THE MORNING PLUM:
In recent days, Donald Trump has been spinning a new narrative about CIA charges of Russian interference in our election: The administration did not leak the news of this finding until after Trump won, which shows this is just an after-the-fact effort to undercut the significance of his victory over Hillary Clinton. As Trump tweeted Thursday: “If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?”
This is not some small offhand remark. It represents an effort by Trump — one that is going to continue — to construct an alternative narrative to replace the increasingly substantiated one in which Russia may have in fact tried to interfere in our election to help him, which would obviously carry enormous significance on many levels.
But Friday, Trump send out a new tweet that accidentally reveals that he knows this entire narrative is a lie:
Are we talking about the same cyberattack where it was revealed that head of the DNC illegally gave Hillary the questions to the debate?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 16, 2016
Trump is referring here to news that broke in late October: That a hacked email showed that interim DNC chair Donna Brazile may have leaked a Democratic primary debate question to Clinton’s campaign in advance. Brazile publicly blamed this leak on Russian hackers who were out to divide Democrats by feeding the perception among Bernie Sanders supporters that the DNC was putting its thumb on the scales for her. This built on a formal statement that the intelligence community put out earlier in October declaring itself “confident” that Russia was trying to interfere in the elections by hacking into DNC emails.
And so, by referring to this episode, what Trump is inadvertently revealing here is that, yes, the complaint about Russian hacking to hurt Clinton did in fact precede the election, and this was widely and publicly known. Of course, there is ample other evidence that Trump is fully aware of this. The intel community had publicly declared it weeks before the election. Trump had reportedly been privately briefed on it by U.S. officials. Trump was confronted with evidence of the hack at a debate with Clinton that was watched by tens of millions of people. At the debate, he cast doubt on the notion that Russia had hacked the materials to hurt Clinton. And yet, as Mark Murray points out, Trump himself widely referenced the material dug up in the hacks at rallies, where he used that material to — wait for it — try to damage Clinton.
Trump’s latest efforts are extraordinarily ham-handed. In this new tweet, he thinks he’s muddying the waters by suggesting that the hackers tried to help Clinton (as if to say this shows they couldn’t have wanted to assist Trump), as part of a broader ongoing effort to build an alternative narrative to the emerging one about possible Russian interference to help him. But he’s just succeeded in revealing how preposterous that alternative narrative really is.
Once again, we do not know for sure that Russia interfered. But, should more evidence emerge, Trump’s position on this is very likely to grow unsustainable. Confronted with evidence that a foreign power may have tried to swing our election — something that’s being widely condemned by Republicans — Trump continues to refuse to take it seriously (even as his own advisers gamely try to pretend he does). Instead, Trump appears to harbor boundless confidence that he can spin any substitute story line he wants, and that, no matter how deeply absurd it is, his supporters will eagerly buy into the alternate reality he’s concocted for them.
How long can Trump maintain this posture? It’s possible that the intelligence community will leak more evidence of Russian interference in coming days. What’s more, there will soon be confirmation hearings for two retired generals Trump has picked for his Cabinet — James Mattis as defense secretary, and John Kelly as head of the department of homeland security. They will be asked about the intelligence community’s confidence that Russia did try to swing our election, and what should be done about it. One presumes they will treat the topic with the gravity it deserves. Meanwhile, Trump — and let me remind you, he will soon be doing this as president of the United States — will be dithering around with tweets designed to spin his own reality about what happened that everyone knows is straight out of la-la land, including (presumably) him.
That can’t go on for too much longer. Can it?
* GOP MAY TRY TO REPLACE OBAMACARE IN PIECES: CNN reports that GOP aides have settled on a process that involves repealing big chunks of the ACA through a simple majority “reconciliation” process, followed by replace:
Republican aides are saying there may not be one overarching “replace” bill. One senior Republican aide said the party will look for legislative opportunities to get “pieces” of Obamacare reform through — a process that could drag out for years.
* GOP REPLACE PLAN WILL LIKELY COVER FEWER PEOPLE: The New York Times reports that the American Medical Association is calling for the GOP replace plan to cover as many people as currently are covered on Obamacare. But:
House Republicans, preparing for a rapid legislative strike on the law next month, emphasize a different measure of success. “Our goal here is to make sure that everybody can buy coverage or find coverage if they choose to,” a House leadership aide told journalists on the condition of anonymity.
It’s likely, then, that the replace plan will cover far fewer people, and this is how it will be spun.
* VERY LITTLE SUPPORT FOR REPEAL: A new CBS News poll finds that only 25 percent of Americans support repealing Obamacare entirely, while 63 percent say it needs minor changes, and another 9 percent say leave it as it is. Support for repeal is down 10 points since January.
Of course, this doesn’t really count, because the public hasn’t yet seen the “terrific” replacement Republicans and Trump will put forth, and Americans are gonna love it big league.
* DEMS PLAN BIG FIGHT AGAINST TRUMP NOMINEES: The Associated Press reports that Senate Democrats plan to use the hearings into Trump’s nominees to position themselves for the 2018 elections by persuading working-class whites he’s not on their side:
To highlight what they say is the hypocrisy of Trump’s campaign promise to be a champion for the economically struggling little guy, they’ll focus on the nominees’ wealth, ties to Wall Street and willingness to privatize Medicare, among other issues. In some cases, they’ll seek to drag out the process by demanding more information and ensuring a full airing of potential conflicts of interest.
* CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIR RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT FBI: Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta has written a new op-ed in The Post that asks why the FBI didn’t try harder to notify the DNC that it had been hacked:
I was surprised to read in the New York Times that when the FBI discovered the Russian attack in September 2015, it failed to send even a single agent to warn senior Democratic National Committee officials. Instead, messages were left with the DNC IT “help desk.” … at nearly the exact same time that no one at the FBI could be bothered to drive 10 minutes to raise the alarm at DNC headquarters, two agents accompanied by attorneys from the Justice Department were in Denver visiting a tech firm that had helped maintain Clinton’s email server.
This is a real escalation — it represents an effort to get the press to shine a brighter light on the FBI’s broader conduct throughout this whole election (see: Comey, James).
* YES, TRUMP IS A THREAT TO OUR DEMOCRACY: Two Harvard professors of government publish a must-read today that relies on a political scientist’s metric for determining whether a politician is “anti-democratic,” and delivers the bad news:
His indicators include a failure to reject violence unambiguously, a readiness to curtail rivals’ civil liberties, and the denial of the legitimacy of elected governments. Mr. Trump tests positive. … In the event of a war, a major terrorist attack or large-scale riots or protests — all of which are entirely possible — a president with authoritarian tendencies and institutions that have come unmoored could pose a serious threat to American democracy. … The warning signs are real.
And as I keep shouting at you, congressional Republicans really must be seen as a crucial part of this story.