The story that came out tonight, as reported, is false. The president and foreign minister reviewed a range of common threats to our two countries including threats to civil aviation. At no time … were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not publicly known … I was in the room, it didn’t happen.
This is one of those carefully worded non-denial denials, where phrases like “as reported” are left as little cracks through which the administration can criticize the report on details without denying wholesale the heart of the story. Same with “is false” and “it didn’t happen.” Not only are they meant to discredit the report, they’re denials of claims that the Post story never made.
But what’s really striking is that McMaster essentially laid his credibility on the line for Trump to crucify, as though Trump is some sort of elder god of lore to whom all Republicans must sacrifice some portion of their soul. Remember, this is a guy who is actually well-respected and thought to be intelligent:
But as Josh Marshall predicted, Trump woke up this morning and shot these gems out, essentially confirming the Washington Post story:
And now, just moments ago, McMaster had a press briefing in place of Sean Spicer’s (who I believe has now fully transformed into a shrub and has become a permanent fixture of the rose garden), and McMaster degraded himself:
The key take away is that McMaster is essentially conceding the accuracy of last night’s reporting (first from the Post and later confirmed by other outlets) but saying that in the context it was okay. It was appropriate. Notably, when it comes to specifics, he is hiding behind classification to refuse to give further answers.
To come out and perform the rhetorical trick of making it look as though you’re denying the story in a very vocal way (“I was in the room, it didn’t happen”) but using weasel wording in order to evade culpability destroys whatever credibility McMaster had. Honestly, anyone who decides to take a job from Trump ought to know what he or she is getting into, and anyone who somehow doesn’t know what they’re getting into shouldn’t take the job. What’s perplexing is that McMaster staked his reputation on this, for a chump like Trump, only to have it blow up in his face in less than 24 hours.