The White House has an official excuse for asking the FBI to debunk a New York Times story about Trump campaign aides having frequent contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Here it is: They started it. That is, the FBI approached them, not the other way around.
I guess that's appropriate for the Trump administration, which is best thought of as an overgrown kindergartner. However, First Read isn't sure this defense does them any favors:
This White House explanation raises the question: So what's worse — the White House asking the FBI to publicly knock down a story, or the FBI pulling aside a top White House official to comment on the big story of the day? Just ask yourself: If you substituted Clinton's and Lynch's names for Priebus' and McCabe's, would the congressional hearings already be scheduled?
Yep. And if an FBI official really did pull aside Reince Priebus to whisper in his ear that the Times story was wrong, that still suggests an improper relationship between the FBI and the White House. In any case, First Read goes on to suggest that the Times wasn't all that wrong anyway. Here is Ken Dilanian:
"NBC News was told by law enforcement and intelligence sources that the NYT story WAS wrong — in its use of the term 'Russian intelligence officials.' Our sources say there were contacts with Russians, but that the US hasn't confirmed they work for spy agencies. We were also told CNN's description of Trump aides being in 'constant touch' with Russians was overstated. However, our sources did tell us that intelligence intercepts picked up contacts among Trump aides and Russians during the campaign."
Of course, the Times may have different sources telling them different things. One way or another, it appears that Trump aides were in periodic contact with Russian officials during the campaign, and the only questions are: (a) were they intelligence officials? and (b) how often did they talk? Considering Trump's bizarre fixation on Vladimir Putin and his administration's obvious panic over this story, a good guess is that there really is something there they want to keep under wraps.
And just for a final comical effect, after asking the FBI to leak information to the press, Trump himself then took to Twitter to complain about the FBI being unable to stop leaks:
Do you laugh or cry? We're going to be asking ourselves that a lot, I think. Only 204 weeks to go.