Credit: Caleb Smith/Wikimedia Commons

The response to Trump’s leaking of classified information to the Russians from Speaker Paul Ryan’s office contains a telling contradiction.

On the one hand it states that “we have no way of knowing what was said,” and on the other, that the speaker hopes for a full explanation from the administration. Beyond the fact that the leader of a body that is tasked with oversight of the executive branch “hopes” for an explanation from the administration, I am puzzled by why anyone thought that such a contradictory statement would be helpful at this point. Why lead with the idea that we have no way of knowing what the president said?

As Josh Marshall pointed out, Majority Leader McConnell’s statement was an exercise in cynicism. But he made a point of saying that McMaster had rebutted the Washington Post story (perhaps before he heard that the president contracted it this morning).

Perhaps Ryan’s spokesperson was alluding to something that is growing increasingly clear to the rest of us…the president (and his administration) cannot be trusted to tell the truth. That is the essence of an article today by Josh Dawsey titled, “Trump’s trust problem.”

“Their credibility is completely shattered. They’ve engaged in serial lying to the American people on issues big and small — beginning with the crowd size photos. It’s unprecedented for an administration, from the top on down, to embrace a strategy of deception and lying,” said Steve Schmidt, a Republican consultant and former campaign manager for John McCain.

“Even people who have built up reputations for integrity over a lifetime of public service, they risk squandering it in this administration,” Schmidt said…

…among reporters who cover the White House, on-the-record statements from Trump’s White House carry little weight because Trump has told hundreds of falsehoods, tracked by PolitiFact and other websites.

There are the lies we all remember, like the size of the inaugural crowd, the idea that millions of people voted illegally, or that President Obama wiretapped him. But the folks whose job it is to fact-check this president can’t keep up and actually chronicled that, over the first hundred days, he told an average of almost 5 lies a day. What Dawsey suggests is that, in defending all those lies, the rest of the Trump administration has lost all credibility.

Over the past week there has been an interesting twist to all of this. With both the Comey firing and the leak to the Russians, we witnessed members of the administration telling the lies, only to be contradicted by the president himself, perhaps in a pique of ego. As the folks at NBC’s First Read asked a few days ago:

So what happens when there’s a story outside the White House’s control (like war, natural disaster, or another kind of tragedy)? Those are times when a president and White House will need a deep reservoir of credibility with the American public. But what happens when that reservoir is empty?

I’ll tell you one thing it means when that reservoir is empty: it means that going to this administration for any explanation on Trump’s leak to the Russians or any other matter is a pointless exercise, because no one believes what they say.

Think about that for a moment…the Republicans have allowed us all to go so far down the rabbit hole with this president that it has become futile to even ask them for an explanation of what the president did/didn’t do. Even the Republican Speaker of the House seems to acknowledge that. It is impossible to even begin to describe what that means for this country.

One thing that immediately comes to mind is that Russian President Vladimir Putin couldn’t be happier with the current state of affairs. That has a lot less to do with the fact that he has recently been on the receiving end of classified information and more to do with what Jochen Bittner, political editor for the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, described as “zersetzung.”

What Russia does today is very much the digital version of what we Germans, before 1989, termed “Zersetzung.” The term is hard to translate, but it’s best described as the political equivalent of what happens when you pour acid on organic material: dissolution and disintegration.

The methods of Zersetzung are to cast doubt on the basic norms of the Western liberal order and its institutions; to distort and thereby discredit the purposes of the European Union, NATO and the free-market economy; to erode the credibility of the free press and free elections. The means of Zersetzung include character assassination and, through the spreading of lies and fake news, the creation of a gray zone of doubt in which facts struggle to survive.

As an autocrat like Putin knows very well, the atmosphere created by an empty reservoir of credibility is the breeding ground for a destruction of democracy and the rise of authoritarianism. That is what Trump’s lies are creating and what the Republicans are enabling.

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