It's a well-worn path: Someone in President Trump's orbit gets in trouble, and the White House bends over backward trying to distance itself from that person — often in ways that strain credulity. Top aides suddenly become interlopers. Foreign policy advisers become “coffee boys.” The crucial months of the 2016 campaign are reduced to an insignificant period of time. We are assured that Trump doesn't even really need aides.
Trump's longtime personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen is the latest to be on the receiving end of this treatment. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested Monday that Cohen was just another lawyer. “I believe they've still got some ongoing things, but the president has a large number of attorneys, as you know,” she said. Fellow White House spokesman Hogan Gidley repeated the talking point on CNN on Monday night, saying that Cohen was one of “many” Trump lawyers.
Come on. Trump certainly has a lot of lawyers — especially given his special counsel investigation problem — but Cohen was the only one negotiating hush-money payments with porn stars, appearing on TV as a surrogate, and to whom Trump regularly referred as “my attorney.” Cohen is the guy who has expressed unflinching and complete loyalty to Trump. Cohen isn't just another lawyer. In fact, “lawyer” doesn't begin to describe his closeness to Trump.
Similarly, here's how the White House and Trump campaign have played down the roles of other aides who faced trouble:
Michael T. Flynn, White House national security adviser and 2016 campaign adviser: “A volunteer of the campaign.”
Paul Manafort, who served as head of the campaign for months spanning the Republican National Convention: “Played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.”
Carter Page, another campaign foreign policy adviser: “Hanger-on.” “Has made no contribution to the campaign.” “Was a very low-level member of, I think, a committee for a short period of time.”
Roger Stone, a longtime informal Trump adviser: “Hanger-on.”
You get the idea.
But it got me thinking: What if other members of the White House or close Trump allies got in trouble? How would their roles be minimized?
Below are some possibilities:
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt: “Not even an actual Cabinet secretary.”
Chief of Staff John F. Kelly: “One of many generals.” “Served as a Cabinet secretary for a very limited amount of time.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders: “Related to one of the president's many vanquished primary opponents.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions: “Not a loyal Trump supporter or defender.”
National security adviser John Bolton: “Trump never liked his mustache and didn't listen to him.”
CIA Director (and secretary of state nominee) Mike Pompeo: “A leader of the deep state.”
National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow: “A TV personality who wasn't even on the good channels.”
Assistant to the president Dan Scavino: “A microblogger.”
Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway: “Spokesperson.”
Vice President Pence: “Not a supporter of Trump's campaign.” “Was going to lose reelection until Trump picked him for VP.”