Attack, Deny

Deniability only is as good as credibility.

We’re at the point which the American people don’t know what they can believe from the Trump administration, whether from the president or his loyalists. Especially after they abandoned controlling the pandemic, leaving the task up to the states.

The latest issue at which the truth seems to be at stake involves a report by The New York Times that Russian military intelligence transferred money to a Taliban-linked account, concluding it would be used to pay for killing U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan. U.S. officials said the information was derived from electronic intercepts, the paper reported.

President Trump denied he ever was briefed about the findings even though officials told the Times that the information was included in his daily written intelligence briefing in late February. Trump has been known not to read those briefing papers, preferring oral accounts from a CIA briefer instead. He tweeted that the reports were a “made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party.”

He tweeted Sunday that “nobody briefed me or told me” or Vice President Michael Pence or his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, “about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians.”

National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien backed up his boss on Fox News Wednesday, saying, “The president was not briefed, because at the time of these allegations they were uncorroborated. And as a result, the president’s career CIA briefer decided not to brief him.”

Further, O’Brien said on “Fox & Friends” that if the information could be corroborated “we had options ready to go, and the president was ready to take strong action, as he always is.”

Yet the intelligence was taken seriously enough so that there were prepared “options ready to go” for Trump to make a decision? Officials had gone that far yet didn’t tell the president?

It’s a stretch of the imagination to think Trump, as commander in chief, would not have been told about Russian efforts to pay the Taliban to go bounty hunting, considering the reports involved the lives of American troops and that Russia is the chief rival of the United States, not some small country acting out a grudge against Americans.

Maybe White House officials were reluctant to tell Trump about the intelligence because they feared his reaction since he apparently does not readily accept bad news and because of his ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, which he attempts to keep friendly. He has frowned on any criticism of his relationship with Putin.

Leave us not forget that Trump aided Russia in several ways: He early on called NATO obsolete, an Atlantic military alliance that is a bulwark against Russian interference in western Europe; he abandoned Kurdish allies in Syria by withdrawing U.S. troops from the area, handing it to the Russians; and he recently announced pulling 9,500 troops from Germany, a move sure to please Putin.

Or did Trump know about the intelligence reports and ignored them because he didn’t want to approach Putin for fear of upsetting him?

Or has Trump taken a leaf from the playbook of the late Roy Cohn, chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy during his early 1950s hunt for Communists in America, when he instructed that one should “attack, attack, attack, deny, deny, deny” when confronted with hostility?

Or all of the above?

Just exactly what credibility does Trump own?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ripped into Trump Sunday, saying on ABC’s “This Week” that his denial about knowing of the Russian bounties “is totally outrageous. You would think that the minute the president heard of it he would want to know more instead of denying that he knew anything.”

“In fact,” she said, “we’ll find out if he has been briefed, and if it was in his daily brief, but if it were not what does that say about the concern that those who brief the president have about not going anywhere near the Russia issue with this president? This is appalling.”

Frankly, it’s tough to believe anything Trump says because he has a long history of lying. The Washington Post has caught him telling more than 19,000 lies and making misleading statements during his presidency.

“I don’t know what the Russians have on the president politically, personally, financially, whatever it is, but he wants to ignore Russian wrongdoing,” Pelosi said. “How else would you explain his refusal to ignore again and again the intelligence that puts right at the Russian doorstep the involvement in our election, for example.”

There are so many who know so little about so few.

Richard C. Gross, who covered war and peace in the Middle East and was foreign editor of United Press International, served as the opinion page editor of The Baltimore Sun.