As the president’s mood has continued to decline over the past few months, he has returned to a favorite target – though his volleys haven’t been all that accurate. In early May, Trump introduced a new grievance, Obamagate, which served as a sort of umbrella term for his frustration rather than a tightly defined scandal. “It’s been going on for a long time,” he explained, poorly, on May 11. “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.”
On Monday, the president finally found the criminal statute that he’s looking to pin on his predecessor. In an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network, host David Brody prompted Trump to identify the specific charge he is accusing Obama of. “Treason, treason — it’s treason,” Trump said. “Look, when I came out a long time ago, I said they’ve been spying on my campaign. I said they’ve been taping, and that was in quotes, meaning a modern-day version of taping, it’s all the same thing. But a modern-day version. But they’ve been spying on my campaign.”
Though it’s difficult to parse out the underlying claim the president is describing in his conspiratorial shorthand, he appears to be referring to the FBI inquiry into former national security adviser Michael Flynn during the transition in 2017. As New York’s Jonathan Chait explains:
FBI agents interviewed Flynn in January 2017, as part of a well-founded counterintelligence investigation, the basis for which included (but was not limited to) the fact Flynn made himself subject to Russian blackmail by lying about a secret conversation he had with Russia’s ambassador. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents … The Trumpists charge that Obama orchestrated the whole Flynn investigation in order to take revenge on or otherwise discredit the incoming administration.
They can’t prove that Obama played any role in ordering the FBI counterintelligence investigation, nor even that it was unfounded. In place of proving either, they have substituted insinuations.
Trump has made similar accusations of Obama’s high crimes dating back to 2016, when, in the wake of the Pulse shooting, he said that the country is “led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or has something else in mind.” And in May Trump accused the previous administration of treason. “The Obama administration, Justice Department was a disgrace,” Trump said on May 7. “And they got caught. They got caught. Very dishonest people — but much more than dishonest. Treason, it’s treason.” But Monday’s interview is the first instance of Trump directly accusing his predecessor of the crime. Also new on Monday: His claim that 50 years ago, Obama administration officials “would have been executed” for the nonexistent allegations he has applied to the past.
Meanwhile, the president — who boasted for over 15 minutes on Saturday about his ability to drink water and walk down a ramp — is reportedly having trouble maintaining focus on the election at hand. According to a report from the Washington Post, Trump is becoming increasingly obsessed with defending his mental and physical acuity. Earlier this month, he brought up a two-year-old cognitive test during a campaign meeting, describing to the officials in the room how he aced a test that included “being able to repeat five words in order.” He then challenged Joe Biden to the same feat.