Why Can’t Trump Get His Story Straight on Intelligence Leaks and Fake News?

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Feb 16 2017

If President Trump’s Twitter feed were a novel, it would have what critics call “continuity” problems.

On Thursday morning, Trump continued to rage at the leaks coming from the nation’s intelligence community about contacts that his aides and associates had with the Russian government before and after November’s presidential election.

Related: Trump's Risky Message: He Doesn't Trust His Intelligence Chiefs

“Leaking, and even illegal classified leaking, has been a big problem in Washington for years,” he wrote in one early morning tweet. A few minutes later he followed up with, “The spotlight has finally been put on the low-life leakers! They will be caught!”

Later Thursday morning, Trump was back online, writing “FAKE NEWS media, which makes up stories and ‘sources,’ is far more effective than the discredited Democrats - but they are fading fast! The Democrats had to come up with a story as to why they lost the election, and so badly (306), so they made up a story - RUSSIA. Fake news!” (The “306” was apparently a reference to the number of pledged electoral votes Trump won in the election. He actually received only 304 votes because two “faithless” electors refused to cast their ballots for him.)

The problem for Trump is that both of those things can’t be true at the same time. The leaks from the intelligence services indicate that during the election Trump’s team had extensive contact with Russian authorities, including intelligence agents. If that information is accurate -- and Trump’s fury over the revelation of what he characterizes as classified information surely suggests it may be -- then it is hard to reconcile with Trump’s simultaneous alternate narrative, in which the Russia story is the fruit of a Democratic plot with no basis in fact.

Unfortunately, a lack of internal consistency isn’t limited to Trump’s tweets.

On Thursday afternoon, Trump doubled down on that line of analysis at a surprise press conference, saying that the claims about Russia were both leaks and fake news.

Related: Trump’s War with Intelligence Agencies Escalates Dangerously

On Wednesday, discussing the resignation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the president lashed out at the media, blaming reporters for his departure from the administration.

“Gen. Flynn is a wonderful man,” he said during a press conference. “I think he has been treated very, very unfairly by the media, as I call it, the fake media in many cases ... And I think it is really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.”

But that came less than 24 hours after Trump’s own spokesman, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, explicitly told reporters that Trump had demanded Flynn’s resignation because he no longer believed he could trust the retired Army general.

“The president must have complete and unwavering trust for the person in that position,” Spicer said Tuesday. “The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation in a series of other questionable instances is what led the president to ask for Gen. Flynn’s resignation.”

Related: America Gets Its First Real Test of the CEO Presidency

The announcement of Flynn’s resignation on Monday night came after another set of contradictory statements from White House officials. On Monday afternoon, presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway said in a television interview that Flynn still enjoyed the “full confidence” of President Trump. An hour later, Spicer took the podium in the Briefing Room and said that, in fact, the president was “evaluating the situation” with regard to Flynn. A few hours after that, the national security adviser was gone.

The next day, Conway posted a somewhat cryptic message on Twitter that read, “I serve at the pleasure of @POTUS. His message is my message. His goals are my goals. Uninformed chatter doesn't matter.”

Unfortunately, in this administration, it’s become very difficult to tell who actually is informed.

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