President Trump just can't get his story straight.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, he accused the news media of widespread fabrication, claiming without evidence that “they have no sources; they just make 'em up when there are none.”
It is a charge Trump has leveled before. But it is wholly incompatible with his assertions, at other times (or on the same day), that U.S. intelligence officials are leaking classified information to reporters — and must be ferreted out.
Which is it? Are the unidentified intelligence sources cited in reports by The Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN and others invented by “dishonest” journalists? Or are they real people, providing real information, who need to be stopped?
Both of the president's claims cannot be true.
It seems clear which one Trump actually believes: He speaks and tweets so frequently about plugging leaks that his consternation appears genuine.
“Things are being leaked,” Trump said after Michael Flynn resigned as national security adviser, in the wake of a Post report based on leaked information. “It's a criminal action — criminal act — and it's been going on for a long time. Before me. But now it's really going on.”
Trump, of course, would not have asked for (or received) Flynn's resignation if the sources who spoke to The Post were made up. Defying logic, however, Trump said at CPAC that they were.
The Post cited “nine current and former officials” when it reported that Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before Trump took office, contrary to what administration officials had said publicly.
In Trump's address to the conservative conference, the president said: “There're no nine people. I don't believe there was one or two people. Nine people. And I said, 'Give me a break.' Because I know the people. I know who they talk to. There were no nine people. But they say 'nine people.' And somebody reads it, and they think, 'Oh, nine people. They have nine sources.' They make up sources. They're very dishonest people.”
Yes, the sources and the report they yielded were so fake that the president decided Flynn had to go. Got it.
We have further evidence that Trump doesn't really think journalists fabricate the unidentified sources in their reports. In some cases, these sources are not leaking information but are briefing reporters at the White House's direction, on the condition of anonymity.
In fact, the White House orchestrated one such session shortly before Trump took the stage at CPAC.
One other note about the president's inconsistent attacks on media sources: Trump has continued to make conflicting arguments (Fabrications! Leaks!) in the week since hiring veteran Republican strategist Mike Dubke as White House communications director.
It is hard to imagine that Dubke would encourage the president to keep contradicting himself. But Trump is doing it, anyway, proving once again that he does things his own way, even when it doesn't make sense.