So why did Trump do it? The Times ignored another, more plausible, theory: Trump isn’t distracting from the investigation; he’s seeking to discredit it . By alleging that Obama personally ordered his wiretapping, Trump is claiming that partisanship motivates the investigation into his campaign’s Russian ties. The law enforcement agencies conducting that investigation, therefore, aren’t independent and apolitical; they’re Democratic plants. And by sowing doubt about their motives, Trump’s lays the groundwork for discounting their findings, particularly if they ultimately implicate Trump or any of his associates.
The claim that Obama and his loyalists are orchestrating the investigations has been bouncing around pro-Trump media for a while. On March 3, Breitbart published an article headlined, “Obama Encouraged ‘Deep State’ ‘De Facto Coup’ Against Trump.” The same day, Rush Limbaugh warned that “Barack Obama and the Democrat Party are attempting to sabotage the Trump presidency.” Citing a radio broadcast by conservative radio talk show host Mark Levin the night before, Breitbart on Friday, March 5 ran a headline entitled, “Mark Levin to Congress: Investigate Obama’s ‘Silent Coup’ vs. Trump.”
“When Mr. Trump became aware of the claims in the Breitbart article,” the Times reported, “they were appealing to him.” They were appealing because, according to the Washington Post, Trump thinks “his presidency is being tormented in ways known and unknown by a group of Obama-aligned critics, federal bureaucrats and intelligence figures.” Levin and Breitbart’s conspiracy theory not only fed Trump’s sense of victimhood, it also offered him a roadmap for how to fight back.
The striking thing about Trump’s Saturday morning tweets is how personal they were. They didn’t mention the Justice Department and FBI, the institutions that are actually investigating Trump’s associates’ Russian ties, and which would have petitioned a FISA court to eavesdrop on his communications or those of any Trump associates. They didn’t even mention the “Obama administration.” In every tweet Trump mentioned President Obama himself, in the final one even calling him a “Bad (or sick) guy!”
By placing Obama at the center of the Russia investigations, Trump undermines the notion that the Justice Department and FBI are independent bodies seeking to enforce the law. Instead, they become Democratic front groups. The strategy resembles the one Trump has been employing against the press. If the mainstream media constitutes “the opposition party” —if their professional mission is a sham and they’re just Democratic Party hacks—then nothing they uncover about Trump’s Russia ties need be believed. It’s the same with the career attorneys at the Justice Department.
That argument is particularly vital for Trump now that Sessions has recused himself, and someone Trump can’t as easily influence will be overseeing the Department’s Russia investigation. By linking those investigators to Obama, Trump’s allies can discredit them. Already on Sunday, Levin told Fox News that Obama officials “have squirreled their appointees into the [Justice Department] bureaucracy.”