Trump: Soldiers in Iraq stole millions in reconstruction funds, you know

This looked set to be the Republican headache du jour until Trump trumped himself with this morning’s gun-control quote. The man has singlehandedly moved the pace of modern news cycles from “rapid” to “warp speed.”

The quote from last night’s rally:

“Iraq, crooked as hell. How about bringing baskets of money, millions and millions of dollars and handing it out. I want to know, who were the soldiers that had that job because I think they’re living very well right now.”

He’s talking about Iraqi soldiers, his spokesman insists, not Americans. But Iraqi soldiers weren’t the ones handing out money. Americans were. And Iraq isn’t the only theater that Trump has connected to military corruption. Remember this last fall?

If the cash never got there, as he imagines, then obviously it’s not Afghan soldiers whom he has in mind. But here’s the thing: Some U.S. soldiers did steal reconstruction funds. More than 100 have been convicted of cash-skimming crimes during their tours over the past 10 years. Andrew Kaczynski of BuzzFeed noted this bit from a NYT reporter’s book on Iraq:

Under normal circumstances, “our guy told the truth” is the obvious reply when a campaign is challenged on a claim. That should go double for Trump’s campaign in theory because his whole shtick is that he’s a teller of uncomfortable truths. So why are they resorting to the spin that he was talking about Iraqis, not Americans? You know why — because it’s unfair to U.S. soldiers who did their jobs honorably and didn’t skim funds to blithely imply that corruption was endemic. Imagine Obama on the trail in 2008 glibly musing that the troops tasked with handing out CERP money must be living high on the hog right now. Conservative media would have gotten a full week of outrage over it. Team Trump was smart enough last night to anticipate similar outrage to come from Democrats — Hillary retweeted this comment within an hour or two of Trump saying what he said — so they went with the claim that he was talking about Iraqis instead. That should work to keep the media at bay for awhile until the next distraction comes along.

Here’s Trump’s comment followed by Democratic VP shortlister Tim Kaine trying hard to make hay of it while the press is momentarily paying attention.

Update: Brutal.

Update: Corbin Reiff, an Iraq veteran turned journalist, is laying into Trump on his Twitter account for impugning the motives of American troops who were charged with dispensing reconstruction funds. You can read his complete thoughts here, but this’ll give you a taste: