Thursday, May 18, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He categorically denied that there was any collusion between his campaign and Russia--speaking for himself.

During a joint press conference with the visiting president of Colombia, Trump was asked directly about the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate collusion between his campaign and the Russian effort to subvert the 2016 election. He responded, "There is no collusion–certainly myself and my campaign–but I can always speak for myself and the Russians–zero.” (Video of the exchange makes clear the sense of Trump's slightly awkward phrasing.)

Trump, who immediately began process of lawyering up for the special counsel's investigation, was unusually subdued and terse. The careful distinction he made here between what he can personally testify to, as opposed to what may have happened that he can plausibly deny, may reflect a growing awareness of the sudden legal jeopardy he finds himself in. (Plausible deniability is a concept Trump has shown himself to be familiar with recently.)

In any event, this is probably a good time for Trump to start distancing himself from his campaign. The remarks came amid a blizzard of news about Michael Flynn, the central figure in the investigations so far. The New York Times reported that Flynn disclosed to the Trump transition team that he was under investigation for his secret lobbyist work on behalf of Turkey--which contradicts the White House story that Flynn misled them and in particular the transition's official head, Vice-President Mike Pence. The significance of that secret work for Turkey was revealed by a McClatchy report from yesterday, in which Flynn was revealed as the main advocate against an anti-ISIS operation that Turkey opposed. And Flynn was among the campaign officials cited in a report of at least 18 further meetings with Russian officials or agents last year (beyond those previously revealed).

Why does this matter?

  • At best, this kind of distancing suggests that Trump suspects the "witch hunt" might find some actual witches, whether or not he's one of them.