It seems to me we still haven’t quite found the vocabulary to capture the true insanity at the core of the big argument that President Trump and the White House are making these days.
On Wednesday, Trump showcased this argument’s various elements in a brief but rambling set of remarks with reporters. The remarks came after Trump abruptly cut off a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), because he was in a rage over something Pelosi said earlier in the day:
President Trump abruptly ended a meeting with Democratic leaders on Wednesday, saying he was unable to work with them on legislation following comments by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that he was “engaged in a coverup.”...
“Instead of walking in happily to a meeting, I walk in to look at people who said I was doing a coverup,” Trump said, adding that he can’t work on infrastructure “under these circumstances.”
In those remarks, Trump took exception to Pelosi’s claim that he has engaged in a coverup by saying this:
It turns I’m the most — and I think most of you would agree to this — I’m the most transparent president, probably in the history of this country. We have given — on a witch hunt, on a hoax — the whole thing with Russia was a hoax, as it relates to the Trump administration and myself. It was a total, horrible thing that happened to our country.
The “horrible thing” that happened to our country wasn’t the Russian attack on our political system, which was a “hoax,” but the difficulties created for the president by the efforts to get to the bottom of it.
Regardless, right now, here’s what’s going on with this “most transparent president.” Trump’s administration appears to be breaking the law to prevent the release of his tax returns, which every other president in the past 50 years has released. He is successfully leaning on his former White House counsel, Donald McGahn, to defy a congressional subpoena, even though McGahn witnessed alleged extensive obstruction of justice by the president that likely rose to criminality.
The attorney general appointed by this “most transparent president” is refusing to release the full, unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence to Congress, even though that report is to a great extent about that foreign attack on our political system.
Related to that, the White House is claiming that Democrats have no legitimate legislative purpose in seeking those Mueller materials, even though Democrats have clearly articulated just such a purpose: to further safeguard our elections against outside attack.
As Trump once again revealed in today’s ramble, he continues to insist this attack never happened — which, of course, supports the larger absurdity here, that further fleshing out special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings with the aim of safeguarding our elections doesn’t constitute a legitimate legislative purpose.
Indeed, Trump’s position is now that everything House Democrats are doing is illegitimate. In his ramble, he claimed he privately told Schumer and Pelosi this:
“I want to do infrastructure. I want to do it more than you want to do it. I’d be really good at that. That’s what I do. But you know what? You can’t do it under these circumstances. So, get these phony investigations over with.”
These “phony investigations” include an effort to establish as much as possible about what Mueller established regarding Trump’s abuses of power, to determine whether institutional reforms are necessary in response. One example of such reform is the bill introduced by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) that would require that Congress be informed of investigative evidence against someone who has been pardoned by the president in connection with an investigation into him or his family members. Mueller’s report documented Trumpian abuses of the pardon power.
These phony investigations also include an effort to get Trump’s tax returns to determine whether the Internal Revenue Service is enforcing tax laws against the president, which he dismisses even though he recently boasted that he has dabbled in tax dodging as a “sport," and even though an internal IRS memo says the request is perfectly legitimate.
And these phony investigations include trying to safeguard our elections against future attacks that his own intelligence officials say are a clear and present threat. This is just a partial list.
For Trump, none of this constitutes legitimate oversight or legislative motive. And even as Trump is demanding that Democrats drop all of it, effectively neutering their own oversight role entirely, he is simultaneously demanding that they constructively engage with him. We haven’t figured out how to convey just how crazy all of this really is.