Yesterday, President Trump divulged classified US intelligence during a meeting with Russian diplomats Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Lavrov. According to the Washington Post, the disclosure pertained to a plot by ISIS to smuggle bombs onto planes in laptops. Of less concern than the material itself is the possibility that its divulgence could compromise intelligence sources and methods, since “a Middle Eastern ally that closely guards its own secrets provided the information.” There’s also the aspect of this situation where Trump actually does on purpose exactly what he attacked Hillary Clinton for potentially doing by accident with her emails. So this is the scandal that finally undoes the Trump administration, right? Right? [crickets][racist crickets]
Those of you who picked “three weeks” in your office pool on the first resignation of the Trump administration are about to get free cupcakes. Retired general Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor last night, approximately seven hours after Kellyanne Conway told MSNBC that he enjoyed the “full confidence” of the White House. Why Flynn retired is unclear. His original mistake was to discuss sanctions in a phone conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States back in December, when he was not yet a federal official. That conversation itself is not the problem; the problem, ostensibly, is that he lied to Mike Pence about it. But the administration has known he lied about it for more than a month. Here’s Conway admitting that while simultaneously claiming that this lie was the straw that broke the camel’s back:
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) February 14, 2017
It seems like the real problem is that people are finding out about the lie. But Conway has issued two contradictory statements on this issue in the last 24 hours—three if you consider the resignation a statement, since she was almost certainly involved. Between her, Stephen Miller, and the
shadowy blotchy Steve Bannon, this administration is turning out to be a real field laboratory for students of lying.
Donald Trump is the president now, and no amount of controversy or trying to wake up will change that. Yet he continues to insist that voter fraud tainted the election he won. Speaking to senators last week, he said that thousands of illegal voters were bussed in to New Hampshire to swing the state for Hillary Clinton. On Friday, Federal Elections Commissioner Ellen Weintraub called on Trump to provide her office with evidence of this scheme. He did not. Neither did his adviser/mouthpiece Stephen Miller, who appeared on ABC News Sunday morning to produce this masterpiece of dishonesty:
So now we need a term for the converse maneuver to Total Fucking Denial: Total Fucking Assertion. Stephanopoulos keeps returning to the question of whether the Trump administration has any evidence that voter fraud occurred, and Miller keeps insisting that everyone knows it did.
“This issue of bussing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who’s worked in New Hampshire politics,” he says for the first time at :30. Over the next three minutes, he repeats this claim again and again. He also trots out the familiar statistics without substance—the remark that “millions of people are registered in two states” is particularly exasperating, since that doesn’t mean any of them travel to two states to vote on election day—but he keeps returning to his central thesis: everyone in New Hampshire knows this is happening. Everyone knows it so much that Miller doesn’t need to cite evidence. But everyone knows it. It’s very serious. Everyone knows it’s happening.
In Total Fucking Denial, the liar insists that something isn’t true despite overwhelming evidence. The man in this video—which contains swearing, mild violence, and a lot of high-register whining—gets caught going at his neighbor’s doorknob with pliers and a screwdriver but insists he wasn’t breaking in. There was something wrong with his door, he says, and he needed to take apart someone else’s to see how doors work. That’s TFD. There’s no way our burglar is going to convince the man behind the camera that he was only teaching himself locksmithing, but that’s not his objective. He realizes the situation will get worse not when the cameraman realizes he’s lying—since that’s already happened—but only when he admits he’s lying. That’s what TFD is for: situations in which the worst outcome only happens when you acknowledge the lie.
Miller takes a similar tack in the clip above. But his version of Total Fucking Assertion enjoys an advantage over TFD, in that you can’t prove a negative. Stephanopoulos cannot prove that voter fraud in New Hampshire didn’t happen. He can only demand evidence for Miller’s dubious claim that it did. Miller doesn’t have that, but he knows one weak form of evidence is just saying something over and over. He keeps repeating that “everybody knows” thousands of people were bussed in to New Hampshire to vote illegally. Stephanopoulos doesn’t believe him, but some people watching at home probably will.
That’s the other difference between TFD and Total Fucking Assertion: TFA is for an audience. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s that you don’t need evidence to convince a lot of people. You can just keep repeating the same baseless claim, and eventually it will become well-known enough that it stops being a question of true or false and becomes a question of Republican or Democrat, real news or fake news, pro-Trump or anti-. Once people decide that a statement is political, they’re willing to believe anything. That’s what Stephen Miller is exploiting here, because he is a bad person. I hope he runs out of sleep medicine and has to think about it.
Over at the New York Times, Angie Drobnic Holan has written an interesting guest editorial about her work as a political fact-checker. Holan works for PolitiFact, the Pulitzer-Prize winning project of the Tampa Bay Times to determine the accuracy of public statements. When you think about it, every news organization in America should do that—especially since Holan notes that fact-check stories get a lot of internet traffic after debates and other news events. Now is a good time for fact-checking. “I see accurate information becoming more available and easier for voters to find,” she writes. “By that measure, things are pretty good.”
Buffalo Wild Wings pitchman and star of FXX’s The League Steve Rannazzisi has admitted he lied about escaping the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The good news is he’s even more famous now. The bad news is he’s famous for saying he was working at Merrill Lynch in the south tower when a plane hit the north, when in fact Merrill Lynch had no office in either tower, and Rannazzisi was working in midtown for somebody else. Previously, he was best known for the following joke:
Rannazzisi: Knock knock!
Audience: Who’s there?
Rannazzisi: Steve Rannazzisi—I’ve just escaped from a horrible tragedy. You’ve got to let me in to your living room on Wednesdays at 10pm!
Audience: We don’t have FXX.
But now he’s a liar, and we hate him. Or we love him because he told the truth about lying? Consideration after the jump.