Yesterday, President Trump claimed that when he said “I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia” that interfered in the 2016 election, he meant to say “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.” I can imagine Trump meaning to say either thing.
“I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia” is consistent with the pro-Trump talking point that Russia had no reason to favor Trump over Hillary Clinton. “I don’t see any reason with it wouldn’t be Russia” is consistent with the pro-Trump talking point that it’s not unusual for Russia to interfere in elections.
I think it’s rare, though, for someone to say “would be” when he means “wouldn’t be.” Does Trump have a tendency to misspeak in this way? Not that I know of.
But even accepting Trump’s explanation, it is inadequate. The statement “I don’t see nay reason why it would be Russia” was well down the list of problematic utterances from Trump.
Did Trump mistweet when he blamed the U.S. for our bad relations with Russia, stating: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!”? No. He meant to blame America first.
Did Trump misspeak when he later said: “I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish.”? No. He meant to posit a moral equivalence between America and thuggish Russia.
Did Trump misspeak when he gave Putin’s self-serving denials of election interference the same standing he gave findings of our intelligence agencies that have the backing of congressional intelligence committees controlled by Republicans? No. He now says he has the highest regard for our intelligence services, but that regard was not on display in Helsinki.
I’m glad Trump has tried to walk back at least some of his disgusting comments. But where does it leave us?
It leaves us where we have been left by Trump before after he’s gone too far for mainstream Republican supporters — with the president talking out of both sides of mouth. Only this time the subject isn’t Charlottesville or David Duke; it’s America’s national security.