When it comes to the Russia scandal, Donald Trump and his team have adopted a series of evolving postures. Remember when they used to argue – with a straight face – that literally no one from Trump’s operation was in communications with Russians during the foreign attack on the American elections? As it turns out, Trump World doesn’t say this anymore.
But there’s one aspect of the scandal on which the president has been remarkably consistent: Trump has rejected the idea that Russia stole Democratic materials in the first place.
Indeed, since the moment U.S. intelligence officials briefed the then-Republican candidate on this in 2016, Trump rejected the claim as folly, going to far as to repeatedly mock American intelligence agencies.
No matter how painfully obvious the facts were to everyone on the planet, Trump refused to accept the most basic detail of the entire controversy. According to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), however, all of that has changed. Here’s the exchange he had yesterday with NBC News’ Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press.”
GRAHAM: Well, the president does now finally believe that the Russians stole the emails from the DNC and hacked, and Clinton, and the Russians….
TODD: He does?
GRAHAM: Yeah. Yeah…. The president does believe his intel agencies.
Now, it’s quite likely that Trump and Graham, who appear to now be rather close allies, have had private conversations in which the president has said things to the senator that he hasn’t shared with the public. But if Trump told Graham he now believes Russians stole Democratic documents, it would represent a dramatic change of heart.
As recently as mid-November – not quite two months ago – Trump told reporters that Vladimir Putin personally assured him that Russia didn’t meddle in the American election. “Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” the American president said in reference to his Russian counterpart.
It was part of a lengthy pattern in which Trump refused to accept U.S. intelligence agencies’ findings. “Nobody really knows for sure” whether Russia intervened in the American elections, the president said in July – after intelligence professionals told him they do know for sure.
But according to Lindsey Graham, sometime between mid-November and early-January, Trump changed his mind, and if the senator is right, the shift is a pretty important development. Indeed, Graham’s assertion raises some key follow-up questions for the White House:
1. Can anyone from Trump World confirm whether Graham is correct?
2. If so, what finally convinced Trump to change his mind?
3. If Trump now believes Putin’s government stole American materials in order to influence the outcome of American elections, what does the president intend to do to punish our foreign attackers?
4. If Trump now accepts the intelligence community’s findings, does he have any regrets about insulting intelligence agencies for so long? Should they expect a presidential apology?
Or is it possible Lindsey Graham is carrying water for his new pal, who’ll soon make the senator appear foolish by saying the opposite of what the senator claimed yesterday?