In an interview that aired last night, Fox News host Tucker Carlson did a splendid job of pressing President Trump on the issues of the day, including his claim that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. Having tweeted the claim early on March 4, Trump raised questions about just how he learned about this. Carlson wanted to know.
Trump started his response this way: “I had been reading about things. I read in — I think it was January 20, a New York Times article where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term,” said Trump, referring to this Jan. 19 story in the New York Times that ran in the print edition of the newspaper under the headline, “Wiretapped Data Used in Inquiry of Trump Aides.” The story does not substantiate Trump’s tweeted claim. As the newspaper itself noted, “The Times has never reported that intelligence or law-enforcement officials were themselves spying on Mr. Trump. What The Times and other news organizations have reported is that American intelligence agencies have communication intercepts that officials believe show contacts between associates of Mr. Trump and Russian officials during the campaign.”
So Carlson wondered, quite logically, why Trump didn’t wait to tweet until he could prove the claim.
“Well, because The New York Times wrote about it,” said the president. At this moment, he had to know he was in an untenable spot. How could he rely on the New York Times if he has insulted that media outlet roughly 130 times on Twitter as of Feb. 27, by the newspaper’s own count? So now Trump had to allow for this discrepancy. “You know, not that I respect the New York Times, I call it the failing New York Times, but they did write on January 20, using the word ‘wiretap.'”
Instead of pursuing Trump on the convenient hypocrisy of his media critique, Carlson asked why he didn’t use the powers of his office to ascertain the truth for himself. Trump lapsed again into mumbo-jumbo, including a punctuation quibble: “Don’t forget, when I say ‘wiretap,’ those words were in quotes. That really covers — because wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff, but that really covers surveillance and many other things, and nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes, that’s a very important thing.”
Sure, Carlson could have prosecuted the quote issue. But really — over an extended interview with this particular president, there are just too many strands to follow up. This blog’s favorite came when Trump was talking about “Phase Two” of his plan for health-care reform, in which his Department of Health and Human Services would adjust regulations in an effort to reduce premiums. Here’s how the president himself described it to Carlson:
Phase Two, which is really not a phase — that’s where our secretary — who is a terrific guy, by the way, Tom Price — is going to sign away, he’s going to sign his heart away and he’s going to get rid of those horrible things that have been signed over the years.