Republicans to Trump: Put up or shut up

     White House Press secretary Sean Spicer speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    White House Press secretary Sean Spicer speaks to the media during the daily briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

    You may not have noticed — who can possibly keep track of everything? — that the Trump regime just blew a big deadline.

    The Republican-run House Intelligence Committee decided that the time had come to stop indulging Trump’s paranoia. It demanded that Trump produce evidence to support his tweeted claim that President Obama had illegally wiretapped him. Translation: Put up or shut up. The panel’s deadline was Monday. In response, Trump’s Justice Department put out a statement — I love the wording — that pleaded for more time “to determine what if any responsive documents may exist.”

    Not a surprise. Ten days have passed since Trump thumbed his misspelled smear — “How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones…Bad (or sick) guy!” — and he has yet to offer a shred of proof.

    It was one thing for Trump to spend five years claiming without a shred of proof that Obama was foreign-born, because he was just a private citizen tweeting for attention; it’s far more serious to slime Obama as an illegal wiretapper while you’re occupying the White House. Which is why Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham warned yesterday that Trump will “screw up big time” if he keeps refusing “to give us an answer.” In fact, Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House intel panel, said this morning: “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.”

    • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

    Meanwhile, conservative Republican Evan McMullin, who ran last year as an independent presidential candidate, is dogging Trump with a new ad, financed by a group called Stand Up Republic, that smartly keeps our eye on the ball — namely, the Trump-Russia scandal. McMullin ignores Trump’s wiretap allegation and simply says this:

    “Mounting stories of hidden ties and shady deals. Fear that the president is compromised. The values of liberty, justice, and honor shaped America. Generations fought for freedom, and presidents of both parties stood against foreign tyrants like Vladimir Putin. Why won’t Donald Trump? Tell Congress to name a bipartisan committee to get the truth.”

    Well said. Trump’s wiretap claim — part paranoia, part calculation — is merely his attempt to water down the congressional probes of his regime’s ties to Russia. Every minute that Hill Republicans spend investigating the wiretap claim is one less minute getting to the crux of Putin’s cyber-invasion. Indeed, Trump propaganda minister Sean Spicer said yesterday that the regime is eager for Congress to chase the wiretap claim: “I’ll leave it to them to issue their report. I think [Trump] feels very confident that what will ultimately come of this will vindicate him.”

    But punting Trump’s wiretap claim to Congress — go ahead guys, you look for evidence — was just one facet of Spicer’s desperate trickery. Folks, there are many bad jobs in this world — toilet cleaner, ditch digger — but arguably the worst is to be a Trump factotum, tasked with mopping his messes.

    After Trump leveled his wiretap charge, his minions stayed mute for days. But now they’ve decided that the best course of action is to serve up bogus spin. Spicer tried this on Monday, insisting that Trump didn’t mean to say what he clearly meant to say. Let’s call it The Air Quote Defense.

    Trump, in several of his accusatory tweets, had put quotation marks around the words “wire tap.” So Spicer told the press: “If you look at the president’s tweet, he said very clearly, quote, ‘wire tapping’ in quotes…The president was very clear in his tweet that it was, you know, ‘wire tapping.’ That spans a whole host of other surveillance options.”

    If we somehow ignore the fact that Trump semi-literately tweeted about a wiretap (“How low has Obama gone to tapp my phones”), we can divine Spicer’s intent. Clearly the White House has no evidence that Obama ordered an illegal tap, so Spicer was moving the goal posts to “other surveillance options.” For which the White House offers no evidence.

    Meanwhile, alternative factess Kellyanne Conway sought in a weekend interview to detail those other surveillance options: “There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways. And microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera.”

    But did she have any evidence that Obama ordered any such things? Nope. Because, in her memorable words, “I’m not in the job of having evidence.”

    And since Conway is a senior Trump adviser, a reporter at yesterday’s press briefing was compelled to ask Spicer this question: “Does the president believe that he was surveilled through microwaves?”

    In any previous era, the “Saturday Night Live” writers would’ve crafted that line. But welcome to Trumplandia, where reality is farce. The good news, today, is that Lindsey Graham’s Senate subcommittee will rightly treat Trump’s wiretap smear as a sideshow — and endeavor, in his words, “to find out all things Russia.” Eye on the ball, people.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal