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President Trump is trying to move the goalposts on his administration’s alleged ties to Russia, and too many people in the media appear happy to help.

The Drudge Report, for example, ran an image from 2003 on its front-page Friday afternoon showing Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., sharing a donut and a cup of coffee with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The headline read, “Schumer and the Russians.”

Breitbart News, which has served as an unapologetically pro-Trump web service since his campaign launched in 2015, ran a report Friday titled, “Russian Ambassador Visited Obama at the White House 22 Times.”

Elsewhere, Fox News published a graphic listing the “Dem lawmakers” who have met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. (A quick aside: The list of Democratic lawmakers for some reason includes Mary Landrieu. She hasn’t held public office since she lost her Senate seat in 2014.)

The problem with this emerging narrative is that it’s a rebuttal to an argument that no one is making in good faith, and the president himself has now adopted this line of thinking.

The real controversy surrounding the Trump administration isn’t simply that people close to him spoke with Russian officials during the 2016 election. There’s nothing wrong with any senator meeting a Russian diplomat, and that’s not the real issue.

Rather, the real controversy centers on the circumstances under which people like Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the president’s former national security adviser, retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, spoke last year with Russian government officials.

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The Trump controversy is also about Sessions and Flynn failing to disclose these foreign conversations until the truth eventually surfaced in news reports.

There are several legitimate questions that can be asked in this area, especially the fact that Sessions, who was also a campaign surrogate, didn’t mention during his confirmation that he spoke with Kislyak at least twice last year.

Even if it was an honest mistake, that’s a big thing to omit from one’s hearing.

The Russian controversy is a lot more convoluted than being in a photo with Putin, and the White House isn’t helping anything by trying to distract with some tit-for-tat gamesmanship.

The Schumer picture, the Fox News graphic and the Breitbart story are bad “gotcha” attempts. It’s not about the meetings. It’s about circumstances and disclosure.

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If right-wing activists want to hit Democrats for hypocrisy over this story, then actually hit them for something comparable. A more thoughtful “gotcha” would be to ding Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., for apparently forgetting this week that they’ve also had meetings with Kislyak.

The Missouri senator said Thursday in a widely shared, but ultimately bogus, tweet that she had never “ever” met with the Russian ambassador in her capacity as a member of the Armed Services Committee. This was a very false statement.

On Friday, Pelosi said she had never met with Kislyak. This was also a very false statement.

In both cases, Pelosi and McCaskill defended themselves later by saying they meant to say they’ve never had any one-on-one time with the Russian ambassador.

Schumer, for his part, responded Friday evening to Trump’s goalpost shifting by challenging the president’s team to discuss under oath their meetings with Russian officials.




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