To work for Trump, believe the truly unbelievable

ATLANTA -- Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen claimed Tuesday that she was unaware of any intelligence finding that Russia intervened in the 2016 elections on behalf of Donald Trump.

Posted Updated

Jay Bookman
, Cox Newspapers

ATLANTA -- Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen claimed Tuesday that she was unaware of any intelligence finding that Russia intervened in the 2016 elections on behalf of Donald Trump.

That's quite odd. As DHS secretary, Nielsen is charged with election security and protecting the nation from Russian cyberattacks. Yet she is claiming to be ignorant of basic, freely available information about the motivation behind such efforts?

To refresh the secretary's memory, here is what the joint statement by the FBI, the CIA and the National Security Agency told us in January 2017:

"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. president election. ... We further assess Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments."

Note the limitations of that statement. It does not claim the Russian intervention altered the outcome of the election; it doesn't charge the Trump campaign with collusion. It simply says the truth: Putin and Russia hated Hillary Clinton and tried to get Trump elected instead.

Despite her denial, Nielsen is fully aware of what the report concluded. But she also knows that within the cult of personality developing around Trump, such a thing cannot be acknowledged. Within the Republican Party and particularly within the Trump administration, admitting that Russia preferred Trump is an act of disloyalty that could get a person fired. To keep your job, to keep your standing in the movement, you have to set your self-respect aside and pretend to believe things that you know are nonsense.

And unfortunately, it goes well beyond feigning ignorance. These days, you must actively believe or claim to believe nonsensical things, such as that Trump is the victim of an FBI-led conspiracy. That's unbelievable in its own right, but it also requires you to believe at least four other unbelievable things:

1.) We now know that the FBI opened its investigation into Russian meddling back in July of 2016, four months before Election Day, yet kept it secret. So we are asked to believe that during those four critical months, the same FBI that was trying to undermine Trump's candidacy also failed to tell Democrats or the media about Russia's effort to help the Trump campaign, a revelation that might have crippled Trump hopes.

2.) After the firing of James Comey as FBI director, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel. The conspiracy theory requires us to believe that upon taking that job, Mueller -- a longtime Republican unanimously embraced for integrity -- willingly enlisted in and is now leading that liberal "coup attempt" against Trump.

3.) In August of 2017, Christopher Wray, a longtime Atlanta Republican, was appointed by Trump as FBI director. Wray has repeatedly defended Mueller's investigation as fair, highly professional and necessary, so you now have to believe that he too is participating in the conspiracy and cover-up.

4.) Trump is alleging a "spy" was "embedded" in his campaign "for political purposes." The man in question is apparently Stefan Halper, an American and a retired professor at Cambridge University in England. He served at high levels in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations, and was even suspected of helping to steal Jimmy Carter's debate preparation books in 1980. So now we have to believe that Halper too is a participant in this liberal anti-Republican plot?

If defending Trump means that you have to believe and defend stuff like that, when does the price become too high?

Jay Bookman writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Email: jbookman(at)ajc.com.

Story Filed By Cox Newspapers

For Use By Clients of the New York Times News Service

Copyright 2023 Cox Newspapers. All rights reserved.