Between 6:41 p.m. and 6:50 p.m. ET Monday night, President Donald Trump sent four tweets focused on the Senate subcommittee hearing on Russia’s meddling into the 2016 election that featured testimony from former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
The four-tweet barrage shows just how closely Trump is monitoring the ongoing congressional investigation into ties between members of his 2016 presidential campaign and Russian intelligence officials. The quartet of tweets is also a window into how Trump hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. He creates his own reality for himself and his followers.
Let’s break the tweets down one by one – in the order that they were sent.
Tweet #1, 6:41 p.m.
“Director Clapper reiterated what everybody, including the fake media already knows- there is ‘no evidence’ of collusion w/ Russia and Trump.”
This is not entirely accurate. What Clapper said was not that he could definitively rule out collusion between elements of the Trump campaign and the Russians but rather that he was unaware of evidence suggesting there was any. In fact, Clapper noted that he had been unaware of the FBI investigation into the Russia ties with the Trump campaign – driving home the point that he wasn’t privy to every piece of information.
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Trump is, broadly speaking, right that there is “no evidence” that has been released publicly of collusion between anyone on his campaign and the Russians. But that’s not what Clapper said on Monday.
Tweet #2, 6:43 p.m.
“Sally Yates made the fake media extremely unhappy today — she said nothing but old news!”
This one is way off the mark. It is “old news” that Yates met with White House Counsel Don McGahn on January 26 to discuss Flynn’s problem. But what’s new is that she told McGahn on that day – and in a follow-up meeting the next day – that not only was Flynn lying to members of the presidential transition about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak but also that she had reason to believe he had been compromised by the Russians and was a potential blackmail target. Yates also offered McGahn the chance to go through the evidence the Justice Department had that led them to that conclusion. (It’s not clear if he actually did so.)
Tweet #3, 6:46 p.m.
“The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”
Trump is, again, conflating two things. The ongoing investigations – in Congress and by the FBI – are aimed at understanding the extent to which (and how) Russia meddled in the US election. Whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia is certainly a possible strand in that investigation but it is not the entire investigation or even necessarily the center of it.
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As for the idea of these investigations as a “taxpayer-funded charade,” consider this: A foreign power attempted to influence the outcome of a presidential election in the United States and, according to many in the national security world, will try to do so again (and again). Looking into how they did it – and trying to prevent it from happening again – doesn’t feel like a “charade” to me.
Trump tweet #4, 6:50 p.m.
“Biggest story today between Clapper & Yates is on surveillance. Why doesn’t the media report on this? #FakeNews!”
Reasonable people can disagree about what the “biggest” story was coming out of the Yates/Clapper hearing. But, the idea that the surveillance story – that the US government monitors foreign actors and could have swept up a conversation that person had with a Trump campaign official – is a bigger deal than Russia having compromising information about the national security adviser doesn’t pass the smell test for me.
I think it’s absolutely worth trying to get to the bottom of how Yates came to know what she knew about Flynn and Russia and how that information got to The Washington Post. But, again, is that more important than finding out the depth of Russia’s meddling in our presidential election and the extent of their contacts with Flynn and others within Trump’s orbit? I think not.
The common strain through all four tweets is, of course, the “fake news” media who Trump accuses of shaping the story to fit its own agenda rather than the facts.
But, the media had nothing to do with what we learned Monday: That the acting attorney general was concerned enough about information she learned regarding the national security adviser that she sought out the White House counsel in hopes the President would “take action” (Yates’ words) on the matter.
Those are the facts. If Trump and his administration believe that accounting to be either untrue or only a partial telling of what actually happened, they owe it to taxpayers to come forward and say why – and how. Simply tweeting out a selective reading of a hearing and bashing the media doesn’t help us figure out what exactly happened here and how we can prevent it from happening again.