Trust But Verify

by Jonah Goldberg

So what to make of the latest mess?

I don’t know if the Washington Post story is accurate, but I do think its entirely plausible. Put aside whether the story is properly sourced and all that. When you heard the news, did you think it could be true?

If your answer is yes, think about that for a moment. That right there is a problem.

No, I don’t think for a moment that Trump deliberately divulged to the Russians classified information at an event covered by Russian media (but not American media) the day after he fired the FBI director for not doing more to end the investigation of his campaign’s alleged involvement with the Russians. That’s “resistance” paranoia stuff.

But the idea that Trump — with his irrepressible need to boast to the point of narcissistic incontinence combined with his lackadaisical approach to the nuts-and-bolts demands of the job — somehow just let something slip is utterly and completely believable. It was apparently believable to various members of his own administration.

What’s harder to believe, however, is the idea that H. R. McMaster lied tonight. McMaster is a heroic figure with credibility and integrity to burn. But if you put aside McMaster’s reputation and just listen to what he said, his statement tonight was pretty thin. He denied things not alleged in the Washington Post story “as reported” and then, after 60 seconds, walked away without taking a single question.

The folks insisting that McMaster’s statement settles the issue should wrestle with a few questions:

Why not take any questions?

Why not address the details of the story?

Why deny things not alleged?

Why did intelligence officials urge the Post to withhold key details if this is “fake news”?

There are three basic answers to these questions:

The Washington Post story is entirely false and McMaster’s denial isn’t lawyerly at all.

The Washington Post story is largely or entirely accurate and McMaster’s denial was intended to limit the damage to the country and to national security.

The Washington Post story is largely or entirely accurate and McMaster’s denial was intended to protect the president of the United States.

The last two have some overlap. But neither is reassuring about what the president allegedly did.

I have a lot of faith in and respect for McMaster. But it’s worth recalling that just last week, the White House insisted that the president fired James Comey on the recommendation of the deputy attorney general. The vice president repeatedly said as much. Within 24 hours that storyline was discredited. Within days, the president himself threw the vice president and his communications team under the bus in his interview with Lester Holt. Donald Trump’s track record of screwing people who vouch for him is truly impressive. So is his ability to put honorable people in no-win situations.

You’d think that people would at least be somewhat chastened by this fact and take a wait and see, or even trust-but-verify, approach.

In other words, I get why you don’t trust the Washington Post. I don’t get why you trust the Trump administration.

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