by Bob Cesca
Donald Trump is incompetent at a great many things. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t understand government or the Constitution. He’s especially incompetent when it comes to taking care of himself, focusing too much energy on his frumpy suits and bizarre Dick Tracy Villain hair, and not enough on a healthy diet or exercise. He’s arguably the worst president we’ve ever had and that’s saying a lot given some of the oddly-whiskered dilettantes that’ve held the office over the centuries, elected or not.
However, there are two areas where Trump excels. He’s an excellent villain. And he’s really good at what politically-minded folks call “message discipline” — sticking to the same handful of talking points regardless of which questions are asked or which topics are being discussed. Bernie Sanders, for example, is also a pro at message discipline. Ask him about anything, be it his favorite movies or economic policy, and Bernie will somehow manage to work in a paragraph about the “One Percent” and making the “millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share.” I think we can all agree that Bernie is a pro at message discipline.
Now, unlike Bernie, it’s entirely possible Trump’s message discipline comes from not knowing anything and, as such, he routinely bluffs his way around important topics by endlessly repeating the same words and phrases over and over and over again, regardless of whether they make any sense. It could also be that Trump repeats himself so often because, well, he’s exhibiting the early stages of dementia. Strangely, dementia carries a political advantage in this regard — that is, as long as he remembers the words he’s supposed to be repeating. Either way, Trump repeats himself far more frequently than just about any public figure, living or dead.
You might recall that Trump used the phrase “no collusion” no fewer than 16 times during a recent interview with The New York Times and reporter Michael Schmidt. This week, Trump added dozens more instances of the phrase “no collusion” to the list, including a press conference with the Norwegian prime minister on Wednesday in which Trump responded to a question from Fox News correspondent John Roberts about the Russia investigation. Trump’s comparatively brief response featured seven instances of “no collusion.”
During the same joint press conference, Trump repeated something he’s been saying here and there for a few weeks now. Trump noted, “I mean, the Democrats are all running for office, trying to say this that — but bottom line, they all say there’s no collusion. And there is no collusion.” In keeping with his message discipline, Trump tweeted a similar observation via Twitter:
“The single greatest Witch Hunt in American history continues. There was no collusion, everybody including the Dems knows there was no collusion, & yet on and on it goes. Russia & the world is laughing at the stupidity they are witnessing. Republicans should finally take control!”
So, even the Democrats have made it clear that neither Trump nor his campaign conspired with Russia? That’s not what most of us have been hearing, but okeedokee. For a while, I considered this to be another one of Trump’s lies. He’s just making shit up again. If he’s not lying, where did he get this information? Fox News? Possibly. But there was one well-recognized source from which Trump could be drawing this conclusion, and when you read the name, you’ll understand.
The Intercept‘s Glenn Greenwald published a unexpectedly short article titled, “Key Democratic Officials Now Warning Base Not to Expect Evidence of Trump/Russia Collusion.” The headline is eerily similar to what Trump’s been saying recently about the Democrats and collusion. I hasten to note: I don’t have specific evidence that Trump is drawing this conclusion based on Greenwald’s article, but it makes a lot of sense, especially given how Greenwald, a self-identified progressive, has appeared on Fox News to smear the Russia investigation, while inappropriately labeling anyone who accepts the story as “McCarthyites.”
In his article, Greenwald doesn’t reference any members of Congress by name, nor does he include the names of any high profile Democratic Party voices, be they activists or journalists. Instead, Greenwald cites President Obama’s former acting CIA chief Michael Morell, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and, via a separate Buzzfeed report, unnamed sources in the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Are these sources credible? Sure. Are they seriously casting doubt on collusion? Good question.
First of all, Morell’s response went like so: “On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire at all.” It could be that Morell meant “there’s no fire…yet.” So, it’s uncertain what exactly he meant. Clapper, meanwhile, told Meet The Press, “We had no evidence of such collusion,” but Clapper was talking about the period of time in which he was Obama’s DNI. He wasn’t necessarily speaking contemporaneously, meaning there wasn’t evidence of collusion in mid-to-late 2016, but there is now. Also, Greenwald is notorious for labeling Clapper a liar, yet he believes Clapper on this one? Okay. As for the Senate Intelligence Committee staffers, the Buzzfeed piece notes up-front that their conclusions were drawn merely “after several briefings and preliminary inquiries.” That’s all.
So, once again, another stellar bit of reporting by Mr. Greenwald.
Oh, and by the way, Greenwald’s article was published on March 16, 2017, several months before the bombshell story about the Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner meeting with a gaggle of Russian operatives at Trump Tower about attaining dirt on Hillary Clinton gathered by the Kremlin. Greenwald’s conclusion, as well as the observations of Morell and Buzzfeed‘s committee sources, were drawn well before the Russia meeting at Trump Tower and before a subsequent 10 months of reporting in which new revelations emerged practically by the hour via reputable papers of record, not to mention documents like the Fusion GPS transcript, Don Junior’s email exchange with Rob Goldstone, and so forth.
In other words, we’re talking about an analysis of three or five Democrats, at most, based on information from nearly a year ago, and gathered into an article by a reporter, Greenwald, who has a vested interest in keeping his hero, Edward Snowden, safe and secure as a guest of Putin in Moscow. In other words, a source that’s reliable enough for Trump’s dirty money.
Back to Trump. It makes perfect sense that Trump might be drawing his “Democrats say there’s no collusion” via Greenwald’s piece from 10 months ago. Likewise, he still cites James Comey’s alleged private assurance that Trump himself wasn’t under investigation — back in January of 2017, before the Special Counsel was appointed and before Trump derped his way into potential obstruction of justice charges, among others. Any foothold is a good foothold for Trump, even if it’s old and long-since contradicted by new information.
So, Trump is lying insofar as “no collusion” is concerned, no matter how often he repeats it, and he’s lying about the Democratic view on collusion as well. He could also simply be just plain wrong about it, especially if he’s borrowing Greenwald’s work. Combined, however, it’s entirely possible to exploit inaccurate or half-baked information as part of a larger deception, meaning that Trump is both wrong and a liar when it comes to the Dems. No matter how often he repeats it, though, the facts are deeply stacked against him. His only recourse, then, is either to keep his mouth shut, which he’s incapable of doing, or to keep on sashaying through the same roundelay of lies. Expect much more of the latter.