March 6, 2017: Towergate | Mark Levin 101 | Middlebury Madness
1. Towergate: Spreading the Blame
After Donald Trump’s Saturday twitterstorm accused Barack Obama of wiretapping his phone -- denied by former Obama administration officials, other sources and the F.B.I. -- the president was hammered in the Mainstream Media. The more conservative Red Media like Independent Journal Review and InfoWars were giving Trump air cover. But the rest of the Red Media seemed to stake out a more nuanced position.
On Sunday night, The Wall Street Journal opinion page ran an editorial headlined “Washington Goes Nuts” which seemed to say everyone is guilty of something:
“The political brawl over Russia, the Trump campaign and U.S. intelligence has reached the point where basic questions about U.S. institutions and trust in government are at stake. Democrats are trying to capitalize on anonymous leaks based on U.S. intelligence collection to destroy the Trump Presidency, and the President is responding with a fusillade of unproven accusations. To adapt Benjamin Franklin’s comment about the Constitution, you have a banana republic, if you can keep it.”
Normally skeptical of Trump, National Review argued, though, that Obama’s people were being disingenuous in their denials of the role the former president played in investigating Trump. It said that the phone-tapping probably happened and that it was likely approved by a judge after a request from the Justice Department under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Whatever the semantics of Obama’s role, he had to have known what Attorney General Loretta Lynch was asking for:
First, as Obama officials well know, under the FISA process, it is technically the FISA court that “orders” surveillance. And by statute, it is the Justice Department, not the White House, that represents the government in proceedings before the FISA court. So, the issue is not whether Obama or some member of his White House staff “ordered” surveillance of Trump and his associates. The issues are (a) whether the Obama Justice Department sought such surveillance authorization from the FISA court, and (b) whether, if the Justice Department did that, the White House was aware of or complicit in the decision to do so. Personally, given the explosive and controversial nature of the surveillance request we are talking about – an application to wiretap the presidential candidate of the opposition party, and some of his associates, during the heat of the presidential campaign, based on the allegation that the candidate and his associates were acting as Russian agents – it seems to me that there is less than zero chance that could have happened without consultation between the Justice Department and the White House.
Of course, much of the Red Twittersphere wasn’t looking for nuance. It backed the President 100 percent and, sadly, demands for Obama’s imprisonment and worse were on the rise:
ChristieC733 @ChristieC733, with 201k followers, had 4k likes and 4k retweets Sunday evening for this:
Jojoh888 @jojoh888 with 22.8k followers got nearly 3k likes for a tweet that said:
JackMurphy @realJAck with 118k followers got 3.7k likes for
What We’re Watching:
We are finding widespread misunderstanding in the Red Media of what legal wiretapping of Trump Tower would have required. Wired magazine has this helpful primer on why Trump’s charge could backfire on him, if true:
“Trump’s wiretap claims, then, carry presumably inadvertent implications. First, based on previous reporting and the nature of FISA courts, any wiretaps within Trump Tower would be legal. And they would stem from overwhelming evidence that the Trump campaign, or someone within it, has unsavory ties to Russia or another foreign power. Otherwise, it’s unlikely those wiretaps would exist at all.
If federal authorities did have cause to listen in on Trump Tower, though, and they provided enough evidence for a FISA court to approve the snooping, Obama is not the one who ought to worry.”
2. The Mark Levin Cheat Sheet
In fact, the rumors that Obama tapped Trump tower have been circulating for months and not just at National Review. They seemed to have surfaced again because Breitbart covered a Thursday evening rant by the talk radio host Mark Levin, in which he made the wire-tapping accusation.
For those in our audience not familiar with Levin, Talkers Magazine ranks the ultra-right host’s program as one of the top five highest-rated radio shows, with a weekly listening audience of about 7.7 million. He has a Twitter following of 757k. Levin is a lawyer who was chief of staff to Edwin Meese at Reagan’s Justice Department. Later, he was frequently invited on Rush Limbaugh’s and Sean Hannity’s shows to discuss legal matters. His own radio program has been nationally syndicated since 2006.
Interestingly enough, Levin originally was a “Never Trump” - er and endorsed Ted Cruz for president in March, 2016. Levin later backed Trump with reservations.
What We’re Watching: And talking about Levin, here is his reaction on Twitter to the New York Times story saying that F.B.I. Director James B. Comey has asked the Justice Department to reject Trump’s assertion. He got 2.6k likes within two hours of posting the tweet.
Ok, but release the FBI's 2 FISA applications so we can see what was going on. Enough with the selective leaking. https://t.co/v5KFdbtOdJ— Mark R. Levin (@marklevinshow) March 5, 2017
3. Middlebury Madness
Way back on Thursday, eons ago in the Trump-era news cycle, students at the normally peaceful Middlebury College in Vermont shut down a talk by the conservative political scientist Charles Murray, author of the controversial book “The Bell Curve,” which argued that blacks’ genetic makeup left them inferior to whites. The protest turned violent. A professor trying to attend the lecture was injured in a scuffle. The blowback on the Web lasted well through the weekend as the protest hit a very sensitive spot in the conservative worldview: Liberal hypocrisy on free speech. Here is a flavor of the outrage:
Robby Soave, an editor at Reason, tweeted out this:
A Professor Who Attended Charles Murray’s Middlebury Talk Is Now Wearing a Neck Brace. Protesters Attacked Her. https://t.co/sLt2GEtIlt— Robby Soave (@robbysoave) March 3, 2017
Michael Shermer @michaelscermer, publisher of Skeptic Magazine, with 115 k followers wrote:
Christina Sommers @chsommers, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute with 153K followers, wrote:
Some, however, went further, seeing signs of societal degeneration all around:
A Johns Hopkins professor, Eliot Cohen @eliotacohen, with 39k followers, tweeted:
The Weekly Standard editor at large Bill Kristol @BillKristol, with 140k followers, wrote:
From D.C. to Middlebury: There is "something of ill-omen...the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country."— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) March 4, 2017
A. Lincoln, 1838.
Also Worth Noting:
Check out Charles Murray’s first-person account of events on the AEI website. The hero of his story is Middlebury’s vice president for communications, Bill Burger, who stands up for Murray’s right to speak. For those of you keeping tabs at home, Burger is a Newsweek alumnus and a former full-fledged member of the so-called media elite.
4. More ACA Fear and Loathing: It’s Not the Repeal, It’s the Coverup
Last week, we reported on the Red Media’s growing impatience with Congress for the slow repeal of Obamacare. That impatience has grown to outright suspicion that House Speaker Paul Ryan is trying to pull a fast one. Senator Rand Paul added to this impression when he made a surprise visit to the House last week and demanded to see the bill.
On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal reported that “Conservative groups are raising alarms over central provisions of the House GOP’s emerging plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, pushing lawmakers to buck House Speaker Paul Ryan and oppose the Republican blueprint.” The Journal lists Freedom Partners, a group funded by the Koch brothers, as a main impediment. Apparently, the billionaire industrialists dislike the notion of refundable tax credits.
Meanwhile the more explicitly conservative Washington Examiner had this to say: “Conservative activists are pressing Republican leaders to scrap the budget reconciliation process they think will lead to an imperfect overhaul of Obamacare, and completely eliminate the Senate filibuster in order to completely repeal the law.”
5. Recaps and Highlights from Last Week
In case you missed it last week, here were reactions to Spicer’s paranoia and Oscar “elites.” Plus budget schisms inside the Republican party, reactions to Trump’s address to Congress, how the Far Right painted Sessions as a victim, and how one publication positioned Russia-Trump as the Democrats’ Benghazi.