(Credit: Getty/Mandel Ngan)
Can we take a moment from trying to follow last week’s Trump White House follies and our incessant worrying that Trump is about to start World War III to engage in a little time-travel back to a more innocent time, when we had no idea what was in store for us, before the exhaustion of the New Normal had set in? I’m speaking here of March 4 of this year, a lazy spring Saturday morning when we were happily going about our business, maybe going out for a hike, or getting ready for our kids’ spring break, or maybe we were going to find a spring training exhibition game on cable, or watch the qualifying for the NASCAR race in Atlanta. When Trump woke up that Saturday morning at Mar a Lago, he picked up his phone and started thrumb-thwacking a bizarre theory that President Obama had been wiretapping him during the run-up to the 2016 election.
“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump tweeted at 8:02 a.m. A few minutes later, he fired off this gem: “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”
It’s really hard to remember those innocent days, isn’t it? I mean, I’ve been sitting here like you have, literally drowning in the tsunami of last week. First Trump sends out a tweet that undercuts Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s attempts to make some kind of deal with China to reign in North Korea, saying “Sorry, only one thing will work!” Which fires up speculation that he’s threatening a nuclear war. Then he flies to Puerto Rico to have a look at the devastation on the island which has 3.4 million without water or electricity, nobody is able to get anywhere because of washed out roads and bridges, no cell phone reception, people are literally starving from lack of food, and he stands in some fucking airport hanger and throws paper towels into a crowd and then gets on his jet and flies back to the White House and gives a couple of interviews congratulating himself for such a great trip.
Then it’s revealed that Tillerson had called the president “a fucking moron” at a meeting of national security officials at the Pentagon last summer. A day later, Trump poses for a photo before a dinner with military leaders, and tells the press what they are seeing is “the calm before the storm,” and when asked what he meant by that ominous phrase, answers “you’ll find out.” Then Senator Bob Corker gets into it with Trump, saying he was running the presidency like “a reality show, calling the White House an “adult day care center,” and going further to say that Trump’s saber rattling at North Korea could put us “on the path to World War III.” Trump fires back by calling Corker (who stands about 5-7) “Liddle’ Bob Corker,” and saying that the “failing New York Times” had set him up, “and that’s what I’m dealing with!” leaving aside that what he’s “dealing with” are the effects of three savage hurricanes, a congress that hasn’t passed a single item on his agenda, and the encroaching threat of the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, among other heavy issues. And all the while, he declared that every single report on the events of last week was “fake news.” His disastrous trip to Puerto Rico? Fake News. Tillerson’s “moron” comment? Fake news. He’s threatening North Korea? Fake news.
The answer to his prayers, “fake news,” as far back as March 4, only 43 days into his presidency. By then, he was already struggling against allegations of collusion between his campaign and the Russians in 2016. The White House had begun with flat-out denials, of course. But on February 13, less than a month into his presidency, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was fired because he had lied about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign and afterwards during the transition. Three days later, on February 16, Trump held his first solo press conference, and tried to put the whole Russia thing behind him by declaring that anything having to do with Trump and Russia was “fake news,” and Flynn was a pretty good guy who had been “badly treated” by the media, and that his travel ban, which had generated chaos at airports and had already been put on hold by a federal court, had enjoyed “a very smooth roll out.”
It didn’t work. The press conference was widely derided as unhinged, both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees announced that they would be investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the questions about Flynn’s firing and the Trump campaign and Russia just refused to go away, so Trump went down to Mar a Lago and decided to change the subject by, yes, screaming that Obama did it! Then he made the fatal mistake of telling the congress that they should investigate Obama’s possibly criminal wiretapping of Trump’s campaign.
So they announced they would look into it, and on March 20, the House Intelligence Committee called FBI Director Comey to Capitol Hill, where he proceeded to tell the committee that the FBI didn’t have any evidence of Obama tapping Trump’s phones, but come to think of it, the FBI had had a criminal and counterintelligence investigation going since July of 2016 “that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
It was a bombshell. Well, correct that: it was the first of many, many bombshells. That was Monday, March 20. On Wednesday morning, March 22, the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee — the committee which had just held the hearing during which the Comey bombshell went off — appeared on the driveway of the White House and announced that he had evidence that the “intelligence community” had listened in on communications involving members of the Trump transition team (of which Nunes was one) during foreign intelligence “intercepts.”
This would soon lead us down the rabbit hole of the great Susan Rice “unmasking” controversy, during which Nunes, among others, would essentially accuse Obama’s National Security Advisor and alleged master of the Benghazi cover-up of secretly “tapping the wires” of Trump’s people at Trump Tower. Within a few days, it was revealed that on the night of March 21 — the day after the Comey bombshell on Capitol Hill — Dim Bulb Nunes was in an Uber with members of his staff going somewhere when he received a mysterious phone call, ordered the Uber to pull over, got out, got himself another Uber, and disappeared into the night. Where did he disappear one night after Comey told the world that the Trump campaign had been under investigation for nine months? Well, it turns out the call he got was from two youthful White House staffers who told Nunes to get himself over to the White House, where they led Nunes on a midnight snipe hunt through the deep weeds of the National Security Council “SCIF” searching for “evidence” that Obama put a “tapp” on Trump’s “wires.”
One of the snipe-hunters was Ezra Cohen-Watnick, 30, “Senior Director for Intelligence” on the National Security Council. Watnick had been hired by Michael Flynn back in January. McMaster tried to fire him when he took over the NSC from disgraced Flynn in February, only to have his order overturned by Trump’s Power Twins, Bannon and Kushner, for whom Watnick was apparently spying on the NSC staff. The other snipe-hunter was Michael Ellis, 32, a lawyer in the White House counsel’s office who was “working on national security issues.” And who did Ellis work for before he got his job at the White House? Dim Bulb Nunes, natch. He was “counsel” to Nunes on the…you guessed it…House Intelligence Committee.
Are you with me, so far? Okay then. Follow this: facing revelations about the White House Midnight Merry Go Round, Nunes, who had been stopping before every press gaggle he could find to accuse the Obama White House of tapping Trump’s “wires” was suddenly dodging reporters and refusing to answer questions and denying that he his credibility had been totally and completely destroyed by revelations that he had pulled his John Le Carre moves whispering into cell phones and changing Ubers and rushing over to the White House to meet Watnick and Ellis, because, you know, he could never reveal sources and methods, which is why he couldn’t discuss the “intercepts” that he had delivered to the White House that the White House already had because of course he had found the “intercepts” during his midnight snipe hunt with Watnick and Ellis.
A day or so later, he canceled an open hearing he had scheduled to hear testimony from former CIA Directors Brennan and Woolsey and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates (who had revealed Flynn’s ties to Russian Ambassador Kislyak and had been quickly fired,) and then he scheduled a closed hearing to hear again from FBI Director Comey and NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers, and then he cancelled that closed hearing too. And a few days after all of that, on April 6, Nunes recused himself from the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation while the Office of Congressional Ethics began an investigation into whether he “made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct” when he stepped before the mics on the White House driveway and babbled on and on about “intercepts” and “unmasking” and stuff.
Got that? It’s really something, going back through all that shit, isn’t it? Well, reach back down into your memory hole and recollect this: only a month later, on May 9, Trump fired Comey and walked smiling ear-to-ear straight into a meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak (remember him? Flynn’s buddy?) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and told them he had just fired Comey, calling him “crazy, a real nut job,” and bragging that “I had faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” And then came the lies about Comey being fired because the FBI was in “turmoil,” and then his admission to Lester Holt that he had fired him because “I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
And we were off to the races with the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and daily allegations that pretty much all news that didn’t come straight from either Spicer or Huckabee-Sanders was “fake news,” and about eleventy-seven dimwits got fired from the White House and replaced with new dimwits, and lots of saber rattling at North Korea and calling Kim Jong-un “Rocket Man” and Rocket Man actually firing off rocket after rocket, and learning about even more meetings with Russians including the infamous Trump Tower meeting held by Donald Junior along with Manafort and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and, well, don’t you need to take a breath? I sure as hell do.
This stuff is making my head hurt. I live in constant fear. Right now, I’m afraid to turn on the TV and see what the monciferous me-man in the White House has done since I sat down to write this. And I’m a cynical bastard, for crying out loud! I covered Richard Nixon and Watergate! I’ve been writing about this shit for 50 years — the assholes who get us into wars and run us into bankruptcy and pollute our water and air and deny health care to sick people and refuse to raise the minimum wage while they let billionaires steal us blind — and Trump’s New Normal is wearing me out. I’m going to take two ibuprofen and lie down.