Imprecision of speech may be annoying, but it’s commonplace. In Donald Trump’s case, it’s practically currency. He trades in imprecision, invests in it, profits from it. It is both a weapon and a shield. And it makes everyone else get into impossible arguments. Arguments like “In your face, Trump was wiretapped just like he said” vs “Nuh uh, dummy, Manafort being tapped doesn’t mean Trump was. And what wire?”
Trump’s tweet that shook the wires of the world, if you will recall, says this:
Two days ago, a new story broke. Paul Manafort was “wiretapped,” reported CNN, which included the news that the surveillance occurred before and during the campaign and when he worked for Trump, and that then-candidate Trump was probably recorded in conversations with Manafort.
Now the battle is on between pundits, analysts, talking heads, social media mavens, bloggers, activists and, presumably, watercooler debaters across the country. This proves Trump was right vs. This doesn’t prove anything.
A useless argument.
If we know that Trump says things carelessly and inaccurately, which we do, then you know it’s perfectly reasonable for him to say he was wiretapped if he knew conversations he took part in were recorded. He’s not legally defining it. He’s stating he was recorded by surveillance. Which he probably was.
So he was right?
If we know the investigation began and the first warrant was issued before his campaign, which we do, and that this was justified for such a shady, mob-owned bad guy, which it was, then it’s perfectly unreasonable to say that this was the object of a political assassination. Or even to say Trump was wiretapped directly.
So he was wrong?
But wait, a second FISA warrant was issued, and it was directly related to the Trump campaign and collusion.
The FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.
Sources say the second warrant was part of the FBI’s efforts to investigate ties between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian operatives. Such warrants require the approval of top Justice Department and FBI officials, and the FBI must provide the court with information showing suspicion that the subject of the warrant may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.
To be clear, the wiretap warrants are the only new part of the story. We already knew about the long investigation into the campaign and Trump associates and Russia. I was right in March when I said that the parties involved are all untrustworthy, and that hasn’t changed. I was also right when I said the official denial from Obama’s spox was “laughable.” There’s also this, from the same article:
It’s pretty clear, given that it’s a matter of public record and we’ve all been talking about it for months, that at the very least people in the Trump solar system have been in the lens of government telescopes for some time in relation to their contact with Russians. Was it “wiretapping”? Was it at Trump tower? Were they in his closet with a stenographer and a caricaturist? Who knows?
We know now that it was actual surveillance, actual wiretapping, that it targeted someone whom we know was having direct conversations with the President about the campaign. If the person they were investigating had conversations about the campaign they were investigating, with the person who was the subject of the campaign, do you really think those conversations were excluded from surveillance? Come on.
But this is all parsing, isn’t it? We’re sifting through the language for particular accuracy, but that’s not Trump’s currency. His is imprecision, and his allegation was imprecise. You can easily say he was incorrect, that they were, in fact, tapping Manafort and not Trump. You can also say that he was correct that he was being recorded. And the people who say those two things can have an infinite Twitter argument over which statement is more true.
But the most true things you can say are:
1) Paul Manafort is in hot water and Mueller’s team is coming down on him with relentless and ruthless persistence.
2) Trump showed exceptionally bad judgment in getting in bed with Manafort, and worse in staying there.
3) The Trump media will play this revelation as a huge victory for him, despite that obvious negative implications.
4) We don’t know yet how Trump will react if an indictment materializes.
There could be more from Mueller’s investigation. Or they could be pressing so hard on Manafort in order to justify the existence of the investigation in the first place. We just (still) don’t really know yet.
What we do know, and this is absolutely certain, is that people are going to keep on arguing about the meaning of “is” for the next few forevers.