President Trump is no stranger to controversy. But even by his standards, Thursday was without precedent.
Trump started the day by tweeting against his administration’s policy on surveillance. By the afternoon, he went further than he has ever gone when it comes to accusing federal law enforcement of a conspiracy against him. And then it was reported that he had tossed a blanket over one-sixth of the world’s population and labeled it full of “shithole countries.”
Any of the three would have constituted a crazy day for the Trump White House; the combination of the three of them struggles to find an equal during Trump’s nearly one year in office. The mix of internal chaos, conspiracy-mongering and offensive comments provided a veritable Trump trifecta. If there is any comparable period, it may be in late November when he retweeted dubious anti-Muslim videos from an extremist in Britain, called Elizabath Warren “Pocahontas” (again) and fed conspiracy theories about the “Access Hollywood” tapes. But that didn’t happen all in one day; this unfolded in 12 hours.
First came Trump’s decision to tweet against the reauthorization of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) program that he suggested (again and without proof) had been used by the Obama administration to spy on his campaign. Nevermind that the White House had issued a statement reiterating its support for the program less than 12 hours prior. Rarely has Trump so thoroughly contradicted his own White House’s position.
“House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.” This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2018
Then The Post’s Josh Dawsey broke the big news — about Trump referring to El Salvador, Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.” The remarks drew quick and broad condemnation, and the White House didn’t even dispute them.
And then, perhaps somewhat under the radar given all the attention paid to the “shithole countries” quip, Trump’s interview with the Wall Street Journal hit. And in it, Trump broke new conspiracy theory ground by suggesting the FBI had been plotting to take down his presidency.
It was reported last month that FBI agent Peter Strzok had been removed from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation after exchanging anti-Trump text messages with an FBI lawyer he was having an affair with. In one text message, Strzok told the lawyer, Lisa Page, that the investigation into Trump and Russia was “like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.” Some on the right read this as Strzok setting up a contingency plan to take Trump down should he win the presidency. A previous Wall Street Journal report suggested Strzok was simply saying the investigation needed to press forward even as it seemed unlikely Trump would win, because otherwise it would be hopelessly behind schedule if he did win.
Trump apparently doesn’t buy that explanation. He flat-out said Thursday that Strzok was plotting against him and even said he was guilty of “treason.”
“A man is tweeting to his lover that if [Hillary Clinton] loses, we’ll essentially do the ‘insurance policy.’ We’ll go to Phase 2, and we’ll get this guy out of office,” Trump told the Journal. “That is a treasonous act. What he tweeted to his lover is a treasonous act.”
Up until recently, Trump had generally been pretty hands-off when it came to alleging that Mueller’s investigators were plotting against him — allowing other Republicans and the conservative media to do it for him. But he has increasingly veered toward embracing the same theories about what Strzok was up to. And on Thursday, he lurched past even some of the most conspiratorial of his supporters in accusing Strzok of treason.
Against the backdrop of everything else that happened during the course of the day, though, it seemed pretty par-for-the-course. The question going forward is whether Thursday was an aberration or the new par for Trump.