legal for a sitting President to be 'wire tapping' a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!" Next: "I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!" And finally: "How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"
The fact that he provided no evidence for this whatsoever, and that his administration seemed altogether nonplussed about the situation (though Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer and the like gamely attempted to defend their boss nonetheless), might have led another man to drop the issue, particularly after the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said "I don't believe there was an actual tap of Trump Tower." But not Donald J. Trump.
Rather, the president dove headfirst into the issue in an interview with Tucker Carlson on Fox News Thursday night. First, he justified accusing the former president of criminal activity — and there can be no doubt that's what he was doing, given the claim that President Obama had been "turned down by court earlier," the assertion that a "good lawyer could make a great case" out of the matter and the comparison to Nixon and Watergate — because he had "been reading about things."
What "things," you may ask? Well, he pointed to a New York Times article in January that used the word "wiretapped" — though it clearly noted that the taps were of foreign officials who were communicating with people associated with Mr. Trump's campaign, not of those people specifically and certainly not Mr. Trump or, more broadly, Trump Tower. The president also mentioned an interview between Fox News's Bret Baier and House Speaker Paul Ryan in which Mr. Baier was "talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping."
Indeed, Mr. Baier asked Mr. Ryan about "reports" (source unnamed) of attempts by the Obama administration to "start a wiretap at Trump Tower with some computer and Russian banks." Mr. Ryan sounds confused in the ongoing exchange, and for good reason. When asked about it today , he said he had no idea at the time what Mr. Baier was talking about. And now that he does know what Mr. Baier was talking about, Mr. Ryan says, "the point is, the intelligence committees in their continuing, widening, ongoing investigation of all things Russia got to the bottom, at least so far, with respect to our intelligence community that no such wiretap existed."
But the next part of Mr. Trump's explanation really takes the cake. When the president said "wiretapping," he didn't actually mean "wiretapping." Obviously.
"And don't forget," Mr. Trump told Mr. Carlson, "when I say wiretapping, those words were in quotes. That really covers, because wiretapping is pretty old fashioned stuff. But that really covers surveillance and many other things. And nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes, but that's a very important thing."
Because, as we all know, if it's in quotes, it doesn't really count. Perhaps he was also crossing his fingers behind his back while he was tweeting.
Here in Baltimore, we have a special appreciation for the meaning of "wiretapping," given a municipal obsession with a certain TV show, not to mention the presence of the National Security Agency in our backyard, and yes, we're well aware that it can mean efforts to intercept communications of all kinds. But when Mr. Trump tweets "President Obama was tapping my phones" and "how low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones" (without the magical quotation marks), it seems pretty clear to us that he's accusing the former president of tapping his actual phones.
So there we have it. Mr. Trump is now lying about his lies, and he's not done. "I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks," he said in concluding his discussion of the matter with Mr. Carlson. We can hardly wait.