When politicians get caught making bogus claims, they have some choices on what to do next. The obvious solution is acknowledging the misstep and setting the record straight. Some, however, try lashing out at fact-checkers and reporters who dare to question them. Others try changing the subject. Occasionally, we’ll even see folks pretend they never said what they said.
But the most amusing category belongs to politicians who defend bogus claims by citing secret evidence that only they have access to. As Rachel noted on the show last night, this comes up more often than it should.
Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Calif.), for example, claimed last year to have secret information about ISIS fighters getting caught entering the United States through Mexico, which never happened in reality. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) claimed to have secret evidence that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, which is the exact opposite of the truth.
And then there’s Ben Carson, who claimed this week that China has deployed troops to Syria, despite the fact that China has not deployed troops to Syria. Yesterday, Armstrong Williams, a top Carson campaign aide, defended the claim by pointing to – you guessed it – secret intelligence. Here was the exchange between Williams and MSNBC’s Tamron Hall:
HALL: …Dr. Carson said that the Chinese were – are in Syria, which is not accurate.WILLIAMS: Well, Tamron, from your perspective and what most people know, maybe that is inaccurate, but from my intelligence and what Dr. Carson`s been told by people on the ground involved in that area of the world, it has been told to him many times over and over that the Chinese are there. But as far as our intelligence and the briefings that Dr. Carson`s been in, and I`ve certainly been in with him, he`s certainly been told that the Chinese are there.
This isn’t even the first time Team Carson has tried to pull this stunt.
Last month, the retired right-wing neurosurgeon claimed Russian President Vladimir Putin, Iran Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas all went to college together. When told that didn’t make any sense, Carson insisted he’s talked to “various people” who’ve provided him with unique insights.
Apparently seeing himself as a character in a spy drama, the Republican presidential candidate added, “There’s a lot more information that I’ve gotten that’s probably not appropriate for revelation.”
At a certain level, I can appreciate the appeal of the “I have secret sources” defense. For one thing, it’s an unverifiable trump card. For another, it makes the politician using the line seem as if he or she is important, learning sensitive information thanks to powerful allies that only he or she has access to.
The trouble is, the defense is also ridiculous. Relying on imaginary intrigue reeks of desperation.
There were no ISIS fighters entering the United States through Mexico. Saddam didn’t have WMD. Putin, Abbas, and Khamenei weren’t college buddies. And Chinese troops are not in Syria. Pretending to have covert information doesn’t make bogus claims accurate; it makes those making the bogus claims appear foolish.