Email #117, Subject: “wiretapping”?

You asked FBI Director James Comey for any evidence that President Obama wiretapped Donald Trump’s offices during the election, and the Justice Department answered your request, reporting that there is “no evidence to confirm Trump’s claims that the Obama administration had wiretapped him or the Trump Tower.”

Although the President alleged wiretapping specifically, and although the article that fueled his unfounded accusation discussed only wiretapping, the White House has since retroactively claimed that the President’s original tweet had actually meant surveillance in general.  He is now claiming that “wiretapping” includes even untargeted “incidental collection.”

The President similarly reverse-engineered his intentions after his erroneous reference to events in Sweden. He said: “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden,” referring to a Fox News segment that had aired the night before. The segment itself was misleading, but the President still credited it and his claim as accurate.

Time magazine later asked him: “you said look at what happened on Friday in Sweden. But you are now saying you were referring to something that happened the following day.”

The President responded: “No I am saying I was right. I am talking about Sweden. I’m talking about what Sweden has done to themselves is very sad, that is what I am talking about. That is what I am talking about. You can phrase it any way you want. A day later they had a horrible, horrible riot in Sweden and you saw what happened.”

Regarding his wiretapping allegations, Time asked: “But so incidental collection would not be wiretapping of you, it would be wiretapping of…”

President Trump: “Who knows what it is? You know, why, because somebody says incidental. Nunes is going to the White House.”

Time: “Nunes has also said that he has no evidence that your tweet was right, previously.”

President Trump: “Well, he just got this information. This was new information. That was just got. Members, of, let’s see, were under surveillance during the Obama Administration following November’s election. Wow. This just came out. So, ah, just came out.”

The interview was on March 23, and nothing had just come out. There was no “new information.”

Reading the entire interview transcript is unnerving. Donald Trump’s rationalizations—claiming that his incorrect references to past events are accurate predictions of future events—is unique in Presidential history. I am not qualified to assess the President’s mental health, nor can I determine to what degree he does or does not take his own statements literally, but I can judge the effects his statements have on the American political climate.

While the word “politician” has had pejorative connotations for decades, suggesting someone who will make intentionally false statements for political gain, the President has expanded that meaning to exponential proportions.

Given the damage the President is doing to the norms of American government, will you please put to rest your own stated concerns over his “wiretapping” allegations? Director Comey has answered your query with an unqualified no. Will you now join him and other leading members of the GOP and demand the President withdraw his unfounded accusation against President Obama?

Author: Chris Gavaler

Chris Gavaler is an associate professor at W&L University, comics editor of Shenandoah, and series editor of Bloomsbury Critical Guides in Comics Studies. He has published two novels: School for Tricksters (SMU 2011) and Pretend I’m Not Here (HarperCollins 2002); and six books of scholarship: On the Origin of Superheroes (Iowa 2015), Superhero Comics (Bloomsbury 2017), Superhero Thought Experiments (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Iowa 2019), Revising Fiction, Fact, and Faith (with Nathaniel Goldberg, Routledge 2020), Creating Comics (with Leigh Ann Beavers, Bloomsbury 2021), and The Comics Form (Bloomsbury forthcoming). His visual work appears in Ilanot Review, North American Review, Aquifer, and other journals.

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