The Daily 202: Wiretapping allegations accomplished what Trump wanted – but may backfire bigly

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THE BIG IDEA: It is easy to pooh-pooh Donald Trump’s predawn Saturday tweetstorm — accusing Barack Obama of the worst political crimes since Watergate while offering no evidence — as an undisciplined rant from someone who has long embraced conspiracy theories.
That neither gives the president enough credit nor reflects the gravity of his unfounded accusations.
It is past time to dispense with the fiction that Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He is trying to distract us. And, at least this weekend, he succeeded.
— The country’s chief law enforcement officer made a false statement to Congress, while under oath, about his contacts with one of this nation’s biggest adversaries. (Legal experts, including Republicans, note that others have been prosecuted for less.) When he got busted, Attorney General Jeff Sessions initially claimed through a spokeswoman that he couldn’t recall specifics of what had been said during his undisclosed sit-down with the Russian ambassador, except that it wasn’t political in nature. Then, with his job on the line, he miraculously remembered supposedly exculpatory details.
This is a big dang deal, no matter how hard Sessions tries to spin it. It’s such a big deal that, after weeks of refusing to do so and with the president publicly urging him not to, the AG agreed to recuse himself from any investigations related to the 2016 campaign.
Last Thursday, Sessions said at his press conference that he would write the Judiciary Committee “today or tomorrow” to clarify his misleading testimony. It’s now been four days, and he has yet to formally clean things up. A spokesman said he’ll submit amended testimony later today. We’ll see. Either way, a delay this long only happens when one is trying to get one’s ducks in a row.
But the press didn’t spend this weekend talking about Sessions. He had confirmed to attend the Gridiron Dinner in Washington on Saturday night, but he skipped it and flew to Florida to be with Trump. The Sunday shows did not dwell on debates over the AG’s duplicity. Instead, everyone talked about whether Obama wiretapped Trump Tower last October.
And Trump was happy as a clam about that. A White House official told The Post that the president was in a brighter mood on Sunday morning than he was on Saturday because he was pleased that his allegations against Obama were the dominant story on cable and led the newspapers.
The president knows the media cannot ignore him when he says something so inflammatory, and he believes there will be no real consequences for him if it turns out that everything he said was nonsense. After all, there haven’t been up until now.
Moreover, Trump’s core supporters also got a new talking point. Whenever they’re confronted with the links between Trump associates and Russia, millions of people are now going to reply that the real story is Obama’s wiretapping — even if that claim is shown definitively to have no basis in reality.

— The president was seething mad as he watched round-the-clock cable news coverage about Sessions. He was angry that the positive marks he received for his Tuesday speech to Congress, which made him jubilant, had been replaced by the Wednesday night news about Sessions. The Post’s Phil Rucker, Bob Costa and Ashley Parker have a tick tock on the fury that followed, based on interviews with 17 top White House officials, members of Congress and friends of the president:

  • “Inside the West Wing [on Wednesday night], Trump’s top aides were furious with the defenses of Sessions offered by the Justice Department’s public affairs division and felt blindsided that Sessions’s aides had not consulted the White House earlier in the process….
  • “The next morning, Trump exploded, according to White House officials. He headed to Newport News, Va., on Thursday for a splashy commander-in-chief moment. The president would trumpet his plan to grow military spending aboard the Navy’s sophisticated new aircraft carrier. But as Trump, sporting a bomber jacket and Navy cap, rallied sailors and shipbuilders, his message was overshadowed by Sessions….
  • “Then, a few hours after Trump had publicly defended his attorney general and said he should not recuse himself from the Russia probe, Sessions called a news conference to announce just that — amounting to a public rebuke of the president….
  • “Back at the White House on Friday morning, Trump summoned his senior aides into the Oval Office, where he simmered with rage, according to several White House officials. He upbraided them over Sessions’s decision to recuse himself, believing that Sessions had succumbed to pressure from the media and other critics instead of fighting with the full defenses of the White House…
  • “In a huff, Trump departed for Mar-a-Lago, taking with him only his daughter and [son-in-law], who is a White House senior adviser. His top two aides, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and [Stephen] Bannon, stayed behind in Washington
  • “Stories from Breitbart News, the incendiary conservative website, have been circulated at the White House’s highest levels in recent days, including one story where talk-radio host Mark Levin accused the Obama administration of mounting a ‘silent coup,’ according to several officials.”
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