White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany held a briefing Monday amid a growing furor over bounties that U.S. intelligence says Russia placed on U.S. troops in Afghanistan — and the lack of a U.S. response.
First, there was a significant disconnect between what McEnany said and what Trump said Sunday night. Trump claimed that not only was it inaccurate to say he had been briefed on the Russian-bounties intelligence, but also that the intelligence itself wasn’t credible.
“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP” Pence, Trump said.
Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP. Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!! https://t.co/cowOmP7T1S— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2020
But McEnany on Monday didn’t echo that. Rather than say that the information wasn’t credible, she instead suggested that it was merely unconfirmed. She said repeatedly that there was “no consensus,” that there were “dissenting opinions” and that the “veracity of the underlying allegations continue to be evaluated.”
That last quote matches, nearly verbatim, what a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council said Sunday night. But those statements aren’t the same as saying the Russian-bounties intelligence has been dealt with and found to be false, as Trump did.
Second, McEnany was asked whether Trump had a message for Russia in light of the bounties intelligence now going public, and she demurred.
“A message for Moscow?” McEnany said. “No, because he has not been briefed on the matter.”
This, again, is difficult to reconcile with Trump’s claim Sunday night. He said he had spoken with “intel” about the matter and heard back that the intelligence wasn’t credible, but McEnany now says he hasn’t even been briefed on it. Wouldn’t speaking to “intel” constitute a briefing of some sort?
Third was McEnany’s claim about why Trump allegedly wasn’t briefed. She said that intelligence like that on the Russian bounties needs to be verified before it will be shared with the president. But that’s not generally accurate; the President’s Daily Brief, or PDB, has historically shared unconfirmed or even raw intelligence with the president, as a reporter noted.
Rather than respond directly, McEnany repeated her previous answer.
“The National Security Council and the intelligence community constantly evaluate intelligence reports, and they brief the president as necessary,” McEnany said.
When McEnany was pressed on whether the information was in Trump’s PDB, she again declined to directly answer.
“He was not personally briefed on the matter,” she said. “That is all I can share with you today.”
It’s worth noting that Trump reportedly rarely reads his PDB, but if it was in there, saying he wasn’t briefed wouldn’t be strictly accurate, given that the written document constitutes a briefing of sorts. (It has “brief” in the name, after all.)
At the same time, McEnany confirmed reports that congressional leaders are being briefed on the intelligence. In addition, The Washington Post and others have reported that this intelligence was shared with British officials last week. In other words, according to McEnany, this is information that is being shared with plenty of people who aren’t the chief executive of the United States government but for some reason not with him.
Confronted with all of this, McEnany repeatedly fell back on her previous answers and declined to directly address the discrepancies. Instead, she launched an attack on past reports by the New York Times.
“This has been asked and answered; the president is briefed on verified intelligence,” she said when pressed on why Congress was being briefed but Trump wasn’t. She added: “And again, I would just point you back to the absolutely irresponsible decision of the New York Times to falsely report that he was briefed on something that he, in fact, was not briefed on this. And neither was the vice president.”
The New York Times has stood by its reporting that Trump was briefed. And it’s worth noting that McEnany didn’t directly dispute that this was in his PDB.
It’s also worth emphasizing that she seemed to significantly scale back his denial of the intelligence. We’ll surely find out in the days ahead how compelling lawmakers and others found this intelligence. McEnany’s statements left open the possibility that the reports were truer than Trump seems to want them to be.