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Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Like clockwork, President Trump fires off an incendiary tweet (or a series of them) and opposition voices caution others to not lose focus because "he tweets to distract."

The pattern repeated itself last Saturday when Trump accused President Obama of surveilling him with a wiretap. Democrats responded in lockstep:

  • Sen. Al Franken: "President Trump is trying to distract Americans from the facts..."
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren: "He's trying to find a way to distract the press and to distract the American people."
  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal: "Trump tweets designed to distract from Russian election meddling…"
  • Sen. Dick Durbin: "Trump tweets are an effort to distract from real issues."
  • Sen. Michael Bennet: "The President should stop these absurd attempts to distract from the real oversight needed on Russian interference."
  • Sen. Chris Coons: "I think President Trump is trying to distract us from whether or not there was collusion between the Trump campaign and our last presidential election."

But is his intent to distract? It's hard to argue with the results, but also consider: firsthand accounts of the president paint him as impatient and impulsive — not calculating and plotting. That the tweets are a distraction may be more of a symptom than a strategy.

If he was indeed plotting and aiming to distract, what was he trying to distract from?

  • Jeff Sessions? Trump's attorney general had just announced his recusal from any investigation into the Trump campaign. There were calls for Sessions to step down, but the talk was dying down by Saturday morning.
  • Talk of Trump's links to Russia? Sessions' conversations with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak had become the story of the week and further reporting had revealed other Trump associates' meetings with Kislyak. Democrats called for a special prosecutor, but the story had plateaued by the weekend and no major reporting had been out in the 24 hours prior to the tweetstorm. If Trump was aiming to distract, he could have timed it better.
  • His own policy? Trump has been accused of tweeting distractions to take the focus away from the substance of his governing. The coming week held in store a revised travel ban and the GOP health care bill. Both received media scrutiny.

But maybe he was simply tweeting out of emotion. That Friday, before boarding the flight to Mar-a-Lago, the president was reportedly fuming over Sessions' recusal. The next morning, according to the AP, Trump was given a collection of media clippings that included a Breitbart story alleging that Obama had wiretapped Trump. The theory started with conservative radio host Mark Levin, who claimed to have connected the dots from a handful of published news reports. It was then picked up by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Breitbart before making its way to Trump's orbit.

Soon enough, Trump's private, internal storm hit Twitter for the world to see.

The takeaway: How Trump's tweets get perceived are a reflection of how he is perceived. Those that see him as a schemer will view the tweets as chess moves. Those that see him as flying by the seat of his pants will see the tweets as the digital manifestations of his latest emotions.

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”