Witcover: Trump refuses to back away from his ugliest lie

President Trump continues to insist that former President Barack Obama ordered surveillance against him at Trump Tower during the 2016 election, despite FBI Director James Comey's flat assertion to the contrary this week.

Mr. Comey's public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, echoed by National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, pointedly also confirmed that the FBI and Department of Justice were investigating alleged Trump team collusion with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.


Referring to Mr. Trump's tweeted charges that his phones had been "wiretapped," Mr. Comey said, "I have no confirmation that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI." He added that neither Mr. Obama nor any president had the power to order such governmental surveillance.

Mr. Trump's response has been to try to divert public and press attention from his contention against Mr. Obama. He has called on the committee to pursue possible sources of leaks that profess to establish Trump campaign links with Russian interference in the election.


But the new president's allegation against his Oval Office predecessor remains the most outrageous accusation yet made by him, in a long string of unsubstantiated statements that he has declined to withdraw. He has insisted further clarification may soon surface, without providing it to the committee, while demanding continued congressional committee searches for it.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer, meanwhile, has labored to change the subject, telling reporters Monday that investigating the alleged campaign collusion with Russian hackers was one thing "and having proof of it" is another. "There's no evidence of a Trump-Russian collusion," he said, despite multiple U.S. intelligence agencies' agreement that it has occurred.

Mr. Trump has had a long history of making unproven charges against political foes, most notably in claiming that Mr. Obama was not a native-born American citizen and therefore was illegally elected to the presidency. Mr. Trump later quietly backed off the false allegation.

His subsequent unverified tweet against the former president, who conspicuously provided staff assistance to the Trump transition team and a personal welcome to the White House before and after Trump's inaugural, has been particularly jarring in light of traditional transition cooperation.

More significant has been the diminution of Trump's personal credibility in the foreign policy community as a trustworthy partner. Some of his contentious phone conversations with foreign leaders, and especially his awkward and somewhat tasteless White House press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, demonstrated a woeful paucity of tact.

His indelicate wisecrack that he and Ms. Merkel shared the distinction of both having been wiretapped by the U.S. intelligence apparatus drew some laughter from the attending German and American reporters. But the straight-faced chancellor did not seem particularly amused.

The prospect of this insensitive and chronically crude political neophyte playing a constructive role as America's chief spokesman on the global stage cannot be very encouraging to other world leaders who will encounter him in the months ahead.

Taken as a whole, Mr. Trump's first two months in the presidency has been both a roller coaster and a train wreck of incompetent governance at home and abroad, under a president who treats the office almost as an inconvenience between escapes to his Mar-a-Lago sanctuary.


His so-far failed executive orders to bar and deport unwanted immigrants, and his so-far undelivered repeal and replacement of Obama by the Republican-controlled Congress, have mocked his promise to rapidly Make America Great Again.

At the same time, public protests at town hall meetings nervously called by Republican office holders are providing an early signal of an awakening resistance to a Trump movement first seen in the Women's March on Washington in January.

No political vehicle has yet emerged to ignite credible restraint against his behavior in Congress, either in rejecting key elements of his legislative agenda or Democratic and other anti-Trump daydreams of House impeachment.

But there may be enough stirring already to speculate that Donald Trump is beginning to become his own worst enemy -- along, of course, with the "disgraced" news media that have the effrontery of quoting his own fake news back at him.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is