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Alternative Fact of the Week: Donald Trump, inexplicable defender of autocrats who wish us ill

Alternative Fact of the Week: Donald Trump, inexplicable defender of autocrats who wish us ill
The late Kim Jong Nam, half-brother of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, in Japan, on May 4, 2001, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on May 9, 2016, in Pyongyang, North Korea. President Donald Trump says he would never have recruited the one to spy on the other for the CIA. (Shizuo Kambayashi / Associated Press)

It breaks no journalistic ground to report that Donald Trump lies. The 45th president lies a lot. He lies about important matters. He lies about unimportant matters. And he lies so consistently and so enthusiastically and with so little concern for reality that there’s even a term, “alternative facts,” to describe his penchant for constructing Orwellian universes where down is up and right is wrong, which we have attempted to chronicle every seven days since his inauguration (with its “record” attendance). But this week, we’ve reached a milestone — for the first time in memory we find ourselves hoping President Trump has knowingly made a deep departure or two from the truth.

Let’s look at the leading examples. (Warning: Don’t attempt this if you are already feeling queasy.) The first took place when reporters at the White House questioned President Trump Tuesday about a recent Wall Street Journal report that North Korean despot Kim Jong Un’s half-brother, who was assassinated two years ago in Malaysia, was an informant for the Central Intelligence Agency. Now, a different commander-in-chief might have ducked that question and simply declined to comment or expressed the customary concerns about Mr. Kim and the need to denuclearize the peninsula. Not Mr. Trump. Instead, he acted like this was the first he’d heard about it and — in an especially galling moment — publicly assured the unhinged autocrat who likely ordered the assassination that he’d never have authorized the CIA to recruit Kim Jong Nam.

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“I saw the information about the CIA, with respect to his brother, or half-brother. And I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices,” he told reporters.

Now, let that simmer in your gut for a while. Intelligence gathering may get a bad name from time to time (in the case of the CIA’s nation-overthrowing efforts, deservedly so), but finding out what’s going on inside totalitarian, nuclear states is a noble endeavor that has likely saved thousands, if not millions, of American lives since World War II. Remember that Cold War thing? What if the U.S. had no idea what was happening inside the former Soviet Union? What if Europe had been left vulnerable? Think the world would be a safer place today? Hardly. Perhaps Mr. Trump was just stroking Mr. Kim’s ego — seemingly, his preferred, if ineffective, negotiation tactic with the brutal dictator who writes “beautiful” letters to the president. But announcing that you don’t support spying? Why don’t you tell all the potential CIA recruits out there in dangerous countries that the U.S. will never have their back?

Next up is President Trump’s jaw-dropping announcement that he would accept campaign help from a foreign power. Hello? Didn’t we just have a two-year investigation to discover whether a certain person’s campaign accepted help from Russian spy agencies under the direction of Vladimir Putin? Doesn’t someone tweet about every other day that there was “no collusion” uncovered by special counsel Robert Mueller? Is it possible what he really means to tweet is: “Hey, Vladimir (or China’s Xi Jinping or anybody else interested in interfering with the democratic process): Let’s collude in 2020 because we missed a great opportunity last time around.”

That whole Trump Tower meeting? President Trump isn’t disavowing it, he’s calling for more effective manipulation by a foreign power better coordinated with his staff this time around. He assured ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in a broadcast that aired Wednesday night that he would at least listen to what those foreign spies had to say about his opponent since there “isn’t anything wrong with listening.” So much for his latest campaign to lock up Hillary Clinton for hiring a former British intelligence officer to find out about Mr. Trump’s own dealings with Russia. By his latest reasoning, shouldn’t she have been listening to the Russians, too?

Actually, for the record, we suspect most Americans don’t want foreign interference in the next, or any other, election. That’s why we can only pray Mr. Trump was doing what he’s done in office, according to those intrepid counters at The Washington Post, at least 10,796 times to date: made a false or misleading statement. What we don’t need is another open invitation to countries to hack emails, manipulate social media with false accounts, try to crack our voting machines or take other aggressive actions against a free and fair election. Perhaps the president has just been trolling his own country, trying to get a rise out of Americans who prefer CIA spying to Armageddon and honest elections to Russian interference. He certainly lies plenty; in these instances, we hope he’s been at it again.

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