It is frankly the opposite of bliss to be alive in our current dawn, and nowhere near very heaven, even if you’re young. But it does generate endless excuses for settling in with popcorn.
The strangest coda to the overheated reaction from Helsinki was a positively biblical moment in Trump’s conference room on Tuesday, when he was clarifying one word from the transcript of his remarks at the Helsinki summit the day before. (We’ll get to that shortly.)
At the exact second when Trump affirmed his confidence in his intelligence advisers, the lights went out in the White House.
At the exact moment Trump says the words "I have full faith in our intelligence agencies" all the lights in the White House flicker & turn completely off.
Trump responds "That must be the intelligence agencies. Okay, there we go. Are you guys okay? That was strange – okay?" pic.twitter.com/grYeTg7Xim
— Benny (@bennyjohnson) July 17, 2018
As far as I can discern, there had been no prior flickering. Nor did the lights go out again after that point in Trump’s comments.
So we report; you totally decide, on that one.
For the rest, the divergence between what Trump actually says and how his comments are reported by the media continues to grow. It is truly remarkable to watch.
On Tuesday, Trump reaffirmed the intent of the points he had made on Monday. He absolutely meant that, although there had been attempted Russian meddling in the 2016 election – which Trump never disputed – the attempt at meddling had had no effect on the election. It wasn’t a factor in his electoral victory.
Moreover, there had been no collusion with Russia by his campaign, nor is there evidence of any.
Trump is mindful of his intelligence agencies’ assessment about Russia’s meddling activities. But he rejects the Russiagate narrative about collusion and any effect of that meddling on the electoral outcome.
That is, to the letter, the set of points Trump made on Monday. He reaffirmed it on Tuesday.
He also said he looked over the transcript from Monday, and realized that in one sentence (which was about who was behind the intrusions on Democratic computer systems), he said “would” when he meant “wouldn’t.” Trump wanted the people to know that he meant he “didn’t see why Russia wouldn’t” have been behind that cyber attack.
At that point, the media, either unable to process what Trump actually said, or determined not to, rushed out immediately to proclaim that Trump had “reversed” himself.
Objectively, that’s not what Trump did. Since he never said in the first place that Russia didn’t meddle, or that he rejected his intelligence community’s assessment on the basic meddling point, it was not reversing himself to say that Russia meddled, and that he had high regard for his intelligence professionals and their judgment on the matter.
As I pointed out yesterday, where Trump expressed doubt on Monday, he was talking about the specific point of whether the Russians hacked the “DNC server.” Everything in the relevant passage was about the hacking – which makes sense, given that the Russiagate issue had been focused down to that very point in advance of the summit, by the Mueller indictment of the Russian GRU officers.
Trump and Putin discussed precisely that point in their one-on-one. It was the basis for Putin’s proposal, announced in the press conference, for his investigators to work with Mueller’s to look into the matter. (Of course Putin is engaging in cynical gamesmanship with that move. Trump’s critics may feel that he doesn’t understand that. But that doesn’t excuse misrepresenting what Trump actually said.)
The “Russia hacked the DNC server” point was uppermost on Trump’s mind during Monday’s press conference, and clearly was what he was talking about in the “would/wouldn’t” passage. (See the discussion at my article from Monday, linked at the top.) Trump’s follow-on discussion of the FBI’s failure to examine the “DNC server,” and the other factors that complicate assessments about the hacking, should have served to clarify that as well.
But it’s as if the media, and Trump’s dedicated critics across the board, are compelled by a force beyond their control to misrepresent what he has said.
Trump cannot be faulted for refusing to go along with a media narrative that is being constructed to misrepresent him. There is equally no reason why he should go along with a political narrative that misrepresents what happened in the 2016 election: specifically, what the American voters did, and why.
Nor can anyone else be expected to go along with it. You don’t have to wear a red hat to insist on intellectual honesty and analytical hygiene. The Russiagate premise is flawed. Holding people to ritual affirmation of it as the price of group approval is feral.
The real way to stand up to Russia
I assert more than that, in fact. I emphasize that the only way to properly and effectively confront Russia is to repudiate the Russiagate narrative.
The narrative proposes that Russian meddling attempts achieved an evil effect in the 2016 election – a proposition that makes an all-purpose basis for weakening America with insinuations about things that have been “done to” us. (The two main things suggested are that Russia basically – somehow – threw the election to Trump, and/or that Russia got us to harbor doubts and fears about “our democracy.”)
There is no empirical basis for accepting such a proposition about effects. And taking it as a given in our politics is extremely dangerous.
Just for starters, it gives political factions an excuse for behaving as if something has been done to them – when it hasn’t. That is the entire premise of the Mueller investigation and the refusal of many Democrats to accept the due-process outcome of the 2016 election: that Russia sought to sow doubt and fear, and so by golly they’re going to act from doubt and fear.
(I wrote here, a few days ago, about how James Comey presaged that exact dynamic in a related aspect of his congressional testimony in March 2017.)
I think the most depressing thing about this Helsinki episode has been seeing the Not-quite-NeverTrumpers jump on the litmus-test bandwagon. They have basically joined in with media that consciously misrepresent Trump, to claim that he said what he didn’t, just because he didn’t say what they demanded to hear.
This is an unstable situation. And it is not the dishonesty of impressionism and ellipsis that will win out in the end. I urge you not to throw in with it. Criticize Trump. Oppose him on policy, and even on rhetorical style, if that’s your stance. But don’t think that truth doesn’t matter.
The Tuesday transcript
I invite you once more to inspect what Trump actually said on Tuesday, and see if you think it is a reversal of what he actually said on Monday.
My meeting with President Putin was really interesting in so many different ways because we haven’t had relationships with Russia for a long time, and we started. Let me begin by saying that, once again, the full faith and support for America’s intelligence agencies — I have a full faith in our intelligence agencies.
Whoops, they just turned off the light. That must be the intelligence agents. (Laughter.) There it goes. Okay. You guys okay? Good. (Laughter.) That was strange. But that’s okay.
So I’ll begin by stating that I have full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies. Always have. And I have felt very strongly that, while Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying that — and I’ve said this many times — I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also; there’s a lot of people out there.
There was no collusion at all. And people have seen that, and they’ve seen that strongly. The House has already come out very strongly on that. A lot of people have come out strongly on that.
I thought that I made myself very clear by having just reviewed the transcript. Now, I have to say, I came back, and I said, “What is going on? What’s the big deal?” So I got a transcript. I reviewed it. I actually went out and reviewed a clip of an answer that I gave, and I realized that there is need for some clarification.
It should have been obvious — I thought it would be obvious — but I would like to clarify, just in case it wasn’t. In a key sentence in my remarks, I said the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t.” The sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t — or why it wouldn’t be Russia. So just to repeat it, I said the word “would” instead of “wouldn’t.” And the sentence should have been — and I thought it would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video — the sentence should have been: I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia. Sort of a double negative.
So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.
I have, on numerous occasions, noted our intelligence findings that Russians attempted to interfere in our elections. Unlike previous administrations, my administration has and will continue to move aggressively to repeal any efforts — and repel — we will stop it, we will repel it — any efforts to interfere in our elections. We’re doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018.
And we have a lot of power. As you know, President Obama was given information just prior to the election — last election, 2016 — and they decided not to do anything about it. The reason they decided that was pretty obvious to all: They thought Hillary Clinton was going to win the election, and they didn’t think it was a big deal.
When I won the election, they thought it was a very big deal. And all of the sudden they went into action, but it was a little bit late. So he was given that in sharp contrast to the way it should be. And President Obama, along with Brennan and Clapper and the whole group that you see on television now — probably getting paid a lot of money by your networks — they knew about Russia’s attempt to interfere in the election in September, and they totally buried it. And as I said, they buried it because they thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win. It turned out it didn’t happen that way.
By contrast, my administration has taken a very firm stance — it’s a very firm stance — on a strong action. We’re going to take strong action to secure our election systems and the process. Furthermore, as has been stated — and we’ve stated it previously and on many occasions: No collusion.