MSNBC’s Hallie Jackson breaks down the ‘Wag the Dog’ theory of why Donald Trump wants war with Iran
NBC News chief White House correspondent Hallie Jackson.

President Donald Trump's late night online threats posted on Twitter against Iran have some wondering if the White House intends to launch a new war in the Middle East to distract from the commander-in-chief's affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The "Wag the Dog" theory was popularized by the 1997 movie starring Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, Anne Heche, Denis Leary and legendary musician Willie Nelson.

The film features a fictional president caught in an Oval Office sexual misconduct scandal with an underage, Girl Scout like character weeks before his reelection vote. De Niro's political consultant character brings in Hoffman's Hollywood producer character to create a fictional war in Albania as a distraction, with the president successfully reelected.

Is the threat of a real war with Iran intended to serve as a distraction from Russia and special counsel Robert Mueller's investigations? MSNBC's Hallie Jackson attempted to answer that question.

"Now, here's the thing to know about this, President Trump, when he was a private citizen, repeatedly tweeted about war with Iran as something a president might do for political gain," NBC News White House correspondent Geoff Bennett noted.

"We caught up with the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, earlier today, and asked her, Hallie, if there's a "Wag the Dog" situation going on here, if the president is using the specter of war with Iran to really push past his panned summit with Vladimir Putin," Bennett noted. "Take a look at what she had to say."

"The president is focused on a lot of things that are taking place across the globe, and Iran is one of them. It's been something we've talked about since we first came," Sanders said. "He's not going to allow them to make threats against America. if anybody is inciting anything, look no further than to Iran."

Trump's long focus on an American president using war with Iran to boost poll numbers at home continues ensure the "Wag the Dog" question is asked.

"If you look at the president's past tweets on this, it is clear that he believed a conflict with Iran might be something a president would do to bolster himself politically," Bloomberg News national political reporter Sahil Kapur noted.

"So now we're getting into the "Wag the Dog" conversation -- and this is a conversation to have," Jackson cut in, explaining the difference between policy and political motivations.

"Is the president trying to distract?" Jackson wondered. "He sent one tweet on Iran, five on Russia," she noted. "He clearly is upset and annoyed about that."

"It seems as though folks who say the president is trying to distract may be giving him a little more credit, just considering what he is publicly talking about that," Jackson cautioned.

Jackson noted, though, that "the president suggested presidents in the past have used Iran to change the topic when it comes to domestic politics."