Top of the Ticket Political commentary from David Horsey

Smack-talking Trump tweets his way toward legal trouble

Our put-upon president has spent a lifetime talking smack, like a street kid in a pickup basketball game in Queens. Insults and demeaning remarks are just part of the game and part of his persona. When he called Mexicans “rapists” and said “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz’s father helped kill JFK, it was all in fun, right? Who could fail to see what was really in his heart (the biggest heart anyone has ever had, by the way)?

This is a man who built his business on boasts. Everything he did was “big league,” “huge,” “tremendous.” He never expected anyone to fact-check his endless claims that whatever he did was the best and biggest in the history of the world (or to sue him for fraud when they discovered their Trump University degree was worthless). Who knew some smarty-pants would count how many people really showed up for his inauguration, rather than taking his word for it that it was the largest crowd in history?

Poor Donald. He has now blustered his way into a job where his every comment is analyzed and picked apart as if the wrong phrase might start a war or set off an economic panic. What is he supposed to do, change his ways at age 70 just because he is president of the United States?

Apparently, the answer is yes, because not only has he gotten himself in trouble for what he says, but for the things he says that he subsequently tries to edit. The chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz, and the committee’s ranking Democrat, Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, have sent a letter to the White House warning the president that, every time he deletes or alters a tweet, he may be violating the Presidential Records Act. Pretty much everything a president says in public is, by law, part of the official record, even a poorly spelled, ill-conceived tweet dashed off in the wee hours of the morning.

The day Trump discovered Twitter must have been better than his wedding day (or days). Wives come and go, but tweets are endless. Finally, he had a way to share every malign observation and crackpot rumor that lodged between his ears — not just with whoever happened to be in the room, but with the whole adoring world. Obviously, it has become addicting. Asking him to stop would be like asking Winnie the Pooh to forgo honey, like asking Elvis never to move his hips, like asking a nymphomaniac to become a nun. Like a meth addict looking for the next rush, Trump cannot resist tweeting out boasts and smack talk. It seems not to matter to him that he is making trouble for himself and his administration.

Just days after giving a speech before Congress in which he inspired a tremulous hope that he might have the capacity to do more than be a caricature of the worst president imaginable, Trump sent off another early-morning tweet. This one accused his predecessor, Barack Obama, of committing a major felony by wiretapping Trump Tower during the 2016 presidential campaign.

FBI Director James Comey quickly urged the White House to make clear that the accusation lacked any basis in fact. Instead, Trump’s minions doubled down and demanded that Congress investigate. Republicans rolled their eyes. Giddy Democrats jumped at the invitation. They knew an investigation offered two possibilities: either they would quickly expose the truth that Trump had mindlessly latched on to a fallacious rant by a right-wing talk radio performer, or they would find that there really was a wiretap — one authorized by law to follow connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian hackers who subverted the U.S. election. For Democrats, it would be a win, one way or another.

Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe took to Twitter to argue that Trump’s accusation against Obama was “an impeachable felony in reckless disregard of truth.” Nevertheless, Trump did not retract anything, though insider reports said the president was privately admitting he had taken things a step too far this time.

Sad, isn’t it? How could one impetuous tweet cause so much trouble after he had gotten away with so many others? The president must feel so misunderstood, so beset by unpoetic literalists. After all, Trump has never been especially concerned with connecting the things he says to actual facts or deeply held beliefs. It’s all just smack talk, baby. All of it.

David.Horsey@latimes.com

Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter

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