A marvel of the modern era is that, with so much information at our fingertips, it is trivial to weave a conspiracy theory out of next to nothing. It also allows for those so inclined to retroactively cobble together justifications for arguments that are otherwise shaky.
Donald Trump is so inclined.
In the wake of the attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando that killed at least 49 people, Trump phoned in to a number of news programs to make a remarkable insinuation: Maybe President Obama hadn't clamped down on the homegrown terrorism threat because he didn't want to.
Asked by a Fox News anchor why Obama didn't immediately call the attack "Islamic terrorism," Trump replied that Obama either "doesn't get it or he gets it better than anybody understands." He then continued, saying that "we're led by a man that either is not tough, not smart or has something else in mind."
When NBC's Savannah Guthrie asked Trump to explain that last comment, Trump sort of passed the buck. "Well, there are a lot of people that think maybe he doesn't want to get it," he said. "A lot of people think maybe he doesn't want to know about it."
When The Post first reported on these comments, writing that Trump had implied that Obama bore some blame for the attack, Trump was incensed, calling The Post "dishonest and phony" and barring our reporters from his public events.
On Wednesday morning, though, he seemed to own that insinuation.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2016
The tweet has the appearance of a retweet (what's that "An:"?), but no prior tweets seem to contain the phrasing offered. So this is Donald Trump's official Twitter account declaring himself "right" about what he "may have insinuated" — that Obama is turning a blind eye to acts of terrorism in the United States. The justification plucked from thin air as proof? A story from the Trump-friendly Breitbart News, recirculating a 2012 memo that first came to light last year. The memo, released to the conservative group Judicial Watch, explains the state of affairs in Syria at the time and, in Breitbart's evocative formulation, shows that "Hillary Clinton received [a] secret memo stating Obama admin[istration] 'support' for ISIS."
When the memo was first made public, a similar claim about the government backing the Islamic State was made and debated. When Fox News picked up the story, no mention was made of the administration supporting the Islamic State; instead, it depicted the document as warning how the deteriorating situation in Iraq might facilitate the rise of a group like the Islamic State.
But let's take a step back again to analyze Trump's arguments here. He implied that Obama might ignore terrorist threats for murky reasons, denied the implication, and then stated that a 2012 memo that was sent to Clinton at the State Department somehow proved the implication correct.
Earlier this week, we outlined the political value for Trump in suggesting that Obama is up to no good. Wednesday's tweet, though, goes a step further, making the claim explicit. It's fair to ask, then, what accusation Trump is leveling against Obama.
Some observers, like the Daily Show's Trevor Noah, have suggested that Trump is implying that Obama has committed treason. We called George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, who in the past has handled terrorism cases, to see where that line was drawn.
"Treason is a crime that is often seen more in rhetorical than legal settings," Turley said, very much to the point. "It's one of the few crimes that's mentioned in the Constitution. It generally involves levying war."
"The definition of treason has always been defined narrowly in the United States because it has such great potential for criminalizing political speech and dissent," he said. "The U.S. Courts recognized early that treason was not only narrowly defined historically but had to be confined to be consistent with the First Amendment" and its protection of free speech. So treason, per the Constitution, shall "consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort" — which has been interpreted as only including overt acts "showing criminal intent to levy war."
Which makes the point clearly. This isn't what Trump is saying — because he's not saying what he's saying. We are nowhere near a specific charge that Obama is legally undermining the country because we are nowhere near anything specific.
Trump wants the following things, in order: to be agreed with, to stir up anger at Obama and the Democrats, and to be right. He winks at Obama's loyalty to the United States, gets incensed when people say he was winking about it and then tries to prove that his winking was correct.
Trump wants his cake and he wants to eat his cake, too. Then, mouth full, he wants to brag about just how great his cake is.