The president’s first instinct, as always, was to blame the press.
When a damaging story emerged, Donald Trump said he had not been told about it, and besides, it was another “fake job” by the New York Times, and the newspaper should name its unidentified sources which, he said, likely fixed.
Trump went further yesterday, calling the report “possibly another fabricated Russia hoax, perhaps by the Fake News New York Times, wanting to make Republicans look bad!”
It is very dark about what they did or did not tell the President about Russia and Afghanistan. But unidentified administration officials have since confirmed the bowels of the story to the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, NBC, CNN and AP, among others.
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The details are shocking, even in a world where we thought we couldn’t be surprised anymore. As the Times originally reported, Russian military intelligence was offering rewards to Taliban-linked militants for killing US soldiers and other coalition forces in Afghanistan.
The Times said Trump had been informed of the heinous practice, but the President and the White House flatly denied it.
If they are right and the document is wrong, it raises an equally urgent question: Why would intelligence officials not report to the president a finding so urgent that it threatened the lives of Americans?
Trump tweeted Sunday night: “Intel just informed me that they did not find this credible information and therefore did not report it to me or @VP.”
A senior administration official told the Times that Trump was not informed because intelligence agencies were unable to reach a consensus. Another official said there was broad agreement that the information, based in part on the interrogations and surveillance, was accurate, but there were still some differences between the agencies.
In its follow-up article, the Times says that “United States intelligence officers and special operations forces in Afghanistan alerted their superiors in January to an alleged Russian plot,” and they believed, as the Post was the first to report, that the rewards led to the murder of at least one American soldier.
Furthermore, US officials were concerned enough to “share information about it with the British government, whose forces were among those said to have been attacked.”
Kayleigh McEnany kept the focus on the Times yesterday, telling “Fox & Friends” that “it is truly appalling when you have anonymous sources who drop this information on the pages of the New York Times anonymously, giving them false information.” I understand the frustration at the leaks, which have plagued Trump from the start, but it is difficult to argue simultaneously that the information is classified and false.
Some Republicans, led by Liz Cheney, have joined Democrats in demanding to know why the President was not informed, if that is the case.
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If the president were not informed, it would be a great mistake by the Times. But at the same time, many other officials would be pressured to explain why such sensitive information was not shared in wartime with the commander-in-chief.
What is also missing from the president’s reaction is any vote by the president to get to the bottom of this, and demand that Russia, which has denied history, take over its role. This has allowed critics of Trump to say that deep down he is protecting his relationship with Vladimir Putin. It goes without saying that I don’t think Republicans are so restricted if such explosive information had emerged during the Obama administration.
Meanwhile, Trump has given his media critics a club to beat him with. He retweeted over the weekend a video of screaming Florida protesters that instantly created a firestorm.
A Trump supporter, in a golf cart with campaign posters, was seen shouting “white power” at anti-Trump protesters who cursed and called the Nazi President.
“Thanks to the great people at The Villages,” Trump wrote.
The video remained for several hours, even after Tim Scott, the only black Republican senator, told CNN that it was “indefensible” and that Trump should remove it.
The rest unfolded while “Media Buzz” was on the air. First, the president deleted the tweet. Later in the hour, the White House released a statement saying Trump “did not hear the only statement made in the video.”
While Trump’s most caustic critics accused him of supporting white supremacy, this is precisely the kind of behavior that is driving his advisers crazy. Even some prominent Republicans say he has to change course or lose the election.
Trump is not going to fundamentally change who he is, but he may want to stop delivering ammunition to his enemies.