On Sunday, when many Americans were wading through stay-at-home Mother’s Day brunches and socially-distanced picnics, US President Donald Trump was leaning into his Twitter feed. Hard.
In a furious barrage of 126 tweets, the third-highest daily total of his presidency, Trump unleashed a relatively unfamiliar hashtag on the world – “#OBAMAGATE!”
Trump’s tweets, retweets, exclamation points, and all-caps missives on Sunday introduced his 80 million followers on the social media platform to a conspiracy theory that had been circulating on conservative websites for more than a year – namely that officials in former President Barack Obama’s administration framed top Trump officials early in the current president’s tenure in order to derail his presidency.
The unproven narrative holds that Obama, along with his then-Vice President Joe Biden, former FBI Director James Comey, multiple intelligence services in both the US and abroad, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and a handful of Ukrainian oligarchs, planted a phoney theory that Trump was colluding with Russia in order to win the 2016 election. Once planted, the theory was allegedly picked up by members of the anti-Trump “deep state” in the US and used to spy on and frame members of Trump’s inner circle.
Among those framed – according to the narrative – was former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who in December 2017 pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators during the course of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election.
Last week, despite the guilty plea, the US Justice Department abruptly and unexpectedly dropped those perjury charges. In a filing, Attorney General William Barr argued that the investigation was never justified to begin with and Flynn’s subsequent guilty plea should be ignored.
While many in the legal community objected to it, Trump celebrated Barr’s decision and promised: “MUCH more to come!”
Yesterday was a BIG day for Justice in the USA. Congratulations to General Flynn, and many others. I do believe there is MUCH more to come! Dirty Cops and Crooked Politicians do not go well together!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 8, 2020
For Trump and his supporters, the Flynn decision was the first of many salvos in what is sure to be an OBAMAGATE war of tweets, a war that appears to be intended largely on shifting public discourse away from his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and onto the more familiar, and comfortable to Trump, political grounds of tribal grievances and us-versus-them. The White House on Tuesday denied that Trump was trying to distract from the coronavirus.
Trump’s decision to bring Obama’s name into the mix directly on Sunday came just one day after the recording of a call between Obama and former members of his administration leaked. In the call, Obama called the US response to the coronavirus pandemic an “absolute chaotic disaster”, a criticism that did not go over well with Trump. Obama also said that the “rule of law is at risk” following the Flynn decision.
We are getting great marks for the handling of the CoronaVirus pandemic, especially the very early BAN of people from China, the infectious source, entering the USA. Compare that to the Obama/Sleepy Joe disaster known as H1N1 Swine Flu. Poor marks, bad polls – didn’t have a clue!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 10, 2020
Following the release of Obama’s remarks, what had been a critique of prosecutorial procedure by law enforcement officials under Obama and during the early days of the Trump administration evolved overnight into an attempted coup orchestrated by Obama himself. “OBAMAGATE”, Trump tweeted on Monday, “makes Watergate look small-time”.
“The biggest political crime in American history,” the president tweeted.
But when asked at a news conference on Monday what crime he was accusing Obama of committing and whether he thought the Justice Department should prosecute the former president, even Trump himself seemed a little fuzzy on the details.
“It’s been going on a long time,” Trump said. “It’s been going on from before I even got elected, and it’s a disgrace that it happened, and if you look at what’s gone on, and if you look at now, all this information that’s being released – and from what I understand, that’s only the beginning – some terrible things happened, and it should never be allowed to happen in our country again.
“You know what the crime is,” he said to the reporter for the Washington Post who asked the question. “The crime is very obvious to everybody. All you have to do is read the newspapers. Except yours.”
maybe the funniest video I’ve ever seen pic.twitter.com/x2oPAUyCpe
— Erik Strobl 🌹 🦝 (@erikstrobl) May 11, 2020
Some of Trump’s supporters in the House of Representatives have since run with the incendiary “coup” language adopted by Trump surrogates in the conservative media over the weekend.
“This really was a conspiracy to do something that we’ve not seen in American history, and that was to actually perform a coup,” Republican Congressman Andy Biggs of Arizona said in an appearance on Fox Business Network’s Lou Dobbs show on Monday. “That’s really what this was. I mean, you can’t get to it any more succinct than that. This was an attempt to undermine the election of the people. That’s a coup.”
Trump supporters in the Senate, however, have pushed back. Republican South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch supporter of the president who is heading up an investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation, told Politico that he had no intention of calling Obama to testify at any hearings on the matter.
“I don’t think now’s the time for me to do that. I don’t know if that’s even possible. I have grave concerns about the role of executive privilege and all kinds of issues,” Graham said on Thursday. “I understand President Trump’s frustration, but be careful what you wish for. Just be careful what you wish for.”
US conservatives who oppose the president lamented the fact that Republicans are going along with Trump’s fantastical theories, warning that while mainstream media outlets shrug off the Mother’s Day tweetstorms as Trump-being-Trump, the president’s supporters in the right-wing media, as well as their readers, will embrace the rhetoric.
“The result is that President Trump gets to live in an alternate reality of his own choosing,” a former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, Tim Miller, wrote in The Bulwark news network on Tuesday. “One that allows him to level unfounded allegations against his foes without even attempting to interact with anything approaching a fact or a piece of evidence, while never facing any consequences.
“It’s his long-standing, postmodern m.o.—in business, in his personal life, and in politics: Create a preferred universe of convenient facts, then insist they are true, no matter what,” he added.