The New York Times reported yesterday that when Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin recently met in Germany, the American president was impressed by an argument from his Russian counterpart: "Moscow's cyberoperators are so good at covert computer-network operations that if they had dipped into the Democratic National Committee's systems, they would not have been caught."
In a rather literal sense, the White House has adopted Putin's talking points. Here, for example, was Anthony Scaramucci, Trump's new communications director, echoing the line on CNN yesterday:
"You know, somebody said to me yesterday -- I won't tell you who -- that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails, you would have never seen it. You would have never had any evidence of them, meaning that they're super confident in their deception skills and hacking."
Moments later, Scaramucci conceded his source -- the one whom he didn't want to identify just seconds earlier -- was Donald Trump himself, who'd called him a day earlier.
Even for this White House, this was exceedingly strange. As part of a defense against the Russia scandal, the president's communications director echoed Vladimir Putin's talking points, citing a secret source, who happened to be the president, who directly reminded him of Putin's talking points.
Making matters quite a bit worse, all of this was intended to undermine confidence in the findings of American intelligence agencies, which the president still chooses not to believe. Indeed, the White House's broader point seems to be that Russia's espionage operations are so skillful and clever, American intelligence professionals couldn't possibly be expected to keep up.
One might expect to hear something like this from the Kremlin, not the White House.
Driving the point home, Scaramucci went on to say that Trump, referring to Russia's role in the election attack, told him, "Hey, you know, maybe they did it. Maybe they didn't do it."
In other words, even now, the American president isn't prepared to believe his own intelligence agencies, preferring to trust the word of Russia's president. This isn't just ridiculous on its face; it's also a reminder that Trump is unlikely to take steps to prevent the next attack because he still doesn't accept the evidence about the last one.