As my colleagues have noted, only a few people know what really went down in last week’s meeting between President Trump and Russian officials – and that would be the people in the room, some of whom have made public statements about what was and was not said.
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster was one of them.
“At no time — at no time — were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. Two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of State, remember the meeting the same way, and have said so. Their on the record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources. And I was in the room, it didn’t happen.”
Most of the rest of the world has predictably reacted in one of two ways – supporters crying “fake news” or “setup” within hours of the report, and #resist types screaming “treason!”
Both reactions defy logic.
I tend to agree with Jonah Goldberg’s take.
But the idea that Trump — with his irrepressible need to boast to the point of narcissistic incontinence combined with his lackadaisical approach to the nuts-and-bolts demands of the job — somehow just let something slip is utterly and completely believable. It was apparently believable to various members of his own administration.
What’s harder to believe, however, is the idea that H. R. McMaster lied tonight….But it’s worth recalling that just last week, the White House insisted that the president fired James Comey on the recommendation of the deputy attorney general. The vice president repeatedly said as much. Within 24 hours that storyline was discredited. Within days, the president himself threw the vice president and his communications team under the bus in his interview with Lester Holt. Donald Trump’s track record of screwing people who vouch for him is truly impressive. So is his ability to put honorable people in no-win situations.
And Charles Krauthammer, after saying he didn’t believe Trump sat down with the Russians and gave them detailed intelligence, said:
You have got to ask yourself: Why do the Russians keep turning up every three days in the Trump administration? It seems as if Trump has a recurring cold and the Russkies are involved in that. I mean, of all the countries, it didn’t have to be Russia.
Paranoia about Russia has hit an all-time high among liberals and the conspiracy nut wing on the right. So, President Trump, as far as Russia’s concerned, you need to adopt the policy that Mike Pence has against going to dinner alone with another woman who isn’t his wife – just avoid the appearance of impropriety altogether. Don’t even talk about publicly-available knowledge (hell, we all knew that ISIS was looking at using laptops as weapons on airplanes weeks ago). A few more suggestions:
- Don’t fire people by a letter hand-delivered to their office when they are on a speaking engagement across the country.
- Don’t contradict your staff to the press.
- Don’t threaten former administration officials over Twitter.
- Heck, just don’t threaten anyone over Twitter. Except murderous dictators.
- Avoid nepotism.
- And please, don’t just spout off about a topic before you’re fully briefed on it and have thought about all of the consequences of your actions.
I know that is asking a lot, but your actions are playing into the hands of your enemies, who know that perception is reality and really don’t give a rat’s behind about the truth. As Jonah Goldberg said, the perception is that you have an “irrepressible need to boast to the point of narcissistic incontinence” and a “lackadaisical approach to the nuts-and-bolts demands of the job.” And isn’t it a funny thing how everything that’s gotten you into hot water goes back to one or both of those traits?
When Trump’s primary campaign started gathering steam, political consultants and campaign workers I knew all said, “Wait until he hits Iowa. The ground game is going to matter then.” And it didn’t, really. And it never became an issue during the entire campaign, to the shock of pollsters and pundits everywhere.
But now it’s obvious that it wasn’t the ability to run a ground game that showed the difference between business and politics. It’s the ability to govern, and it starts with the ability to govern how one is perceived.