The world's most obvious question: Yesterday afternoon, we watched a rebroadcast of NBC's Meet the Press.
(Full disclosure: we knew Chuck Todd a bit in the past. We very much like Chuck Todd.)
Let's return to yesterday's Meet the Press. At various points, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow made these dogmatic assertions:
SEKULOW (6/18/17): The president is not under investigation by the special counsel.As you can see, those were unqualified statements. Sekulow said it four separate times:
The president, as James Comey said in his testimony and as we know as of today, the president has not been and is not under investigation.
Let me be very clear here...The president is not, and has not been, under investigation for obstruction.
I want to be very clear here and very direct. The president has not been, and is not, under investigation.
Donald J. Trump has not been, and is not, under investigation! The Washington Post's report to the contrary was fake news and was also wrong!
For ourselves, we don't know if Donald J. Trump is under investigation. But as we watched this maddening interview, an obvious question popped into our heads:
How does Sekulow know if Donald J. Trump is under investigation? It was perhaps the world's most obvious question, and Chuck Todd didn't ask.
(Neither did Jake Tapper. Like Todd on Meet the Press, he played "Who's On First" with Sekulow on CNN's State of the Union.)
How does Sekulow know if Trump is under investigation? The recent background to that question goes like this:
Back in May, Trump said that Comey had told him, on three separate occasions, that he wasn't under investigation. As we noted last Wednesday, the press and pundit corps widely insisted that this claim was absurd. (Warning: ten million examples.)
A rectitudinous god like James B. Comey would never tell Donald Trump something like that! So the pundit corps widely insisted. They said it would violate Justice Department procedures to tell Trump something like that.
As it turned out. Comey had told Trump, on three separate occasions, that he wasn't under investigation. Because an immortal like Comey the God can;t be challenged in the current novelized structure, the pundits all agreed to pretend that they hadn't said, a million times, that such a disclosure would violate Justice Department procedures.
Still and all, those claims had been widely advanced, even by legal experts. Yesterday, up jumped Sekulow, claiming to know that Donald J. Trump still isn't being probed.
How did Sekulow know that? Who had told him that? It was the world's most obvious question. But on Meet the Press (and on State of the Union), the question went unasked.
How did Sekulow know that? Who told him? Todd never asked him on Meet the Press—and sure enough:
When Chris Wallace challenged Sekulow's claim on Fox News Sunday, it turned out that Sekulow doesn't know if Trump is under investigation. Sekulow doesn't know, one way or the other, if Trump is being probed.
If you want to sort out the facts about yesterday's interviews with Sekulow, we'll recommend this news report in today's Washington Post. Long story short:
Chris Wallace and John Dickerson asked the obvious question. Todd and Tapper did not.
We offer this as the latest example of the paucity of analytical skills found in our upper-end press corps. Four times, Sekulow made the claim.
Four times, Todd didn't ask.
This afternoon: Our take on Trump's recent tweet, and even on his apparent confession to NBC's Lester Holt
Sekulow backslides: A bit later in that Meet the Press segment, Sekulow backslid from his dogmatic assertion. In the passage, he executed one of those ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-ch-changes:
SEKULOW: And Chuck, I think this is really important. If the leaks [in the Washington Post] were correct about this investigation—again, those are leaks, they're not substantiated and we have no knowledge of an investigation.Say what? All of a sudden, Sekulow said that he and his client "have no knowledge of an investigation." That was a major change in his story. NBC's Todd didn't notice.
But if those leaks were correct, here's what the legal theory of this case would have to be. And this would raise a serious constitutional issue right out of the beginning...
Is Donald J. Trump under investigation? We have no way of knowing.
To appearances, Sekulow doesn't know either. If you watched yesterday's Meet the Press, that key point was never made clear.
Dickerson makes it look easy: Here's what happened on Face the Nation after Sekulow's very first statement:
SEKULOW (6/18/17): ...The fact of the matter is, the president has not been and is not under investigation. So this was his response via Twitter, via social media, was in response to the Washington Post piece with five anonymous sources.Oof! Sekulow's dogmatic claim fell apart forthwith.
And by the way, John, five anonymous sources, they don't even identify the agencies upon which these individuals purportedly work. So the response there is clear. And I want to be very clear about this, the president is not and has not been under investigation.
DICKERSON: How do you know?