A few reporters scratched their heads last Friday when President Trump told them that while the illegal leaks coming out of the administration were real, the news reporting those leaks was fake. But if that sounded like a strange, paradoxical comment to make at the time, it suddenly made perfect sense only one week later.
Thursday night, CNN and others reported that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus pressured FBI officials to refute a New York Times story about Trump’s campaign team and their “constant” contact with individuals inside the Russian government.
“The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign,” wrote CNN.
If we take this story as true, and we draw inferences from the reporting, we’re left with a disturbing picture. We see a president trying to get the FBI to lie on his behalf and an FBI too committed to principle to go along with it. It’s the kind of story that makes you think that Trump really was colluding with the Russians and that we’re only days away from the shocking sight of our president being led out of the White House in handcuffs.
But according to both the White House and the FBI, that would be a gross misrepresentation of what actually happened.
And here we see the truth is Trump’s weird “real leaks, fake news” contention.
According to the administration, the core information in the story is correct. Priebus did indeed ask the FBI to speak out against the original report. But the real version of what happened is not nearly as scandalous as the press tried to make it sound.
What happened was this: FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe reached out to Priebus to tell him that the New York Times story was incorrect and that the agency did not have evidence of this so-called “constant contact” between Trump’s associates and Russian interests. Priebus, naturally, asked him if the FBI would tell the press what they were telling the administration. The FBI, however, said they didn’t want to get into a situation where they were refuting or confirming every news report that came out about an ongoing investigation.
That’s it. That’s the whole story. The FBI told the White House that the Times story was false, the White House asked them to correct the public record, and the FBI declined. Real leaks, fake news.
The whole sordid affair inspired President Trump to once again take to Twitter with his displeasure over intelligence leaks.
“The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time,” he wrote Friday morning. “They can’t even find the leakers within the FBI itself. Classified information is being given to media that could have a devastating effect on U.S. FIND NOW.”
Totally unable…or totally unwilling?
We’re starting to wonder.