The White House is now putting all their weight behind a narrow denial of The New York Times‘ report citing intelligence officials who exposed a Russian program offering bounties for the successful killing of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan. In a press briefing, newest press secretary and ex-Fox News talking head Kayleigh McEnany claimed that Trump himself had never been briefed on the Russian actions, and still hasn’t been, due to “dissenting opinions” about the accuracy of the intelligence reports.
That’s almost certainly going to turn out to be a lie, especially given the Trump team’s regular willingness to tell outlandish and provable lies on any topic they are asked about. But the White House is basing the majority of their argument around the claim that even if Russians have indeed been successful in spurring the murders of U.S. soldiers, nobody bothered to tell Donald Trump or Mike Pence about it. Whether American soldiers have died due to a Russian “bounty” program is of less immediate importance to the White House than defending Donald Trump from the responsibility of even knowing about it.
In a meeting today, Trump administration officials (and recent House Republicans) John Ratcliffe and Mark Meadows briefed a small set of sycophantic Republican lawmakers on what the talking points defending Trump would be. We know precisely what was decided on because Rep. Jim Banks immediately tweeted out the results after the meeting. He blamed the Times for reporting an “ONGOING” investigation, claiming “blood is on their hands.” He also repeated, verbatim, Trump’s own ridiculous and asinine claim that “[n]o President in my lifetime has been tougher on Russia than Trump”—a statement simply at odds with provable reality.
We can gather, then, that the House Republican response will be to burp out literal White House talking points, absolve Trump of all responsibility not just for knowing about the Russian plan but for responding to it now, and declare that whatever else happens is all the fault of the “the media.”
That the White House rushed to brief House Republicans while shutting out Democratic lawmakers is telling. It was only after the Republican meeting that a time was set for a separate Democratic briefing, which is not until 8 AM tomorrow. We can only imagine how the content of the two meetings might differ.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration has been so consistently rocked by scandal, especially on all things Russia-related, that we can predict the next revelations this time around as well. It will come out that the reports of multiple news outlets on Trump being briefed in March are, in fact, correct. It will come out that the “dissenting opinions” the Trump team is basing Trump’s unwillingness to act upon are, in fact, “dissenting opinions” offered up by the most partisan and least qualified officials in Trump’s orbit, the same officials who shielded Trump from the full impact of Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference, Trump’s extortion of an at-war Russian foe, Trump’s use of the presidency for self-enrichment, Trump’s numerous alleged tax evasion schemes, and so forth.
It is vanishingly unlikely that intelligence officials willing to leak, to multiple news outlets, the existence of a Russian program to kill American soldiers would do so without substantial evidence that the program existed and that the Trump team was for some reason blocking action from being taken in response. It is far more likely that Trump’s team, yet again, has willingly sold out U.S. national security for their own gain and the gain of their extravagantly corrupt leader.