Trump has ended a newsy week with a fountain of what by even his own standards are pretty down-is-up and untrue statements.
For a president increasingly isolated and facing a growing number of challenges from the world, politics and incoming investigations, there is a distinct reflection of self-delusion and an air of desperate flailing strong enough for all to sense. It’s a sign that we all should strap in for more as these investigations come closer to him.
Indeed, “The White House is adopting what one official termed a ‘shrugged shoulders’ strategy for adverse news, calculating that most GOP base voters will believe whatever the president tells them to believe,” according to one Washington Post report.
In just a few days, Trump:
- Blamed rioting protests in Paris on failed efforts to address climate change and claimed that protesters were calling for Trump to intervene. Um, no – on all counts. The protests are aimed at a fuel tax, and there were no calls for Trump to save France. The French foreign minister asked that Trump stop tweeting about France.
- Claimed that the prosecutorial sentencing reports for Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, and Michael Cohen, his longtime fixer, “cleared” Trump of any possible “collusion” charges. Actually, those court filings identified Trump as directing the scheme to pay hush-money settlements to two women for their silence about sex, in violation of campaign finance laws. The filings also opened new and earlier avenues for Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III to pursue about contacts by Russians with Trump’s campaign. “Prosecutors investigating President Trump and his team draw a portrait of a candidate who personally directed an illegal scheme to manipulate the 2016 election and whose advisers had more contact with Russia than Trump has ever acknowledged,” said The New York Times, and up to 14 Russian contacts per The Washington Post.
- Blasted former James Comey Jr. for his testimony to House Republican-majority committees as lies. “Leakin’ James Comey must have set a record for who lied the most to Congress in one day. His Friday testimony was so untruthful! This whole deal is a Rigged Fraud headed up by dishonest people who would do anything so that I could not become President. They are now exposed!” No, Comey’s testimony actually suggested the FBI had started to investigate four Americans who did not include the president.
- After declaring success in meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping over the tariffs issues, Trump declared himself “a tariff man” in favor of retaining tariffs, triggering a 1,700-point turndown in the stock market.
- Insisted again that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman was blameless in the assassination of writer Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey despite CIA findings to the opposite. Trump’s stance irked even key Republican senators.
- By contrast, Trump remained silent about reported Republican voter fraud in a North Carolina congressional race, about a monthly jobs report that fell substantially short of expectations and played up his dismissal of Chief of Staff John F. Kelly Jr. as being Kelly’s idea. Better yet, the would-be replacement, Nick Ayers, told him he didn’t want the job beyond a couple of months.
- Meanwhile, Trump said he still wants to meet again with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un despite evidence that no progress has been made toward nuclear disarmament, in accordance with what Trump said that they had agreed.
- He even credited a non-existent Wall for having stopped an immigrant caravan rather than a combination of interminable waiting for asylum seekers at ports of entry and adverse court rulings challenging his policies. Nevertheless, he continued to press for money for the wall even if it means a partial government shutdown.
As a result, over the last weeks, the president has found himself almost without friends at international meetings, facing disruptive job churn at the White House, competing demands and a rising tide of problems.
We know that the announced tariffs against China are not working as had been expected by the White House and that the Middle East is hanging on by a thread with U.S. support for Saudi Arabia resulting in widespread starvation among Yemenis caught in a proxy war. We know our allies are unsure of their place with official Washington, and that autocrats worldwide are taking note that they can escape from punishment for human rights abuses by buying a few American airplanes, as does Saudi Arabia.
At the center, of course, is the Russia election-influence investigation. Mueller has given some new hints this week, but most of the probe’s scope and importance remains hidden. It is up to us to knit together what details are known.
Axios.com offered that information “we already now know is highly damning and highly detailed. The scary thing for Trump — Mueller knows a helluva lot more than we now know.” It’s worth keeping in mind as we hear concern about one detail or another.
Said Axios: We now know, for example, that several Russian officials reached out to a half-dozen Republicans close to Trump and his campaign, including his eldest son, his closest adviser, his lawyer, and his campaign manager. We know that Russia offered in those chats campaign assistance — “synergy,” they called it. We know now of no one around Trump who alerted the FBI of this effort to subvert our elections.
We know that 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted for hacking the DNC and releasing material for the purpose of hurting the Clinton campaign via WikiLeaks. We know that Trump associates Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi attempted — successfully, in some instances — to get in touch with WikiLeaks and that they are under investigation for whether they had advance knowledge. We know Donald Trump Jr. and others met with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.
We now know Trump was negotiating a Trump Tower in Moscow during the presidential campaign — and hid this from the public and lied about it. We now know Mueller believes, based on his court filing, the “Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government.”
We know every arm of the U.S. intelligence concluded Russia sought to systematically influence the election outcome. We now know Trump officials continued talking with the Russians during the post-election transition, with Jared Kushner and Jeff Sessions failing initially to disclose any contacts with Russians. We now know Jared Kushner suggested a secret backchannel with the Russians.
And we now know Trump fired FBI director James Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House counsel Don McGahn in part over their handling of the probe. Meanwhile, Manafort and Cohen are headed for jail.
I wonder if the fountain needs a rest and regroup time.