At his impromptu Q&A with reporters last night, a reporter asked Donald Trump a simple question, which generated a not-so-simple response.
REPORTER: Do you trust the FBI?
TRUMP: Well, what am I going to say? I am very disturbed, as is the general, as is everybody else that is intelligent. When you look at – five months? This is the late great [President Richard Nixon’s secretary] Rose Mary Woods, right? [Inaudible] This is a large-scale version of this. That was 18 minutes, this is five months. They say it’s 50,000 texts and it’s prime time. That’s disturbing.
I especially enjoyed the “everybody else that is intelligent” part of his answer – as if those who dare disagree with the president should probably be considered idiots.
And what, pray tell, was Trump talking about? The White House and its Republican allies remain obsessed with messages between two FBI officials, Peter Strzok and Lisa Paige, who were having an affair, and who shared a variety of private political thoughts with one another during the campaign, including criticisms of Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Eric Holder, and others.
Some of their texts have been leaked, despite an ongoing investigation, for reasons that haven’t yet been explained, and the right has convinced itself that the messages offer possible proof of … something nefarious. Those conspiracy theories intensified when Congress discovered a gap of texts between Dec. 14, 2016 and May 17, 2017.
This gap is what Trump was worked up about last night. The trouble, however, is that the president apparently didn’t know what he was talking about.
FBI Director Christopher Wray – Trump’s hand-picked man for the job – told Congress that those texts weren’t preserved “due to misconfiguration issues related to rollouts, provisioning, and software upgrades.”
Of course, if there were misconfiguration issues, shouldn’t it have affected a variety of FBI officials? As a matter of fact, yes, and in this case, that’s exactly what happened: it wasn’t just Strzok and Paige who lost messages; the tech issues affected many throughout the bureau. The Washington Post and even Fox News both reported that “thousands” of FBI devices were affected by the glitch.*
Rose Mary Woods and the missing 18-and-a-half minutes on the Watergate tapes this isn’t. What Trump said last night was plainly wrong.
Over the summer, Trump told reporters, “When I make a statement, I like to be correct. I want the facts…. Before I make a statement, I need the facts.” Earlier this month, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders added that the president “believes in making sure that information is accurate before pushing it out as fact.”
It’d be funny if it weren’t so depressing.
* Update: The Justice Department’s Inspector General’s office notified Congress today that the texts in question have been recovered. This will likely give conspiracy theorists more to chew on, but it doesn’t change the story in any meaningful way. On the contrary, it offers further proof that there’s no effort to hide the materials Republicans mistakenly consider important.