The late Carl Sagan, writing in Broca’s Brain, summarized in an aphorism an Enlightenment Era principle: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Sagan was writing about claims of paranormal activity, but the principle is at the heart of scientific skepticism.
The President of the United States has made an extraordinary claim: that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, wiretapped his phones:
“How low has President Obama gone to tapp [sic] my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
— President Trump, tweet, March 4, 2017
By any measure, that’s an extraordinary claim: that the sitting president of the United States abused his office to spy on the Republican candidate for the office. Nixonian, indeed. Surely the evidence for such a claim must be extraordinary.
Except it isn’t. As the Washington Post has shown, the “evidence” is non-existent. When those evil folks at the mainstream media pressed the question, Trump Press Secretary Sean SPicer said,
“Reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations ahead of the 2016 election are very troubling.”
— White House press secretary Sean Spicer, statement, March 5
Instead of evidence, we got “reports” of “potentially politically motivated investigations.” There were no “burglars” caught red-handed at Trump Tower. What Press Secretary Spicer had was double hearsay which itself doesn’t support the claims made. So there is no “evidence” as any competent lawyer or judge would understand the phrase.
What the “reports” turned out to be was a Brietbart News – an automatically suspect source – story which in turn was based solely on a story in HeatStreet, another right-leaning news organization, headlined “EXCLUSIVE: FBI ‘Granted FISA Warrant’ Covering Trump Camp’s Ties To Russia.” The HeatStreet story was written by Louise Mensch, a former Tory member of the British Parliament and an independent journalist.
For WC, that kind of story has even less credibility than a typical National Enquirer teaser headline at a Safeway checkout stand. It’s conspiracy junkie “evidence,” not to be confused with the real thing.
What Ms. Mensch describes is two claimed applications for FISA warrants to allow monitoring of Russian banks, SVB Bank and Alfa Bank. The claim is that the second one was granted. This isn’t news; the New York Times reported on these issues on October 31, 2016. The Mensch story, published November 6, a week later, simply spins part of the Times story.
If you think this is “proof” of anything then WC has a wonderful bargain for you on the Cushman Street bridge in downtown Fairbanks. The “evidence” for Trump’s claim is so flimsy and meager that the Washington Post gave it a full four Four Pinocchios.
On the other side of the story, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Sunday flatly denied any suggestion that Trump Tower communications were wiretapped before the election.
For WC, what Trump’s claim is all about is yet another distraction. One of the various existing scandals and investigations is getting a little too hot, and this was an effort to distract the citizenry. A distraction doesn’t have to be true; it has to have just enough “truthiness” to serve the purpose. WC has written before about the President’s use and misuse of distraction. We’re seeing it again.
Which raises the question: which of the many, many Trump scandals has gotten hot enough that the Administration has deemed it necessary to lay out yet another red herring? WC’s candidate: why did both AG Jeff Sessions and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn lie about having meetings with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak?