“I’ll see what happens” in regards to offering testimony to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, he said. “But when they have no collusion and nobody’s found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely that you’d even have an interview.”
That’s eight denials of collusion in the span of about 20 seconds. Those were, by our count, the 98th, 99th, 100th, 101st, 102nd, 103rd, 104th and 105th denials of collusion with the Russian government that Trump has offered over the course of his presidency. Add in the denials offered by his press secretaries — first Sean Spicer and then Sarah Huckabee Sanders — and you get a grand total of 146 denials of collusion. That’s an average of a denial every 2.4 days of his presidency. A denial every two days since Spicer’s first denials March 20. (Those denials, too, came at a furious pace.)
The denials come in clusters. That first burst in March, the day that then-FBI Director James B. Comey first acknowledged that the bureau was looking at any collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian actors. Another in May, after Trump fired Comey (in part because of the “Russia thing,” he told NBC’s Lester Holt). A burst in July, after the New York Times reported that Donald Trump Jr. had agreed to a meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer after being promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. In October, when the indictment against former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was handed down. That big bubble of denials in late December, when the Times’s Michael Schmidt had an impromptu sit-down with the president at Mar-a-Lago.
Often, Trump’s denials of collusion came on Twitter, which you’ll probably not be shocked to learn. His first denials of collusion on Twitter came the day before he fired Comey.
At the time, Trump’s argument was the same as the argument he offered 250-odd days later: There was no evidence of collusion. Of course, since then, Mueller’s team and the media have uncovered a lot of new details about how Trump’s campaign interacted with people linked to Russia. Among those revelations were that Trump Jr. meeting, contacts between Manafort and a Russian oligarch with whom he used to work, outreach by WikiLeaks to the Trump team and, of course, the entire saga of George Papadopoulos, whose interactions with Russian-linked actors appears to have kicked off the investigation in the first place.
That said, the White House’s constant reiterations of Trump’s innocence may be having the desired effect. A Politico/Morning Consult poll released this week found that a plurality of respondents, 48 percent, believed that Trump would be exonerated by Mueller. Of course, that’s different from what Trump argues: He says not only that he is innocent, but that there was no collusion with the Russians by anyone on his team. Whether that’s true depends to some extent on how you view things like Papadopoulos’s awareness of incriminating emails collected by the Russians or Trump Jr.’s responding to the pitch for dirt on Clinton from the Russians with “I love it” — and then sitting down for the meeting.
Trump’s denials of collusion also don’t address a more pressing concern: whether by firing Comey he tried to obstruct the Russia investigation. A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found that more than half of Americans think Trump tried to derail or obstruct it. Six in 10 disagree with Trump on another argument he and his allies make regularly: They think that Mueller’s investigation is being conducted fairly. (Even 37 percent of Republicans agree.)
In addition to his comments during that news conference Wednesday, Trump took to Twitter to deny the existence of any collusion.
There is no polling on whether Americans think these investigations are a greater witch hunt than, say, the time they hunted witches in Salem.