President Trump. (Laurent Gillieron/AP)
Columnist

Conspiracies. Secret societies. Witch hunts.

During the past year, we've heard reference to all of the above to explain away any suggestion of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 presidential election.

Allegedly, there's a secret society within the FBI aimed at deposing President Trump. This bit of conspiracy theorizing is thanks to some 50,000 text exchanges between two FBI officials involved in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation — Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — who were deeply critical of Trump during the campaign, even mentioning a now- ­debunked hush-hush society. At least one text also suggested that the two were dedicated to preventing Trump's election.

It is little wonder that Trump and many of his fellow Republicans concluded that the investigation is corrupt. But then, the two officials were equally aghast at the prospect of Bernie Sanders's election. That they mocked the selection of a "Duck Dynasty" star to speak at the Republican National Convention is hardly conclusive evidence of malice. That they are fools seems incontestable, but whether this is enough to condemn the whole agency or to impugn the investigation is definitively not.

There are lots of other dots in this constellation of rumor and innuendo, as well as documented facts and events that can be easily corroborated. Objectively, it is neither conjecture nor conspiracy to observe that the president strikes a defensive pose every time a well-sourced article reveals something that could seem incriminating. Indeed, he has become Clintonesque, reflexively dodging and covering up, whether he needs to or not.

Thus, the question is whether Trump is hiding something, an obvious inference, or whether his observably narcissistic personality means he can't tolerate even the suggestion that he may be at fault. The narcissist's first instinct is always to blame others. Combined with his excessive need for admiration, another narcissistic trait, it is conceivable that Trump punches back as a function of a personality disorder.

Whatever the verdict, either possibility inspires shivers.

These are the facts thus far:

First, Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey in May — after, according to Comey, Trump asked him for loyalty and to drop the probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whose three-week tenure ended upon revelations that he lied about conversations with Russia's ambassador to the United States. Flynn subsequently pleaded guilty to lying in exchange for his cooperation with the Russia investigation.

Whatever Romeo and Juliet may have fantasized, this episode is factual.

Trump also asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Justice Department's investigation into possible collusion. But Sessions did recuse himself for sound reasons and, for a brief spell, became a target of Trump's Twitter feed.

Then Trump began pressuring Sessions to fire acting FBI director Andrew McCabe, tweeting that McCabe's wife, Jill McCabe, had received $700,000 from the Clintons for her 2015 run for a Virginia state Senate seat. His implication was that McCabe couldn't possibly be objective if his wife was supported by the Clinton machine. Life teaches us that untrustworthy people or people lacking personal integrity always suspect that others are the same. The truth is, Jill McCabe received about $500,000 from a political action committee affiliated with then-Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Though true that Bill Clinton and McAuliffe are talk-every-day friends, the conclusion that McCabe is, therefore, a dishonest broker seems a long and winding road to a dead end. His wife, for what it's worth, lost.

Then, a few days ago, reports surfaced that Trump in June ordered the firing of Mueller. When White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn threatened to quit rather than carry out the command, the president backed off. Meanwhile, we also learned that Mueller wants to interview Trump about Flynn, Comey and the president's outreach to several top Republicans to quickly end the Senate Intelligence Committee's own investigation into possible Trump-Russia collusion in the election.

So what is one to think? In these instances when Trump has felt threatened, he has fired or sought to fire investigative chiefs and has apparently pressured others to either end probes or, in Sessions's case, pressured implicitly to intercede. None of this is proof he has done anything wrong. In fact, some would say he has acted well within his powers and has the right to drain the swamps as alligators permit.

But you'd be a damned fool not to conclude that Donald Trump has something to hide.

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