At a Friday signing ceremony for two executive orders, President Trump apparently was so flustered by a reporter’s question about former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn’s bizarre public plea for immunity being turned down by the Senate Intelligence Committee, he left the room without signing the orders.
At Friday’s press conference, Sean Spicer seemed, even for him, to be grasping, ducking, exaggerating and out-and-out making stuff up — all in an effort to defend new, outrageous allegations that Trump was proven correct and that he really had been subject to “political” surveillance of him by the Obama administration. He blatantly misrepresented the remarks of former Obama administration defense official Evelyn Farkas who described the lengths to which Obama officials went to make sure key documents were not destroyed. There is zero evidence, as Spicer claimed, that she or others were intentionally spreading around classified information with the names of Trump people unmasked.
Why so emotionally frazzled? Perhaps it was the three White House staffers who got tagged for giving classified documents to House Intelligence Committee Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) so the latter could go running to the cameras to claim evidence of Trump’s persecution had been found. (No such evidence exists.) By the way, do we imagine three junior staffers on their own initiative would set out to let Nunes into the White House to view classified materials? That would seem to be oddly reckless.
More likely, the Friday hysteria could have been in anticipation of a CBS News report:
CBS News has learned that FBI agents are looking into whether Trump campaign associates were coordinating with Russian operatives as early as March of 2016. Sources say agents are examining whether individuals sympathetic to the Trump campaign directed hackers to specific information in Democratic party computer systems.
At the time, both Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton had emerged as their parties’ most likely nominees.
According to this declassified intelligence assessment it was March when Russian hackers “began cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election.” By May, U.S. officials say the Russians had stolen “large volumes of data from the DNC.”
And if that did not spook Trump, an additional tidbit might have: “[A] year after the Russian operation began . . . sources say the FBI’s investigation is nowhere near over. It involves dozens of agents in Washington, New York, and London. The NSA and CIA are also gathering intelligence from inside Russia.” Uh-oh.
The CBS report comes at the end of a week in which two panels of experts on Russia and counter-terrorism explained in an open Senate Intelligence hearing how Russia operated via social media, twitter bots, and WikiLeaks (among other methods) to spread disinformation harmful to Trump’s opponents. Clint Watts testified:
Through the end of 2015 and start of 2016, the Russian influence system outlined above began pushing themes and messages seeking to influence the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election. Russia’s overt media outlets and covert trolls sought to sideline opponents on both sides of the political spectrum with adversarial views toward the Kremlin. The final months leading up to the election have been the predominate focus of Russian influence discussions to date. However, Russian Active Measures were in full swing during both the Republican and Democratic primary season and may have helped sink the hopes of candidates more hostile to Russian interests long before the field narrowed.
That matches the timeline from the CBS story.
Perhaps there is only smoke — lots and lots of smoke — here and no one from the Trump campaign had anything to do with Russia’s election interference, not even unintentionally (e.g. retweeting Russian-originated propaganda). Maybe all those people who have gotten money from Russian officials or surrogates wound up by coincidence at the same time on the same campaign of the only candidate pushing a pro-Putin line. And listen, it might have been, again coincidence or something, that the Trump team managed to change the RNC platform on Ukraine, and falsely say it had nothing to do with it. But really, what are the odds of all that occurring?
At some point, one has to ask why members of the Trump team tried concealing contacts with Russia, laundering intelligence through Nunes to back up a claim meant to distract from the alleged collusion scandal, and continuing to misrepresent wildly easily verified facts. They sure are doing a good imitation of panicked people trying to hide something very damaging.