Finally, Neil Gorsuch’s Moment in the Spotlight!

by Jim Geraghty

Finally, Neil Gorsuch’s Moment in the Spotlight!

In an administration where very little runs smoothly, the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Judge Neil Gorsuch should be the political equivalent of relaxing in a Jacuzzi. USA Today:

…thus far, he has emerged from the confirmation battle relatively unscathed, and his unanimous popularity among Republicans should be enough to carry him over the finish line — either by winning the 60 votes needed to clear a Democratic filibuster, or through a Senate rules change that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has threatened to carry out.

If Senate Democrats filibuster Gorsuch, and Senate Republicans nuke the filibuster… well, that just makes things easier for the next opening on the court.

About that Poor, Struggling ‘Meals on Wheels’…

Genuinely good news…

Meals on Wheels, a non-profit program that serves senior citizens around the U.S., has seen its online donations surge since President Trump’s administration released a budget proposal that could result in funding cuts for the organization.

The White House released its proposed budget early Thursday, and during the course of that day, online donations to Meals on Wheels were 50 times the usual daily total — $50,000 compared to the typical daily rate of $1,000, Jenny Bertolette, vice president of communications for Meals on Wheels America, told ABC News.

The increased giving has continued. By Saturday afternoon, Meals on Wheels had received just over $100,000 in mostly small individual gifts since the proposed budget was released, Bertolette said.

Wonderful! That should make any cut in the 3.3 percent of Meals on Wheels funding that comes from government sources — according to their own 2015 financial statements to the government — much easier to bear!

How We Got Here on the ‘Wiretapping’ Claims…

Amazing how one series of tweets, just a few weeks ago, can end up having such a far-reaching consequence for an administration and the relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom.

Recall that all this began on March 4, when Trump tweeted, “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” He wrote three more tweets, even more specific.

From the words, “just found out,” one would ordinarily have thought that the evidence for that extraordinary accusation would follow quickly. After all, Trump is now the president. At any moment he can call the FBI director, the NSA director, or anyone else into his office and say, “what is the meaning of this?” He can declassify anything he likes. Logs, records, transcripts — he could declassify it all, particularly if it exposed criminal behavior by government officials. And Trump didn’t say, “I suspect,” he said he “just found out.”

President Obama denied the accusation; former director of national intelligence James Clapper denied it.

By March 15, House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes, a Republican who is clearly not eager to call the president a liar, declared, “We don’t have any evidence that that took place. … I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.”

Also that day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied he had never briefed Trump on any ”investigations related to the campaign” or “give him any reason to believe that he was wiretapped by the previous administration.”

That evening, Trump did an interview with Tucker Carlson, where he suddenly sounded as if the whole matter was too sensitive to discuss publicly: “I’m not going to discuss it, because we have it before the committee and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon that hasn’t been submitted as of yet. But it’s potentially a very serious situation.”

Trump also said, “We will be submitting certain things and I will be perhaps speaking about this next week, but it’s right now before the committee, and I think I want to leave it. I have a lot of confidence in the committee.”

The next day, the two leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican chairman Richard Burr and Democratic vice chair Mark Warner, put out a joint statement: “Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”

That seems like a pretty definitive blanket rejection of the president’s accusation. But perhaps you’re the kind of person who believes that all of those figures would get together to conspire and cover up the truth of blatant abuse of powers by the Obama administration.

Back on April 14, ten days after the accusation with no hard evidence of the wiretapping, Andrew Napolitano of Fox News offered a new version of events that suggested no evidence of American surveillance of the Trump campaign exists, but implicated our closest ally:

Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ. What is that? It’s the initials for the British intelligence finding agency. So, simply by having two people saying to them president needs transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump’s conversations, involving president-elect Trump, he’s able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this. Putting the published accounts and common-sense together, this leads to a lot.

By Thursday, Sean Spicer reads aloud Napolitano’s accusation at the White House press briefing, giving the accusation something of an official stamp of approval from the United States government… and by Friday, the rest of Fox News backed away from Napolitano’s accusation. Shepard Smith with a statement from the network:

Judge Andrew Napolitano commented on the morning show Fox and Friends that he has sources who say British intelligence that was involved in surveillance at Trump Tower. Fox News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano’s commentary. Fox News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now-President of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way, full stop.

Catherine Herridge, Jennifer Griffin, James Rosen, Eric Shawn, Shannon Bream, Ed Henry… all very well-connected reporters, with lots of sources throughout government, unable to confirm the accusation. Nor had Sky News, the U.K. partner of Fox News, been able to find sources to confirm it either.

By Friday afternoon, Trump acted as if the White House could repeat others’ accusations without consequence:

We said nothing — all we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make any opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on Fox and so you shouldn’t be talking to me, you should be talking to Fox, okay?

Many in the British government are rightly outraged by the seemingly baseless accusation, and the deputy director of the National Security Agency is now in the awkward position of denying allegations repeated by the White House press secretary.

The claim that GCHQ carried out surveillance on Donald Trump during the election campaign is “arrant nonsense”, Rick Ledgett, the number two at the US National Security Agency (NSA) has told the BBC in an exclusive interview.

So now the U.S.–U.K. relationship has just taken a hit because of the adamant insistence that the president’s accusation had to be true, even though no one in our government can find any solid evidence of this.

At the heart of the accusation… do we find it plausible that Obama and his inner circle would be that fascinated by what was being said at the highest levels of the Trump campaign? Remember, the Obama White House was so convinced that Hillary Clinton was going to win that they didn’t think it was worth making a stink out of the Russian hacking.

The Obama administration didn’t respond more forcefully to Russian hacking before the presidential election because they didn’t want to appear to be interfering in the election and they thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win and a potential cyber war with Russia wasn’t worth it, multiple high-level government officials told NBC News.

“They thought she was going to win, so they were willing to kick the can down the road,” said one U.S. official familiar with the level of Russian hacking.

The key lesson is not that the Obama White House was arrogant enough to think they would wiretap Trump Tower and get away with it. The key lesson is that the Obama White House was arrogant enough to think they would never need to do that.

Maybe in the rough-and-tumble world of Manhattan real estate and the New York tabloids, you can get out of trouble by making an outrageous counter-accusation. Maybe you can falsely accuse someone in that realm with little real long-term damage, as everything blurs into a haze of impassioned denials and furious allegations.

But the operating rules are different when you’re president. When the commander in chief accuses someone, particularly his predecessor, of criminal wrongdoing, people will investigate. People will figure out whether there’s evidence to back up the charge or not. And if it’s false, the administration will find itself lacking credibility that it needs when it makes an accurate accusation.

ADDENDA: Thanks to everyone who attended last week’s National Review Institute Ideas Summit, which was a smashing success. Many of the newsmaker interviews and panel discussions can be viewed in the C-SPAN archives.

The Morning Jolt

By Jim Geraghty