“The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime.” So read the opening sentence in a short statement released by Sean Spicer on behalf of the White House late Monday evening. He (speaking for Trump) ended it by saying that Assad and his military “will pay a heavy price” if they go through with this attack. The full statement is below:
White House statement: The United States has identified potential preparations for another chemical weapons attack by the Assad regime pic.twitter.com/60EugSsOcb
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) June 27, 2017
There’s just one problem. Defense Department officials had no idea the White House was planning to release a statement like this. They also said they had no idea where a potential chemical attack would come from. Ordinarily, statements like this are coordinated across the necessary national security agencies before they’re released.
But more than that, the leaders we would assume would be here, working, coordinating, and generally handling this, aren’t here. Our Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, left yesterday for a trip to Europe. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, is in Afghanistan at the moment.
So really. What the hell, Spicer?
This looks like a distraction. Politico put together what the White House has been trying to do with messaging and what the press has covered instead. These “policy weeks,” like Infrastructure Week, Workforce Development Week, etc., are designed to try and keep Trump on message and shift the press’ narrative about him.
But they can’t do that – he’s obsessed with Russia and that obsession fuels media coverage. Plus, these “policy weeks” are planned in advance, and they conflict with the news of the week. Infrastructure Week, for instance, was badly overshadowed by James Comey’s testimony before Congress. Workforce Development week was lost in the furor over Jeff Sessions’ testimony and the shooting of Steve Scalise.
Tech Week (last week) and Energy Week (this week), were both lost in all the coverage about the Senate’s horrific healthcare bill. Tech Week also found itself playing second fiddle to Trump’s revealing on Twitter that he didn’t have tapes of his conversations with James Comey.
Trump and others in the White House are frustrated by the fact that they can’t get the press to cover what they want. They want the Russia scandal to go away, and trying to make it go away just makes it worse. Now it looks like they’re desperate to do anything to distract from it. It’s terrifying, though, that they would do this out of that desperation.
We don’t know if our intelligence community has any evidence that Assad is planning another chemical attack. But the White House clearly blindsided them with this, and that isn’t good at all.
Featured image via Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images