From the moment President Donald Trump tweeted that he had been "wiretapped" by President Barack Obama during the course of the 2016 election, he and his senior aides have been desperately searching for evidence that makes that allegation true.
The latest charge is that former national security adviser Susan Rice "unmasked" -- intelligence parlance for asking for the identity of unnamed officials -- Trump campaign officials, proof, the President's allies insist, that something nefarious was happening on the surveillance front during the final days of the Obama administration.
Here's what Trump tweeted Monday morning on the subject:
"Such amazing reporting on unmasking and the crooked scheme against us by @foxandfriends. "Spied on before nomination." The real story," he said.
Here's the problem for Trump: Even if you believe that Rice did something that was wrong -- and virtually every intelligence official insists unmasking is a commonplace procedure -- it still doesn't address his claim that he had evidence that Obama has authorized the wiretapping of Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.
Trump's phones being tapped -- and that order coming from the commander in chief -- is simply not the same thing as the national security adviser asking for the names of Trump transition aides in contact with Russian intelligence officials.
Again, even if you believe that Rice did something that was wrong -- and her strange decision to kind of, sort of, deny that she knew anything about the unmasking will add fuel to that fire -- it is still not proof, or anything close to proof, that Obama ordered Trump to be wiretapped.
If proof exists that Rice went beyond unmasking and was responsible for the leaking of Trump transition official Michael Flynn's conversations with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak -- and there is no proof of that to this point -- then it absolutely warrants closer scrutiny.
But, even if that was the case, it would not validate the claim that Trump made that he was wiretapped by Obama. In fact, what we know is that the FBI, the former director of national intelligence and even House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, R-California, have said definitively that Trump was not wiretapped.
What Trump and his associates are doing is pursuing a strategy of muddying the waters as they try to get out from under a decidedly ill-advised tweet from the President.
With no evidence that he was wiretapped, they are hoping that these unmasking allegations -- or the possibility that Trump transition officials were surveilled as a result of incidental collection for probes related to foreign operatives -- give the president enough cover to credibly say "See, told you! Now, let's move on."
That's fine as a political strategy. But the facts are still the facts. And the fact is that this latest unmasking episode is a smokescreen to distract from the broader issue -- which is that the President of the United States made a completely unfounded and very serious allegation against his immediate predecessor.
Nothing that's happened since Trump tweeted has changed that underlying reality.