President Donald Trump's recklessness has reached a new high, and that's hard to do. In a series of tweets Saturday morning, the president alleged, without any evidence whatsoever, that former President Barack Obama had illegally ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower in New York in the days before the Nov. 8 election.
An Obama spokesman quickly labeled the accusations "simply false." Just as quickly, James Comey, the director of the FBI, which would have been responsible for any such wiretapping, asked the Justice Department to publicly repudiate Trump's claim as untrue.
We thus have the president of the United States accusing his predecessor and, by implication, the nation's top law enforcement agency of criminal activity. Trump's source for the charges apparently was a story in the right-wing Breitbart News, based on comments by a conservative radio talk show host. There is nothing in the public record to support Breitbart's overheated interpretation of reports in British media.
The Guardian and the BBC say that as part of a multi-agency investigation into Russian interference with the U.S. election, the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court issued warrants allowing communications by two Russian banks to be intercepted. The BBC reported that the court declined to add any U.S. citizens, including any Trump associates, to the warrant.
To make the jump from that to an Obama-ordered wiretapping of Trump Tower bespeaks epic disregard of fact and deep distrust in democratic institutions.
Nothing in Trump's long history of cynical statements quite matches this one. It shocked responsible observers across the political spectrum.
"We are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust, and the president's allegations ... demand the thorough and dispassionate attention of serious patriots," said Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., in a statement. "A quest for the full truth, rather than knee-jerk partisanship, must be our guide if we are going to rebuild civic trust and health."
Peter Wehner, a conservative scholar who was President George W. Bush's top policy strategist, told the Washington Post: "We have as president a man who is erratic, vindictive, volatile, obsessive, a chronic liar, and prone to believe in conspiracy theories. And you can count on the fact that there will be more to come. ... When people like Donald Trump gain power, they become less, not more, restrained."
Trump may have been trying to distract attention from last week's news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had lied to a Senate committee about his own pre-election contacts with Russia's ambassador.
If so, he may have overplayed his hand. An investigation of these wild accusations will not derail House and Senate committees looking into Russian influence on the election. With Sessions having recused himself from the investigation, pressure will build for a special counsel. Facts will come out, and they won't be alternative facts.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH