Let me share a few thoughts on the press conference President Trump just held with the President of Colombia. In the nature of the moment, I’ll just focus on the questions President Trump fielded on the investigations.
First, on question one, relative to the wild things he’s already said, Trump got through this one with a relatively normal performance. Yes, he repeated that the probe is a “witch hunt”. But we’re grading on a heavy curve here. He basically said, there’s nothing there. It is what it is. I want to get back to working for the American people.
Fair enough, relative to the Trump norm.
Question two didn’t go as well. A lot of the attention has rightly gone to Trump’s categorical denial that he’d colluded with Russia in any way during the 2016 campaign. But he only made the denial categorical for himself. “I can only speak for myself and the Russians.”
That’s how the quote is being presented in the commentators’ discussions. But that’s not actually what he said. That was “I can always speak for myself and the Russians.” It’s assumed that he meant “only” and not “always.” I think that’s right. But he actually said always. Trump seems to be leaving open the possibility that something might have been amiss with others on his campaign. It was certainly possible to understand the statement as his somehow vouching for the Russians as well as himself. But, again, I’m going to assume that’s not what he meant.
Then he went off on James Comey, categorically denying he ever asked Comey to end the Flynn investigation. As I mentioned earlier, even in the highly improbable scenario that Comey’s lying and Trump’s telling the truth, I think Trump would still be toast on this one. Trump has zero credibility. Comey has a lot. And we’re at least told that Comey has contemporaneous notes. We’ll hear that quote again and I suspect those won’t be happy moments for the President when we do. Why? Because the President is almost certainly lying. Not being able to lie brazenly in a pinch is new territory for him, seemingly an undiscovered country he’ll never get to.
(There was an additional weirdness that on question two Trump called on “Peter Alexander” (NBC), then thought he was talking to “Peter Baker” (NYT) but was actually talking to a third reporter from the local ABC affiliate. I’m not sure that necessarily matters but it just added to the atmosphere of chaos and general weirdness.)
Trump also couldn’t help lashing out at Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General who made the decision to appoint the Special Counsel. Rosenstein reportedly told Senators earlier today that he knew before he wrote his memo that Comey was going to be fired. It was apparently a foregone conclusion and Rosenstein wrote a memo laying out a justification for firing Comey. That doesn’t make Rosenstein look good at all, in my view. But he left no doubt that Trump made the call. Trump went back to trying to hang the decision on Rosenstein, even though Trump himself said last week that he’d already made up his mind. The only real consistency in Trump’s remarks are that he did nothing wrong and his anger at whomever he’s angry at at that moment. Everything else is mutable and up for grabs. He’s mad, mad at everyone, mad at Comey, also mad at Rosenstein and he made that anger clear in something like a million ways during this brief performance.
It could have gone better.