White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders stands beside monitors showing US President Donald J. Trump delivering a statement on the economy, at the beginning of a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, January 4, 2018.
Michael Reynolds/EPA

The Trump White House’s spin on WikiLeaks needs some work

The news on Friday morning was clearly a disaster for Roger Stone. The longtime Republican operative was taken into FBI custody and charged with obstruction, giving false statements, and witness tampering. That said, the news wasn’t exactly great for Donald Trump and his team.

The Stone indictment alleges that senior Trump campaign officials contacted the operative in 2016, inquiring about WikiLeaks’ distribution of materials stolen by Russia. The same indictment specifically points to a senior Trump campaign official who was “directed” to communicate with Stone about the matter.

Yesterday, in her first briefing of 2019, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders fielded a question about the allegations.

Q: [Republican Sen. Marco Rubio] said over the weekend that working with WikiLeaks should be considered a crime. Does the president agree?

SANDERS: Look, I think every single outlet that are – that you all represent looked for and searched for information that WikiLeaks was providing, including reporting on it. So I think there is a responsibility by members of the media.

This is a bad argument.

We can certainly have a conversation about whether professionals in the political media were too quick to embrace leaked stolen materials, playing the role of pawn in a larger game. If media critics or journalism professors are prepared to make such a case, they can serve as the basis for an interesting lecture.

But Donald Trump’s press secretary is drawing parallels where none exist.

Sanders’ pitch may have some surface-level appeal: the Trump campaign exploited WikiLeaks’ revelations, Roger Stone was in communication with WikiLeaks, and U.S. news organizations promoted WikiLeaks’ revelations. The media, the argument goes, should keep quiet to avoid accusations of hypocrisy.

Except it’s nearly that simple. Russia stole Democratic materials, and used WikiLeaks to weaponize the information, all as part of an intelligence operation intended to put Trump in power. All the while, Team Trump didn’t just benefit passively from the operation, it allegedly took active and deliberate steps to coordinate in secret with WikiLeaks. Roger Stone stands accused of lying about all of this.

When Sarah Huckabee Sanders has evidence of American news outlets doing the same thing, she should certainly let us know. Until then, her false equivalence falls short.