White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders caused an unexpected stir yesterday when she announced plans to possibly revoke the security clearances of former intelligence officials who say unkind things about Donald Trump. The whole thing felt a bit like a stunt for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that some of the people in question don't actually have security clearances.
Asked why the White House -- which used to claim it had nothing to do with security clearances -- would target these individuals, Sanders accused them of making "baseless accusations" and "baseless charges," with "zero evidence."
Yes, of course. Because if there's one thing Team Trump can't tolerate, it's those who make baseless accusations without evidence. Heaven forbid.
Unfortunately for the president's press secretary, her timing could've been better. Sanders' boss had just spent the previous couple of days publishing a series of strange claims on Twitter, nearly all of which were demonstrably false.
Making matters worse, Sanders herself served up a bizarre whopper at the same briefing at which she complained about "baseless" allegations.
"Once again, the president has faith in the intelligence that suggest and maintain that Russia was involved in the elections. However, it's also important that that same information concludes that it had no impact on the election."
This comes up more often than it should. The White House line, in a nutshell, is that Russia launched an expensive and expansive intelligence operation in the United States, involving key members of Russian military intelligence, attacking our democracy in order to help install a perceived ally in power -- but it doesn't matter, because Moscow's efforts "had no impact on the election."
As absurd as the argument is on its face, Trump World peddles it with alarming frequency. Earlier this year, for example, then-White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster spoke at a security conference in Munich, he conceded that the evidence of Russian intervention in the U.S. elections was "really incontrovertible."
His boss soon after declared that McMaster "forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians."
Of course, as we discussed at the time, McMaster didn't "forget" this point. He simply had no reason to repeat a claim with no basis in fact.
This need not be complicated. A foreign adversary launched a sophisticated and well-funded intelligence operation against the United States. The operation included public events, advertising, rallies, p.r. stunts, outreach to domestic allies, and an aggressive social-media component.
There’s no ambiguity as to why the foreign operatives were doing this. The Russians believed events, ads, rallies, stunts, and outreach would have a direct influence on how Americans voted.
Trump World wants you to believe the Russian efforts were a pointless failure. The 2016 presidential race was decided by 78,000 people across three states, but no matter, the argument goes, the Russian intelligence operation didn’t sway the results in any way.
To bolster the claim, Republicans point to … nothing. They’ve occasionally tried to say the intelligence agencies have reached this conclusion, but that isn’t even close to being true.
What they’re left with is a highly implausible talking point, supported by no evidence, that no one should take seriously.