Of course, a more economical explanation is also available: It could be that the president of the United States was making bizarre counterfactual assertions based on whatever half-baked conspiracy theories he just read on right-wing media.(We interrupt this missive to bring you an important aside: it's worth watching the video clip linked above of Ronald Reagan delivering his famous, "There you go again" line. The clip includes the context in which that line was delivered, which no one seems to remember. It's particular noteworthy in the light of what has happened in the subsequent 37 years, and indeed what is happening today. We now return to our regularly scheduled blog post.)
But what if, as Scott Adams has pointed out 1000 times, Trump is not a buffoon? What if there is method to this apparent madness? To what end could all this chaos possibly be in service of?
Well, here's a theory.
First, let us catalog what I think are some relevant facts:
1. On December 29 of last year, then-still-President Obama, in a standard response to reports of Russia attempting (perhaps successfully) to influence the U.S. election through computer hacking, expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S. The next day, Vladimir Putin, to everyone's surprise, announced that he would not invoke the standard retaliatory response to Obama's response to Russia's hacking, a departure from the script that left everyone at the time scratching their heads.
2. Not even two months in, one Trump administration official has already resigned and another is under a dark cloud of suspicion for having attempted to conceal the fact that they met with Russian officials during the campaign.
3. Donald Trump really really really doesn't want anyone to see his tax returns.
Next we have to ask just how un-bufoonish do we want to believe that Trump is. I see three possible answers to this. One possible answer is that he is a true Master of the Game, on a par with Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong Un. (Say what you will about North Korea, the fact that the regime has not fallen and Kim's power faces no serious challenges -- when by all rights both of these things should have happened long ago -- is testimony to his political skill.) But this is not consistent with the evidence. There are a lot of things happening that Trump is apparently unhappy about. He does not give the appearance of a man who is entirely in control of the situation.
So that leaves two other possibilities: one is that Trump is better than Putin, and all the chaos and confusion is all part of the plan. This again is inconsistent with the evidence. Yes, Trump is the President of the United States of America, which is no mean feat. But he got there on the slimmest of margins, losing the popular vote, and running against the second most unpopular candidate in the history of presidential politics (he himself being the first). If he were Putin's master I would expect him to do better.
His prior history also doesn't square with the master-of-masters theory. Yes, he's rich, but he's a piker compared to Putin. Even Trump's own inflated estimates put his net worth around only a few percent of Putin's. Donald Trump seems to be particularly skilled at only one thing: screwing people over and getting away with it.
The second possibility, the much more likely one, is that Trump is out of his league. He was able to navigate the waters of real estate development, reality TV, and New York City politics, but the presidency is a whole new ballgame, one for which he is utterly unprepared. In particular, I don't think he reckoned on the power of the Deep State, and now he is scrambling to figure out how to deal with it.
Whether or not there really is a deep state in the U.S. is not the point. My theory is simply that Trump did in fact make a deal with the Russians. He made this deal because he has been doing business with Russia for years. He probably thought (maybe even still thinks) that there is nothing at all wrong with it. He may even be right about that. But when he extended that deal-making as a private citizen to deal-making as president-elect but not as president, he crossed a very serious line. He probably didn't realize it at the time, but he almost certainly does now.
Somewhere in the deep labyrinth of the intelligence agencies (it is surely that even if it is not a deep state) I'm pretty sure there is a Nixonian smoking gun, a recording of Trump that proves that he knew about and authorized a deal with the Russians on or around December 29. Someone knows. And Trump knows that they know.
So why hasn't this evidence been released? Well, obviously because whoever has it (let's call him/her/them Deep Sam as a gender-neutral homage to both Mark Felt and the Deep State) thinks that it is more advantageous to them or to the nation to keep it secret for now. Maybe Deep Sam is a patriot who believes that releasing the smoking gun would be bad for the country. After all, if we get rid of President Trump we just end up with President Pence, who is vastly worse than Trump, in no small measure because Pence is actually a competent politician. Trump's incompetence, and the resulting chaos and delays, somewhat limit the damage that he and the Republicans will be able to do. (It is a sad, sad commentary on the state of our nation that the fact that our president is incompetent is actually a feature and not a bug.) It is also possible that Deep Sam is an opportunist who wants to hang on for as long as possible to the considerable power provided by having dirt on the POTUS.
A more difficult question to answer is why Putin pulled back on retaliation when that provides such clear evidence that a deal was struck before the inauguration. That seems like a rookie mistake, the sort of blunder Trump would make but not Putin. I must confess I don't have a good answer for this. Maybe Putin himself didn't realize that striking a deal with Trump before the inauguration would be viewed unfavorably in the U.S. Maybe he was just having a bad day. I don't know. But it's clear that something unusual happened that day. So it's not completely unreasonable to suspect that two unusual things happened.
This theory is the only one I can think of that accounts for Trump's publicly accusing Obama of wiretapping him but does not require Trump to just be a total loon. Think about it: someone breaks the news to Trump that 1) dealing with the Russians before the inauguration was a serious no-no and 2) someone (Deep Sam) has proof that he did it. Trump is pwned, so he plays the only move he has left: blame Obama.
The reason Trump accused Obama of wiretapping him is because Trump thinks it's true. How else could anyone have that smoking gun? It must have been Obama. He even has evidence this time, God damn it! But he can't reveal that evidence because the evidence is the smoking gun, and revealing that would be his own undoing.
I have no idea if this theory is correct, but it does seem to be a pretty good fit to the available facts. Also, it's a hell of a lot of fun to contemplate.