'If': The magic word for President Trump's conspiracy theory

In many of President Trump's comments about an alleged "spy" in his presidential campaign, there's a tell.Usua...

Posted: May 24, 2018 10:19 AM
Updated: May 24, 2018 10:19 AM

In many of President Trump's comments about an alleged "spy" in his presidential campaign, there's a tell.

Usually it's the word "if." Sometimes it's the word "maybe." Or "possibly." Or the word "or!"

The caveats give him some wiggle room while he's promoting a full-fledged conspiracy theory.

"It looks like a very serious event, but we'll find out," he told reporters on Wednesday. Many of his sentences contained caveats: "I hope it's not true, but it looks like it is."

What IS true is that the FBI used a confidential source to talk to Trump advisers after the bureau became suspicious about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Related: Officials tell CNN that FBI 'informant' not planted inside Trump campaign

But Trump's leap to "SPYGATE" isn't supported by the publicly available facts. On Wednesday he tweeted that this "could be one of the biggest political scandals in history!"

Notice the word "could?"

Readers and viewers are left with the overall impression of a sinister plot against the president.

But Trump has hedged many -- not all, but many -- of his remarks about the controversy. On Tuesday, he said on camera, "If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country."

Anderson Cooper pointed out the "if" on CNN Tuesday night: "The president used a small fig leaf in that first sentence, the word 'if,' to cover a very loaded word, 'spies.'"

Some of the GOP lawmakers and pro-Trump media figures beating the drum about this issue have also hedged their heated remarks. In a key interview on Sunday, Congressman Devin Nunes said things like "if they ran a spy ring, that is an absolute red line."

"If."

White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley kept it up on Wednesday, telling a Fox interviewer "if, in fact, this occurred," it "could be one of the biggest scandals in history."

So what did you notice about that quote? "Could be," or "one of the biggest scandals in history?"

This is a time-honored tactic, not just among politicians -- but by members of the media, too. Raising questions has proven remarkably effective for Trump and his allies.

Many Trump supporters are dispensing with the "ifs" altogether, swearing they are uncovering a "deep state" attack against the president.

Journalists are having to work very carefully to fact-check the claims.

The Washington Post included this context in the fourth paragraph of its story on Wednesday: "There is no evidence to suggest that the source was inserted into the Trump campaign, as the president has suggested, but the source did seek out and meet Trump campaign advisers."

In this piece for CNN.com, Chris Cillizza explained how Trump built this "spy" narrative "from whole cloth" by ignoring a "series of subsequent facts that undercut his conclusion."

Some other news outlets, however, have either buried or skipped the fact-checking part.

And Trump's advocates can always fall back to his "hey, I'm just asking if I was spied on" position.

But he's trying to have it both ways. In some of his tweets this week, Trump has included "ifs." But other times, he has stated the existence of a "spy" as fact.

"He was only there to spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win," he wrote Tuesday night.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 94021

Reported Deaths: 2846
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6979155
DeSoto542555
Harrison374372
Jackson339967
Madison321286
Rankin319375
Lee261067
Jones242778
Forrest239570
Washington218171
Lafayette209239
Lauderdale2007124
Bolivar179565
Oktibbeha175450
Lamar163534
Neshoba1540103
Panola144527
Sunflower142144
Lowndes140357
Warren138150
Leflore137080
Pontotoc123616
Pike121348
Monroe118965
Scott116425
Copiah116333
Coahoma112827
Holmes109258
Marshall107615
Lincoln106853
Grenada106235
Yazoo103929
Simpson101443
Union97824
Tate95537
Leake94037
Adams92136
Wayne87721
Pearl River86750
Marion84133
Prentiss81517
Covington80922
Alcorn77511
Itawamba77021
Newton75923
Tallahatchie75718
George75113
Winston72519
Tishomingo66137
Chickasaw65624
Tippah64516
Attala64125
Walthall59425
Clay58117
Hancock56421
Jasper55515
Noxubee54315
Clarke53739
Smith52414
Calhoun50612
Tunica48113
Montgomery45520
Claiborne45216
Lawrence42512
Yalobusha41814
Perry40918
Quitman3755
Humphreys37315
Stone35711
Greene34617
Webster33113
Jefferson Davis32811
Carroll31212
Amite31110
Wilkinson30217
Kemper28615
Sharkey26312
Jefferson2439
Benton2201
Franklin1893
Choctaw1795
Issaquena1033
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 131988

Reported Deaths: 2304
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19123337
Mobile13122290
Montgomery8688173
Madison763075
Tuscaloosa7323114
Lee575159
Shelby571950
Baldwin508749
Marshall387943
Calhoun337439
Etowah336547
Morgan321426
Houston272722
Elmore255847
DeKalb237119
St. Clair224335
Walker224380
Talladega207726
Limestone200119
Cullman186218
Dallas174926
Franklin174528
Russell17312
Autauga169124
Lauderdale165333
Colbert160926
Escambia156425
Blount156014
Jackson151611
Chilton150227
Dale133343
Covington131127
Coffee12838
Pike11619
Tallapoosa113683
Chambers113242
Clarke105517
Marion94828
Butler91138
Barbour8387
Winston71612
Marengo70119
Lowndes64927
Pickens63814
Bibb63610
Randolph62212
Hale61528
Lawrence59220
Bullock59114
Geneva5814
Monroe5768
Cherokee56916
Clay5527
Washington54913
Perry5386
Wilcox53111
Conecuh52411
Crenshaw52331
Macon47820
Henry4754
Fayette4269
Sumter41819
Lamar3532
Choctaw34512
Cleburne3326
Greene30015
Coosa1653
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Overcast
66° wxIcon
Hi: 73° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 66°
Columbus
Overcast
67° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 67°
Oxford
Overcast
63° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 63°
Starkville
Overcast
64° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 64°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather