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Trump blurts out another Lester Holt moment

President Trump speaks during an event celebrating the GOP tax cuts. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

It really was the Russia investigation all along.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal posted late Wednesday, President Trump once again gave away the ballgame when it comes to his efforts to affect the probe and tear down its leaders (both current and former). He confessed that his true motivation for revoking former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance was the “rigged witch hunt” that Brennan once “led.”

“I call it the rigged witch hunt; [it] is a sham,” Trump told the Journal’s Peter Nicholas and Michael C. Bender. “And these people led it!”

He added: “So I think it’s something that had to be done.”

You could be forgiven for having flashbacks to Trump’s interview with NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt in the aftermath of his firing last year of James B. Comey as FBI director. Then, as now, the White House offered a series of motivations for the crackdown on a person who was a liability in the Russia probe. Then, as now, it seemed clear what the actual motivation was. And then, as now, Trump appeared to go out and just admit the actual motivation.

Since President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017, the explanations for the dismissal have been getting murkier. (Video: Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

In fact, I’d argue that this was more of a straight-up admission — albeit for something on a smaller scale.

In the case of the Holt interview, Trump never directly said that he fired Comey because of the Russia investigation; instead, he merely said that Russia was on his mind when he did it. “And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story; it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won,” Trump said in May 2017.

In this case, Trump refers directly to the role of Brennan and others in leading the investigation and then says, “So I think it’s something that had to be done” — suggesting that this was an action taken in direct response to their participation in the probe. He is saying he is punishing people who were involved in that, which at the very least would seem to create a chilling effect for other would-be critics.

That may not necessarily be a legal problem for Trump, given that it’s not directly tied to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s obstruction-of-justice investigation and that Brennan has no role in the probe today. But it sure makes it look as if the White House was again hiding the truth.

Washington Post national security reporter Shane Harris explains what you need to know about security clearances. (Video: Shane Harris, Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)
  1. “his erratic conduct and behavior”
  2. “a history that calls into question his objectivity and credibility”
  3. he “leveraged his status as a former high-ranking official with access to highly sensitive information to make a series of unfounded and outrageous allegations”
  4. his “increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation’s most closely held secrets and facilitates the very aim of our adversaries, which is to sow division and chaos"

None of those is “Brennan led the rigged witch hunt.” About the only one of those that comes close to Trump’s Wall Street Journal explanation is No. 3 — the idea that Brennan was making “unfounded and outrageous allegations” with regard to the Russia investigation.

But Trump’s comments to the Journal weren’t even about what Brennan is saying today; they were about the fact that he was CIA director when the Russia investigation was happening. “These people led it!” Trump said. “So I think something had to be done.”

And now he’s done it. Again.