Trump contended in tweets a few weeks ago that Trump Tower had been wiretapped and that none other than President Barack Obama was behind it. But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who is under fire for being too friendly with the White House, has said that assertion is incorrect.
Nunes then claimed last week that there is evidence that Trump and his associates' communications were swept up in what is known as “incidental collection.” As I've noted, though, that doesn't mean Trump was targeted by the surveillance. Nonetheless, this led Trump to assert partial vindication.
For the record, here's the question CBS asked: “How likely do you think it is that Donald Trump’s offices were wiretapped, or under government surveillance during the 2016 presidential campaign?” Strictly speaking, even Nunes has acknowledged that Trump's offices were not under surveillance.
So what we have here is another situation in which Trump makes an evidence-free claim, the White House moves the goal posts to suggest that he was saying something less severe than he actually was, and eventually enough reasonable doubt emerges for partisans to give Trump the benefit of the doubt.
Which is par for the course. The Trump-Russia saga already has proven that Republicans are very much willing to take Trump's word for it rather than believe the intelligence community — and, by extension, the media.
Polls have long shown that Republicans don't even believe the intelligence community's evaluation that Russia interfered in the presidential election. And among the few who think it did, many don't think it tried to help Trump — another consensus conclusion of the intelligence community.
And the new CBS poll also shows this. It shows that just one in four Republicans think Russia interfered, vs. 64 percent who think it did not even attempt to do so. And just 13 percent of Republicans accept the intelligence community's conclusion that this interference existed and was intended to help Trump — one in eight.
What's notable about that is that not even the White House really contends with the conclusion that Russia tried to interfere. Instead, it has focused on casting doubt on the idea that the interference actually mattered, and it has argued against the idea that there was collusion between the Trump team and Russia. Yet here we are today, and still a very strong majority of Republicans believe Russia didn't even interfere in the first place.
What we're left with: two scenarios in which Republicans believe in something that even Trump isn't really arguing for anymore. Even as the White House has abandoned his most hard-line stances against the intelligence community's conclusions, they still loom large in his political party.
Indeed, it seems that he doesn't really even have to argue for them anymore.