Why Trump’s response to the intel whistleblower scandal falls short

Nearly a week after the controversy first broke, Donald Trump today offered a response to reports about the complaint filed by an intelligence community whistleblower. The president’s argument needs some work.

“Another Fake News story out there - It never ends! Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

“Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!,” he continued before calling the reports an example of “Presidential Harassment!”

So let me see if I have this straight. According to Donald Trump, we shouldn’t believe he extended a provocative “promise” to a foreign leader because the American president is far too smart to do something dangerous around witnesses. Given the president’s obvious limitations, the number of people likely to find this persuasive is small.

What’s more, to characterize the controversy as “fake news” is ridiculous, even for Trump. There really was a complaint filed by an intelligence community whistleblower. The inspector general’s office really did examine the complaint, and he really did consider it credible and urgent. The IG really did contact the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The DNI really did reach out to the Justice Department. They really did work on a plan to circumvent the legal process on congressional disclosure.

There’s nothing “fake” about any of this.

Finally, Trump’s assertion that he’s far too clever to say “something inappropriate” to foreign officials might be easier to believe if there weren’t already examples of him saying inappropriate things to foreign officials.

While the president works on his talking points, the intelligence community’s inspector general who received the whistleblower’s complaint was on Capitol Hill this morning, though the New York Times reports that his closed-door testimony hasn’t gone especially well for those seeking answers.

The internal watchdog for American spy agencies declined repeatedly in a briefing on Thursday to disclose to lawmakers the content of a potentially explosive whistle-blower complaint that is said to involve a discussion between President Trump and a foreign leader, according to three people familiar with the briefing.

During a private session on Capitol Hill, Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, told lawmakers he was unable to confirm or deny anything about the substance of the complaint, including whether it involved the president, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door conversation. The meeting was still underway.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, added this morning that his panel would hear next week from acting Director of National intelligence Joseph Maguire and Inspector General Michael Atkinson.

Watch this space.