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The White House's spin on the Russia scandal goes off the rails

As the White House now sees it, some collusion between Team Trump and Russia shouldn't be considered a big deal.
Kellyanne Conway, new campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17, 2016. (Photo by Gerald Herbert/AP)
Kellyanne Conway, new campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, speaks to reporters in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York, Aug. 17, 2016.

You've got to be kidding me.

White House aide Kellyanne Conway accused critics of the Trump administration of moving the goalposts on the ongoing investigations into possible coordination between members of the Trump campaign and Russian nationals."The goalposts have been moved," Conway told "Fox & Friends" Friday morning. "We were promised systemic -- hard evidence of systemic, sustained, furtive collusion that not only interfered with our election process but indeed dictated the electoral outcome."

Let's take a breath and think about how we reached this point. When reports first surfaced of Russian intervention in the American elections, Donald Trump and his team said there was no Russian meddling. Then Team Trump said there was meddling, but Russia wasn't trying to help put Trump in power. Then Trump World said Russia may have been trying to help Trump, but the Republican campaign wasn't in communications with Russian nationals during the attack. Then Team Trump said there were communications, but there was no cooperation between Russia and the campaign.

This week, all of that changed, thanks to documented proof that Russia not only offered to help put Trump in the White House, but also that top members of Trump's inner circle welcomed Moscow's intervention.

It's against this backdrop that Kellyanne Conway, who's practically hired a team of movers to help relocate the goal posts on multiple occasions, told a national television audience, "The goalposts have been moved." As she sees it, proving cooperation between Trump World and Vladimir Putin's government isn't enough -- because she expects evidence of "sustained" collusion.

In other words, some cooperation with a Russian espionage operation, as part of the most serious attack on the United States since 9/11, is underwhelming. Conway wants evidence of a lot of cooperation.

This from a White House official who, earlier this year, said accusing Team Trump of having spoken to Russian nationals during the campaign "undermines our democracy."

Of course, if Conway and her colleagues are still interested in the emerging evidence, I imagine West Wing officials will be fascinated by information that continues to come to light. Take this new NBC News report, for example.

The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. and others on the Trump team after a promise of compromising material on Hillary Clinton was accompanied by a Russian-American lobbyist — a former Soviet counterintelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence, NBC News has learned.The lobbyist, first identified by the Associated Press as Rinat Akhmetshin, denies any current ties to Russian spy agencies. He accompanied the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, to the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower attended by Donald Trump Jr.; Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law; and Paul Manafort, former chairman of the Trump campaign.

The evolution of this story has been extraordinary.

We were originally told by Trump Jr. that there was no meeting. Then we learned there was a meeting, but it was about adoption policy. Then we learned the meeting was actually an opportunity for top members of Trump's inner circle to receive campaign information from the Russian government -- and that the White House played a direct role in crafting a misleading press statement about the gathering, which starts to look like an attempted cover-up.

And it now appears a former Soviet counter-intelligence official participated in the June 2016 discussion -- a detail Team Trump neglected to mention. That's quite a guest list for a meeting that was "such a nothing."

There's no reason to believe this story is anywhere close to done.