A willingness to antagonize even its allies

The Guardian’s take on Trump’s adventure in libeling a former president and pissing off a current ally.

The extraordinary public rebuke by the United States’ closest surveillance partner has revealed an emerging characteristic of Donald Trump’s White House: a willingness to antagonize even its allies instead of admitting error.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, credulously repeated on Thursday an account by a Fox News pundit, Andrew Napolitano, that GCHQ laundered surveillance on Trump at the behest of Barack Obama. Napolitano, who is in no position to actually know, made the allegation apparently to explain away the mounting evidence, even from senior Republicans on the intelligence committees, that there is no basis to Trump’s claim that Obama ordered that surveillance.

Beautiful, isn’t it? They tell one lie, which results in a lot of people saying wo hey that’s not true, so in response they tell more lies in the hopes of “explaining away” the evidence of the first lie. I don’t see what could possibly go wrong with that.

The context matters here. Spicer repeated Napolitano’s allegation for the same reason Napolitano made it: to defend Trump’s evidence-free assertion, on 4 March, that Obama had Trump’s team placed under surveillance.

Spicer did so while reading off a long list of news reports, both credible and not, about aspects of surveillance intercepts related to Trump and Russia. Spicer’s implication is that if Trump was wrong – which he did not concede – it was because the journalists calling attention to Trump’s error lack credibility. Not a single credible news account Spicer read supports Trump’s 4 March claim. Napolitano’s did.

The credible ones don’t; Napolitano’s did.

One option always available to the White House is to forthrightly concede Trump was wrong. It has shown no appetite for that. Instead, Trump and his allies have grasped for whatever explanation might keep alive an incendiary accusation – one that is itself an unforced error – without regard for the relationships those explanations damage.

Even now, with GCHQ and 10 Downing Street angry, the White House is stopping short of an apology. “Ambassador Kim Darroch and Sir Mark Lyall expressed their concerns to Sean Spicer and General McMaster. Mr Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story,” according to the current White House line.

The White House has been here before. Mexico’s president cancelled a state visit after Trump kept claiming Mexico would pay for a border wall. Trump invented an attack in Sweden in order to bolster his dubious claim that refugees are incipient terrorists. He antagonized another Five Eyes ally, Australia, over refugee policy as well.

He’s a chronic liar and a crook. Hug yourself, Putin, you hit the jackpot.

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