Donald Trump’s White House is no doubt aware of the fact that the president’s disastrous press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin created a problem. To that end, the president’s communications team put together talking points for Trump’s allies, and NBC News obtained a copy of them that had been sent to at least one congressional Republican’s office.
Much of the document is predictable – it emphasizes the value of diplomacy, which isn’t exactly controversial – but what stood out for me was Team Trump’s insistence that the president really does believe U.S. intelligence agencies, despite what he told the world yesterday. From the talking points:
President Trump said in Helsinki that he had “great confidence” in his intelligence agencies.
For over a year and half, the President has repeatedly said he believes the intelligence agencies when they said Russia interfered in American elections.
In January 2017, the President-Elect said “I think it was Russia.”
On July 6, 2017, the President said “I think it was Russia.”
On November 11, 2017, the President said “I’m with our Agencies”.
On March 6, 2018, the President said “certainly there was meddling.”
I’m certain the White House didn’t intend for this to be funny, but this is rather laughable.
For example, the first line emphasizes that Trump said yesterday he has “great confidence” in U.S. intelligence agencies. In context, however, here’s what the American president actually said: “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
That’s not an expression of support for American intelligence professionals; it’s the opposite.
As for the assertion that Trump has spent “a year and half” endorsing the intelligence community’s findings about Russian interference in U.S. elections, the truth is much different. Politico did a nice job a few days ago rounding up the Republican president’s many positions on the issue, starting in September 2016, when Trump ignored the intelligence professionals who’d briefed him and told a national audience an unnamed 400-pound man may have been responsible.
In the months that followed, Trump repeatedly cast doubt on Russia’s role in the attack, frequently attacking the reliability of U.S. intelligence agencies in the process. The fact that the White House managed to dig up a handful of examples of Trump suggesting Moscow may be to blame is trivial when compared to the many instances in which he said he simply didn’t believe the evidence.
More to the point, today’s recommended arguments from the White House don’t negate the fact that Trump stood alongside our attacker yesterday, and from foreign soil, made the case that he has greater confidence in Putin’s word than the assessments of his own administration.
“My people came to me – Dan Coats came to me and some others – they said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said yesterday, referring to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. “I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Trump had to choose between believing officials from his own country or putting his faith in Vladimir Putin. He chose the latter, and White House talking points won’t change that.