Others have noted this in the 15 hours or so since the announcement about McMaster was made last night, both on social media and in big media, but it deserves to be amplified. There’s nothing unusual about a politician denying a story that’s in the papers only to have that story prove true soon afterward. A pol might have good reasons to want to release information, especially personnel changes, on his own timetable rather than the media’s.
What’s unusual about Trump is that his denials are part of a broader argument that the “fake news media” is constantly lying to people about him. When he denies that he’s about to shake up his staff of Russiagate attorneys or boot his National Security Advisor, the point he’s making isn’t that the press got one wrong this time or jumped the gun. The point is that they can’t be trusted, ever, and this is further evidence of it. He’s in a constant test of credibility with them, by design. Being a “good Republican” means relying on the president rather than the press whenever there’s a dispute between them. It’s either Trump or FAKE NEWS! You must choose.
Here is on March 11th:
The Failing New York Times purposely wrote a false story stating that I am unhappy with my legal team on the Russia case and am going to add another lawyer to help out. Wrong. I am VERY happy with my lawyers, John Dowd, Ty Cobb and Jay Sekulow. They are doing a great job and…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 11, 2018
He posted that the day after the Times claimed that he had met with Emmet Flood, a lawyer who worked for Bill Clinton during his impeachment, about possibly joining Team Trump. FAKE NEWS! All was well among the Trump legal team. No new lawyers were being added. Certainly Emmet Flood wasn’t joining the team, at least.
Then Trump went out and added a new lawyer, Joe diGenova. John Dowd quit yesterday. And WaPo confirmed last night that the White House did interview Flood two weeks ago and he’s in “preliminary” talks about possibly coming aboard. Fake news?
It wasn’t just the liberal media that noticed:
Just keeping track – exactly 11 days after this tweet —John Dowd is out and Joe DiGenova has been added to the legal team with more additions expected to come. https://t.co/3SOXAcOsMq
— Bret Baier (@BretBaier) March 22, 2018
Then there’s this, from March 16th, in response to weeks of reports from every major news outlet in the country that Trump and McMaster had never “clicked,” that Kelly and Mattis had soured on him, and that his departure was imminent, perhaps by the end of March. And yet:
Just spoke to @POTUS and Gen. H.R. McMaster – contrary to reports they have a good working relationship and there are no changes at the NSC.
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) March 16, 2018
At best Sanders was guilty of a slippery, Clintonian non-denial denial. She never says McMaster won’t be leaving soon, only that there are no charges to report — present tense — at the NSC. (It depends on what the meaning of “are” is, as Bill might say.) At worst she meant to lie outright. Or maybe the boss really did assure her that McMaster was staying put and she went public with that information, only to be burned by last night’s announcement. Either way, the FAKE NEWS wasn’t fake, again.
One more. Here’s Sanders’s statement yesterday on the omnibus spending bill:
“The president and the leaders discussed their support for the bill, which includes more funds to rebuild the military, such as the largest pay raise for our troops in a decade, more than 100 miles of new construction for the border wall and other key domestic priorities, like combatting the opioid crisis and rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.
A White House official later added that Trump “intends to sign the bill,” calling it a “step in the right direction.”…
The White House statement cleared up uncertainty surrounding Trump’s support for the proposal, which appeared be in doubt on Wednesday morning.
Mick Mulvaney also affirmed that Trump would be signing the bill. As of two hours ago, he was suddenly considering vetoing it.
Did Sanders lie about McMaster and Mulvaney lie about Trump’s support for the bill? Did Trump lie to them? Or does Trump just not know what he wants to do from one hour to the next, reducing his staff to total messaging chaos? NYT reporter Maggie Haberman, who’s had stories decried as “fake news” only to prove true later, thinks it’s more complicated than Sanders BSing people:
He denied it both times. It all stems from him. People can focus on staff and I certainly have, but at the end of the day it’s the president who runs things this way and makes the choices to deny true stories and attempt to confuse people. https://t.co/bdej4vCeRt
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) March 23, 2018
Here’s an interesting tweet too, responding to a comment from CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins that “This is why officials are so hesitant to speak for Trump. He says one thing, then does the opposite.”
So true. It’s absurd. Which is why people are banging down the doors to be his comms director. https://t.co/SyKVUuR2CX
— George Conway (@gtconway3d) March 23, 2018
George Conway is married to Kellyanne Conway, who’s very likely to be Trump’s new communications director. Here’s her better half telling you how enthusiastic she is to step into the middle of this clusterfark. Needless to say, none of the above demonstrates that you should always trust the media in a credibility test with POTUS. What it demonstrates is that you shouldn’t always trust POTUS in a credibility test with them. There are two unreliable narrators, not one, telling the story of our diseased national politics day to day.