The mainstream media are out chasing themselves around, dripping sweat in an Olympian effort to depict it as evidence of a cover-up that the Trump administration filed the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call on a special, compartmented computer system used to store information on codeword operations. The effect of that is to restrict access to the transcript.
That is obviously a good thing, of course, given the determination of people with clearances to leak in a hostile manner against the Trump administration. Restricting access to such information is the only way to do at least some of their state business. Foreign governments will be increasingly leery of communications with the U.S. government at all levels, if they think it can’t protect the flow of information within its own ranks, much less prevent leaks to the media.
Breaking News: The White House restricted access to records of sensitive calls President Trump had with Vladimir Putin and members of the Saudi royal family https://t.co/6c8hhdNF4i
— The New York Times (@nytimes) September 28, 2019
I wrote at some length about the obvious implications of the “whistleblower” complaining about this; e.g., that the individual’s sources were irritated at being denied direct access to the transcript, as well as that accessing such transcripts is how they get their information. Which means they’re not really insiders; not high-level decision-makers whose judgment we should respect — most of them are just mid-grade staffers with not-quite-adequate clearances.
But now we learn from Susan Rice, as reported once again at The Federalist (this time by David Marcus), that the Obama administration did the same thing. It put files whose contents it wanted to restrict access to on the compartmented system.
.@AmbassadorRice: “Normally there is a full, verbatim transcript” of calls like Trump’s w/ the Ukraine president.
Says he tried to “bury” it on a more secure server, but acknowledges the Obama Admin. sometimes did the same. pic.twitter.com/B6zZNbZsTG
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) September 27, 2019
As a good narrative-bot, Rice repeated the theme that the Trump administration could have sequestered the Trump-Zelensky transcript in order to cover something up.
But so could the Obama administration, every time it did the same thing. There’s no reason we should believe it wasn’t the Obama administration’s intention to cover its traces, whenever it put an official record of something on the compartmented system. Indeed, if we played by the mainstream media’s rules, we would simply assume that’s what Obama was doing. How many cover-ups were there, Ms. Rice? What were you hiding?
David Marcus points out ABC’s reporting that the Trump administration started doing this in 2017, after near-immediate leaks about phone calls with the leaders of Australia and Mexico. The longstanding practice means the Ukraine phone call transcript wasn’t sequestered for some special, uniquely nefarious reason. Marcus summarizes it thus:
So from Rice we now know the decision to store the conversation on the top-secret server was not unprecedented, but a decision that Obama’s administration made multiple times as well, using its own discretion, just as the Trump administration has. And from ABC News’ reporting we know that this has been a long-standing practice in the Trump White House to protect against a high level of leaks.
Both of these revelations undermine the theory that in this specific case, some unique and bizarre method was used to hide the transcript and engage in a cover up.
Certainly these revelations undermine that theory. But it’s even more important, in my view, to highlight something else about this, which is that the MSM spin is not in good faith, and never is. There is never any reason to play along with it.
A lot of people make their living playing along with it, and spending time painstakingly parsing and refuting it. But increasingly, that’s a problem for actually dealing with it. It leaves the bad-faith actors in the driver’s seat. It creates homework for the honest brokers, at close to zero cost for the narrative-spinners. It occupies far too much of our precious interaction space, when we could be talking about other things.
From an operational perspective — as in, how to get past this spin-creating-homework impasse — one consideration to ponder is that the spin has gotten to a critical point. It’s reached the point at which former Obama administration officials would have to lie about literally everything they did, to keep the narrative credible against the Trump administration. Susan Rice wasn’t prepared to go that far. We can be glad of that for the sake of her character — but it’s also a very useful operational data point.