Late Tuesday night, The New York Times reported that members of Trump’s campaign had been in contact with Russian intelligence officials “in the year before the election.” The story has many caveats—it’s unclear, for instance, if they were aware that they were speaking to Russian intelligence officials, or if they had been infiltrated—but it’s a bombshell nevertheless. Trump and his team have tried to bury the Russia story by saying that it was cooked up by the sore losers in Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic Party. But between the recent revelations of Michael Flynn’s repeated contact with the Russian ambassador and this report, it’s clear that Trump’s campaign was in contact with Russian intelligence officials while Russia was allegedly working with WikiLeaks to seriously damage Clinton’s campaign. Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager who is the only campaign official named in the Times report, pled incompetence in the funniest way possible:
This is absurd. I have no idea what this is referring to. I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today.... It’s not like these people wear badges that say, “I’m a Russian intelligence officer.”
Trump tends to melt down on Twitter when things are going poorly for him, and that’s exactly what he did on Wednesday morning. A few of the most notable tweets:
None of these tweets are denials. Instead, Trump frantically bounces from one possible culprit to another. First, he argues that the allegations were cooked up by Clinton’s campaign to explain why they lost an election they were heavily favored to win. There is some truth to that, but it is not relevant at all, because these reports suggest that they were right: Trump’s campaign was, in fact, in contact with Russian intelligence.
Next, he hits what seems to be the White House’s main talking point: that the real problem is that information is being leaked. Trump has clearly provoked the deep state, which is taking their shot (the GOP may launch a congressional investigation if only to stop the leaks). That’s troubling, but once again it’s hard to argue with the facts. Also, Trump clearly hasn’t learned any lessons—he poked the bear before by comparing the intelligence community to Nazi Germany and this morning he compared it to Russia. He then hilariously blames Barack Obama for this mess—as if the situation in the Crimea somehow absolves his bromance with Putin or his campaign’s communications with Russian intelligence—before returning to the primary talking point: that the real story is the leaks. (It isn’t.)
One of the many ironies of this situation is that Trump won the election in large part thanks to the intervention of the deep state, in the form of James Comey’s two letters. For him to suddenly claim such intervention is not relevant just because it damages him, and not an opponent, is trademark Trump hypocrisy. The same goes for his sudden attempt to claim that both Russia and leaks are bad—he spent weeks on the trail hyping WikiLeaks. This week, Trump finally got a taste of his own medicine.