Donald Trump’s craziness isn’t always crazy. The U.S. president has an irritating habit of mixing facts and hyperbole. But sometimes there is a nugget of sense in what he says.
So it was on Wednesday when he railed against Washington’s spy agencies for leaking material unfavourable to Michael Flynn and against what he called the “fake news” media for printing it.
Flynn, it will be recalled, was the national security adviser that Trump fired for being untrustworthy.
But on Wednesday, the president portrayed him as a hero. Flynn, said Trump, is a “wonderful man (who) has been very, very unfairly treated by the media.”
Trump’s logic goes something like this: The national security adviser never would have lied about his telephone conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. if America’s spy agencies hadn’t leaked information about those talks to the press.
As an explanation, this doesn’t excuse Flynn. He didn’t have to mislead the White House, as he apparently did.
But it does focus attention on an element of the case that, outside of the right-wing media, has received little attention: Why are members of the security services leaking so much information that reflects so badly on their duly elected president?
This goes back to early January when U.S. intelligence agencies gave legitimacy to an unverified report about Trump’s sexual behaviour during a 2013 visit to Moscow.
That report, prepared for Trump’s political foes, had been kicking around Washington media circles for months. It gained life only when it was appended to a secret intelligence briefing note that was quickly leaked to CNN.
That leak, in turn, gave other media — which had been reluctant to publish the unsubstantiated allegations — an excuse to do so.
After all, the media reasoning went, if the security services were taking these unverified allegations seriously there must be something to them.
And so began the story that Trump is susceptible to Russian blackmail.
Then came the Flynn leaks. The new national security adviser was not popular with America’s numerous and powerful spy agencies. The feeling was apparently mutual.
Flynn had accused the Central Intelligence Agency of being overly political. Those inside the National Security Council that Flynn headed spoke of chaos and mismanagement.
Suddenly, the contents of Flynn’s private telephone conversations with Russia’s ambassador (who is routinely wiretapped by U.S. spy agencies) were being leaked. Flynn made the mistake of denying that he had discussed specific sanctions against Russia during these conversations. This resulted in more transcripts being leaked that showed he was lying. He was fired.
Then came new allegations attributed to unnamed intelligence sources. Senior Trump advisers had been talking to Russians during last year’s election campaign. Some of these Russians were spies.
The story ran in the New York Times under the headline: “Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence.”
The story itself pointed out that no one had broken any laws. It noted that there was no evidence the Trump aides had anything to do with Russia’s alleged hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s email account during the election campaign. It also pointed out that Russian intelligence officers don’t usually advertise.
“It’s not like these people wear badges that say ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer,’ ” said one former Trump aide.
But the notion of Trump as some kind of Russian agent was further nourished.
On Thursday, came another leak. The Wall Street Journal reported that the intelligence agencies are withholding sensitive material from Trump because they fear it might be leaked or compromised.
Trump’s political enemies, both Democrat and Republican, are calling for Congressional investigations.
There is just the slightest whiff of impeachment in the air.
The New York Times reports that the so-called legacy media are focused on the allegations against Trump while the right-leaning partisan media are asking why this material is being leaked.
If that has to be the divide (and as a charter member of the legacy media, I don’t think it need be), then the right-leaning partisans are onto something.
Trump’s ties to Russia are interesting, as are his sexual oddities. But if elements of America’s powerful intelligence agencies are trying to bring down an elected president, then the real story is much bigger.