WH spokesperson on Trump wiretap claim: “He’s made very clear what he believes, and he’s asking we get down to the bottom of this.” pic.twitter.com/gTVLtszS1L
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) March 5, 2017
White House press secretary Sean Spicer issued a statement Sunday calling for an investigation into President Trump's allegation — without evidence — that his predecessor in the White House, Barack Obama, wiretapped him.
And then Spicer concluded it by saying that the White House would offer no further comment. That included, apparently, any comment actually substantiating Trump's claim.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) March 5, 2017
But shortly thereafter, another White House spokesman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, did comment further. And she showed exactly why Spicer didn't really want to talk about this.
During an at-times-painful interview with ABC's Martha Raddatz, Huckabee Sanders repeatedly suggested that Trump's allegation was worth looking into but declined to vouch for it. Raddatz pointed this out repeatedly, and Huckabee Sanders responded by saying “if this happened,” “if this took place,” “if it did” and “let's find out.”
Here's a snippet, with Huckabee Sanders's equivocations in bold:
RADDATZ: Was the principal source the Breitbart story, which links to the New York Times? But the New York Times doesn't say anything definitive. Donald Trump does. There is nothing equivocating about what he says. “I just found out that Obama had my wires tapped.” That's not “look into something.” He says it happened.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think the bigger thing is you guys are always telling us to take the media seriously. Well, we are today. We're taking the reports that places like the New York Times, Fox News, BBC, multiple outlets have reported this. All we're saying is, let's take a closer look. Let's look into this. If this happened, if this is accurate, this is the biggest overreach and the biggest scandal.
RADDATZ: The president of the United States is accusing the former president of wiretapping him.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think that this is, again, something that if this happened, Martha …
RADDATZ: “If,” “if,” “if,” “if.”
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I agree.
RADDATZ: Why is the president saying it did happen?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: Look, I think he's going off of information that he's seen that has led him to believe that this is a very real potential. And if it is, this is the greatest overreach and the greatest abuse of power that, I think, we have ever seen and a huge attack on democracy itself. And the American people have a right to know if this took place.
RADDATZ: Okay. Let me just say one more time. The president said, “I bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October.” So the president believes it is true?
HUCKABEE SANDERS: I would say that his tweet speaks for itself there.
At one point later in their conversation, Huckabee Sanders even said, “I will let the president speak for himself" — to which an exasperated Raddatz responded: “You're his spokesperson.”
This is a familiar dance from the White House. Trump sees a piece of information from a less-than-reputable news source that fits into his conspiracy theory-oriented worldview. He then states it as fact to rile up his supporters and cast himself as the victim of an effort to undermine him. Then his spokesmen go out there and don't really vouch for him but say what he said should be investigated.
The exact thing happened with Trump's allegations that millions of illegal votes were cast for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign: Trump drops a bomb, offers no proof and then leaves it to those around him to investigate it. And, in this case, Congress is in the unhappy position of possibly having to fold this claim into its existing Russia investigations, while the White House attempts to wash its hands of Trump's conspiracy theory-mongering.
But the fact remains that the White House is defending a President Trump who doesn't exist. They're not defending a man who thinks his claim is worth investigating; they're defending a man who says what he claimed actually happened. And it's a claim that is so over its own skis that even his top spokesmen won't attach their names to it.