Americans woke up Friday to new tweets from President Trump, dealing not with the dull geopolitical machinations of his visit to the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, but instead copping to having explored a new development project in Moscow during the 2016 campaign.
“I am a very good developer, happily living my life, when I see our Country going in the wrong direction (to put it mildly),” he wrote. “Against all odds, I decide to run for President & continue to run my business-very legal & very cool, talked about it on the campaign trail. Lightly looked at doing a building somewhere in Russia. Put up zero money, zero guarantees and didn’t do the project. Witch Hunt!”
You may have noted that this is something of a change in tone for Trump. During the Republican primaries, Trump’s approach to Russia was overt appreciation, repeatedly suggesting that an improved relationship between our two countries would be a good thing. On occasion, he would claim to know Russian President Vladimir Putin directly.
When The Post reported in June 2016 that Russia appeared to be behind a hack of the Democratic National Committee, questions began to be raised about the relationship between Trump and Russian business interests. A few days after our report on the hack, we detailed the history of Trump’s efforts in the country. Trump had declined to release his tax returns, making it hard to evaluate how extensive his links to Russia might be.
By the end of July, when WikiLeaks started dumping the stolen DNC files, there was an explicit suggestion from Hillary Clinton’s team that the leak was an effort to boost Trump’s campaign. That prompted a Trump tweet.
Trump’s tweets this week stemmed from his personal attorney Michael Cohen having pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the duration of a Trump Organization effort to build a skyscraper in Moscow. Cohen had claimed that the effort ended before primary voting began in 2016; in reality, conversations continued until mid-June — about the time that The Post was drawing attention to Russia’s role.
In other words, Trump’s tweet from July 2016 may have been technically true, but it was certainly misleading. At a news conference in January 2017, before he took office, Trump made claims that were more obviously false.
"I tweeted out that I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we've stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia,” he said, adding. “I thought that was important to put out. I certified that. So I have no deals, I have no loans and I have no dealings. We could make deals in Russia very easily if we wanted to, I just don't want to because I think that would be a conflict. So I have no loans, no dealings, and no current pending deals."
As he offered his guilty plea on Thursday, Cohen claimed that he'd lied about the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow effort “to be consistent with [Trump]'s political messaging and out of loyalty” to the president. Cohen understood that knowledge that Trump hadn't “stayed away” from Moscow at all was politically problematic, as did Trump.
But then the Friday morning tweets in which Trump just waves it away. No big deal! Lightly looked at it! Why is everyone out to get me?
We’ve seen this pattern repeatedly with Trump: An allegation. A denial or coverup. New evidence. Rationalization.
Consider the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. Trump has maintained since the meeting was first reported in July 2017 that he didn’t know about it in advance. That may be true (and it may not be), but the first response from Trump and his team was to mislead the public about what had happened.
The New York Times asked the White House for comment before breaking the story, and Trump, flying on Air Force One, personally dictated a statement that suggested the meeting was focused on the issue of adoptions from Russia. While that subject apparently came up as part of the Kremlin-linked attorney’s effort to persuade Trump’s team to address sanctions that had been imposed against various Russian individuals, the predication for the meeting was, as America soon learned, an offer of incriminating information about Clinton.
When the Times revealed the existence of emails showing that Donald Trump Jr. had been offered precisely that, Trump's tone changed.
Just politics as usual! Not a big deal! Nothing to be mad about!
Or consider the payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels, each of whom alleged sexual relationships with Trump and received money from Trump allies not to share those allegations before the election. The Wall Street Journal broke the story about the McDougal payment shortly before the election; the Daniels story came out this year.
Trump, his campaign, his legal team or the White House denied familiarity with the payments or disparaged the reports as false. As more details came out, the denials became more specific: In April, Trump explicitly denied having known about the payment to Daniels at the time the payment was made by Cohen. But Cohen and executives at American Media Inc., publishers of the National Enquirer, later admitted to Trump's involvement in conversations about the payments. A recording released publicly revealed Trump and Cohen discussing the McDougal payment specifically.
Trump's response? Cohen is lying. As for Cohen's guilty pleas to campaign finance violations stemming from the failure to report the payments, Trump waved that away.
No big deal! Barack Obama also had campaign finance violations! (The comparison, as you might expect, is not a fair one.)
There’s an advantage to this tactic for Trump: He gets to pillory the media coming and going. His political rhetoric is largely built on the assumption that most Americans lack long-term political memory, so he will decry the effort as fake news, evidence of the media trying to gin up trouble for him. Once the allegations are undeniably shown to be true, he plays off the activities as entirely normal and the attention paid to them by the media as evidence of the media’s hostility to him.
He gets us coming and going.
What’s weird is that he bothers denying these things in the first place. One of the most accurate statements he made on the campaign trail was that he could probably shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York City and he wouldn’t lose a vote. Many of his most fervent supporters will accept his most recent rationalization as the correct one, even taking in stride his past lies as necessary efforts to rebut the media bias he faces.
If Trump really were to shoot someone in Manhattan, he’d deny it at first. Wasn’t even in the city; not familiar with the use of a firearm. When New York police showed ballistic evidence tying the shooting to his handgun and released video of Trump committing the act, the story would change.
Lots of people get shot in New York City every year! It was self-defense!
It was, as always, no big deal.