Opinion writer

THE MORNING PLUM:

This morning, President Trump floated a series of big lies about the Russia investigation. They aren’t normal or conventional lies. They are profoundly absurd exercises in up-is-downism — that is, enormous, preposterously audacious falsehoods that run directly contrary to facts that are widely known and ascertainable with great ease.

Which is the whole point.

First, Trump quoted Rush Limbaugh saying that the FBI never told Trump that the Russians tried to infiltrate his campaign, which Trump called a “hoax.” This is something that Trump has repeatedly floated in various forms, to push the idea that the FBI was actually spying on his campaign, rather than contacting Trump officials out of concern that his campaign risked being compromised by a hostile foreign power. Then Trump claimed that “I never fired James Comey because of Russia!”

The second of these, of course, is contradicted by the fact that Trump went on national television and flatly acknowledged that when he fired Comey as FBI director, he was thinking that “this Russia thing” is a “made-up story.” But the first statement deserves more attention, because it’s central to the narrative that Trump and his allies have fixed upon to discredit the original investigation (which has become special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe) as an Obama administration spy-ops effort to derail the Trump campaign.

Trump says the idea that the Russians tried to sabotage the election on his behalf at all is a “hoax” and that his campaign was never briefed on the concern among intelligence officials about it. As he has put it, “why didn’t the crooked highest levels of the FBI or ‘Justice’ contact me to tell me of the phony Russia problem?”

Let’s run through what we actually know that contradicts this absurd narrative:

  • NBC News has reported that just after he won the GOP nomination in the summer of 2016, he received a high-level briefing from the FBI telling him “that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would probably try to spy on and infiltrate his campaign.” The source: “multiple government officials familiar with the matter.”
  • In September 2016, top intelligence officials briefed multiple congressional leaders, including Republicans Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, about the Russian effort to sabotage the election. Former president Barack Obama wanted to put out a statement condemning Russia’s action, but wanted a united bipartisan front. As The Post reports, however, McConnell refused, and “made clear” that he would “consider any effort by the White House to challenge the Russians publicly an act of partisan politics.” Top Republicans not only knew that Russia was trying to tip the election to Trump; they also said it would be unfair to Trump to publicly acknowledge it!
  • Former CIA director John Brennan has gone on the record about these briefings. He told “Frontline” that he confirmed to GOP leaders that the view that Russia was trying to swing the election to Trump reflected “an intelligence assessment.”
  • In March 2017, a Democrat reminds me, Ryan confirmed that GOP leaders knew. He told CBS News that congressional leaders of both parties sent a letter to secretaries of state around the country before the election warning that their election data was vulnerable to Russian hacking. Ryan explicitly told CBS News that “we all knew this before the election. We all knew, Russia was trying to meddle with our election.” It is hard to imagine that “all” did not include the primary target of this Russian effort.
  • As an aside, note that the idea that Russia was trying to interfere in the election was widely understood throughout the entire political world as early as June 2016. The Post reported at the time that the Democratic National Committee computer network had been breached by “Russian government hackers.”

To believe that top intelligence officials did not brief Trump on the Russian sabotage effort, you have to believe that they did provide a briefing to senior Republican members of Congress, but not to the very campaign that those officials thought at the time was vulnerable to getting compromised, and that NBC News’s sources are lying in claiming that his campaign was indeed briefed. That does not seem terribly likely.

Even putting aside what Trump knew at the time, his claim that the Russian sabotage itself was a “hoax” is contradicted by the consensus view of the intelligence community, Mueller’s indictments of 13 Russian nationals, and Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee (all of those have also concluded that Russia’s goal was to help Trump win).

As I’ve argued, the audacity of Trump’s lying is its key feature. The whole point of Trump’s lies is to establish the power to say what the truth is, even when — or especially when — widely known, easily verifiable facts dictate the contrary. The brazenness of Trump’s lying is central to his assertion of the power to declare what reality is.

But beyond all this, Trump’s continued insistence that he was not briefed would seem to invite a new round of serious journalistic scrutiny of that whole set of episodes throughout the summer and fall of 2016.

* TRUMP’S FURY AT JEFF SESSIONS CONTINUES: Trump tweeted again in anger about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s recusal late last night — Sessions, after all, was supposed to protect Trump from the Russia probe. And the New York Times notes this tidbit:

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has gone so far as to tell people not to raise Mr. Sessions’s name with him in conversation. The two men rarely speak outside of cabinet meetings.

Trump simply cannot appreciate that there are good institutional reasons for his attorney general not to function as his blind loyalist.

* ADVISERS URGE TRUMP NOT TO FIRE SESSIONS: The Associated Press reports on the behind-the-scenes effort to keep Trump from firing Sessions:

In private meetings, public appearances on television and late-night phone calls, Trump’s advisers and allies have done all they can to persuade the president not to fire a Cabinet official he dismisses as disloyal. The effort is one of the few effective Republican attempts to install guardrails around a president who delights in defying advice and breaking the rules.

The AP notes that “influential conservatives” have privately urged Trump to hold off. One wonders whether certain conservative media figures know more than they’re publicly saying about this.

* BLAME GAME STARTS AMONG DEMOCRATS: The Post looks at the developing disaster in California, where the pileup of Democratic candidates and the primary system (the top two advance to the general election) could end up locking Democrats out of three House races:

All three districts are held by Republicans, and all three are widely seen as crucial to Democratic efforts to pick up the 23 seats they need nationwide to win the House majority. … Candidates are scrambling to set themselves apart, Democratic groups are urging unity to gain control of the House — and many voters are wondering how to contend with the despair they would feel if Democrats were locked out in this liberal state.

This might end up being one place where the anti-Trump energy — which is why so many Democrats are running — ends up devouring itself.

* TRUMP’S TRADE WAR IS ON: The Trump administration is set to slap tariffs on European steel and aluminum after U.S. negotiators failed to squeeze concessions from the European Union:

U.S. and European officials held last-ditch talks in Paris on Thursday to try to avert a deal, though hopes are low and fears of a trade war are mounting. … If the U.S. moves forward with its tariffs, the EU has threatened to impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. orange juice, peanut butter and other goods in return. Fears of a global trade war are already weighing on investor confidence and could hinder the global economic upturn.

Good thing Trump has already informed us that trade wars are easy to win.

* WHY VIRGINIA’S MEDICAID EXPANSION MATTERS: Virginia is set to expand Medicaid, and CNN explains why it’s such a big win for Democrats:

Democrats came within one seat of drawing even in the state’s House of Delegates in last fall’s election. … The GOP stranglehold on the House was the primary barrier to adopting the Medicaid expansion. … [It] would be Democrats’ first major policy victory to come as a result of the party’s strength in elections that have taken place since Trump took office.

This is a reminder of how important it is for Democrats to regain ground in the states and of the urgency of keeping the energy going through November. Elections have consequences!

* WHY WE MUST CALL OUT TRUMP’S LIES: E.J. Dionne Jr. has a great column explaining why we need to call out Trump’s lies forcefully, and how those lies figure into Trump’s effort to energize the base for the midterms:

Polarization defines Trump’s survival strategy, and it means that demagoguery — toward immigrants, toward crime, toward special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe, toward dissenting NFL players, toward anyone who takes him on — is what his presidency is all about. What thus needs exposing is not simply Trump’s indifference to the truth but also the fact that he depends upon the kinds of lies that will tear our country to pieces.

Exactly right. And let’s not forget that Trump’s lies about immigrants aim to justify an actual policy agenda that’s hurting lots and lots of people.

* AND A MAJORITY SAYS TRUMP’S TWEETS HURT THE U.S.: A new Politico-Morning Consult poll finds:

A 59 percent majority say Trump’s use of Twitter hurts his presidency, compared to only 19 percent who say it helps. Fifty-one percent say Trump’s Twitter use actually hurts national security; 13 percent say it helps, and 22 percent say it doesn’t have much impact either way. And 57 percent say Trump’s tweets hurt the country’s standing in the world; just 14 percent say they help the nation’s standing.

But Trump thinks his tweets help him. Need we say more?