The best analog to President Trump’s stance toward the Russia probe and his refusal to accept that Russian interference even happened is a husband who is suspected in his wife’s disappearance and repeatedly insists that she’s probably on a beach in Aruba having a good laugh at his expense.
In any normal circumstance, by any conventional standard, Trump’s attitude and actions are ones that are only consistent with guilt. He has not only repeatedly insisted on his innocence, which the innocent and guilty do in equal measure, but insisted that the crime itself never actually happened. On top of this, using his unique powers as President, he has repeatedly taken actions to end the investigation into his campaign. The most blatant example was firing the FBI Director with the stated goal of relieving the pressure of the Russia probe. But that’s just the most glaring example.
Through all of this there has been an alternative explanation: one which seems inherently unlikely but is just possible because of Trump’s own personality. That’s this: Trump’s ego is so bound up in his improbable 2016 general election victory that anything that throws the legitimacy of that election into question is a grave threat to his self-esteem and ego and must be fought with every means available.
There is little doubt that this is true to some extent. Trump’s ego does work like this. If there’s one thing that has been clear since his inauguration it is that Trump had not thought through the scale of work involved in actually being President as opposed to the affirmation of being elected. It seems equally true that Trump imagined that being President would mean he would be loved, that it was somehow part of the job. This sounds crazy and like a bit of a jab. But I think it’s true that that is what he expected. In any case, the affirmation of his “win” is clearly of huge importance to Trump. So it’s quite credible that defending that win is a very big deal to him.
But five months into his presidency, it is simply not a credible or sufficient explanation for the totality of his actions. Yet if you look at coverage of the Russia probe, you see that this explanation is in most cases implicitly assumed to be the real driver of Trump’s behavior. This is understandable in some sense, or at least predictable, since the alternative is to entertain the possibility that the President conspired with a foreign power to successfully place himself in office. It is a daunting thing to consider. But his behavior forces us to do so.
In addition to this, whatever the President’s complicity, it is clear that he has attempted to stymie any attempts to investigate or guard against future subversion campaigns, both by his public questioning of the reality of the 2016 effort and what we now know from numerous accounts of his private discussions with top officials. This is a clear dereliction of his duties as President, regardless of his motives in ducking this responsibility.
Let me be clear. I don’t think this proves the President’s guilt or complicity. Like so many things with President Trump, we seem to be faced with two alternative possibilities, neither one of which seems credible. Yet one must be. My point is only to say that the President’s actions in really any other circumstance would be received as prima facie evidence of concealment and a consciousness of bad acts. Hyper sensitivity about anything that throws the legitimacy of his election into doubt just isn’t any longer a credible explanation.