Hours after FBI Director James B. Comey made clear that no evidence existed to back up President Trump’s claim that he had been the subject of a wiretap ordered by Barack Obama, White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about it. His answer, put plainly, didn’t make much sense.
Here’s the somewhat lengthy back-and-forth — as transcribed by The Post’s Peter Stevenson:
REPORTER: Sean, what constitutes conclusive evidence to the president, when you say there’s more to come forward? You’ve got the FBI director saying nothing backed up the president’s tweets about wiretapping, former head of the DNI, House Intelligence Committee saying it, you’ve had a series of officials. So when does this end for the president? Is it March 28?
SPICER: It’s not a question of a day, it’s a question of where we get answers. You look at someone like Michael Flynn, and you ask the question, how does an American citizen, who should be protected by law from having their identity unmasked, how does that happen? Because you’ve gotta think about it like this: The FBI and all of the relevant intelligence agencies have access to this document. They can figure out who it was.
REPORTER: Who it was? The wiretapping of the president. That’s the claim.
SPICER: I understand that. What I’m getting at is that there’s a lot of information that we have come to learn about what happened in terms of surveillance throughout the 2016 election and the transition. And when you look at somebody like Michael Flynn, and you realize that, while they might have been looking at somebody else at that time, how does somebody’s name that’s protected by law from being disclosed get put out in public? Why was it put out in the public? Because the people in the intelligence community would have had access to that information. They could have found out who it was. But yet, you’ve got to question, why was a name that should have been protected by law from being put out into the public domain, put out there? What were the motives behind that? What else do we need to know? Who was behind that kind of unmasking?
Go back and read that again. Now tell me what you think Spicer is trying to say.
I read over Spicer’s answer a bunch of times. Here’s what I think he is saying.
Despite the comments made by Comey, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. and lots of other members of the intelligence community, the White House still wants to know how The Washington Post learned that former national security adviser Michael Flynn had discussed economic sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the presidential transition period. Spicer’s assertion is that the FBI and “all of the relevant intelligence agencies” have the ability to know where this information came from but have so far refused to find out. “Why was a name that should have been protected by law from being put out into the public domain, put out there?” Spicer asked. “What were the motives behind that? What else do we need to know? Who was behind that kind of unmasking?”
A few things here.
First and most important, Spicer is answering a question not asked of him. The question is what evidence does President Trump have of the wiretap that none of the intelligence officials know exists? And, at what point will he come forward with that information? The question Spicer answered is about how Flynn’s recording was made and why it was made public. A worthy question! But not the one asked.
Second, there is simply no good answer for Spicer on the question he was asked. Either Trump didn’t have any actual evidence for his wiretapping claim or Comey, Clapper, former president Barack Obama and the Republican and Democratic heads of the House Intelligence Committee are not telling the truth. Because all of them are on record saying that zero evidence exists for the claims Trump made about wiretapping. Trump can’t be right unless they are wrong. And vice versa.
Spicer — I think — knows this. He also knows his boss is deeply dug in on the issue — facts be damned. And so, there’s just no answer he can give that satisfies all parties. Instead, he answers a question no one asked him and one that is only tangentially related to the matter of whether the president of the United States has some secret evidence that he was wiretapped by the previous administration. Which doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Welcome to the less-than-wonderful world of being Donald Trump’s spokesman.