President Trump showed up angry in the Rose Garden on Wednesday, an apparent continuation of his mood from the morning's activity on Twitter.
“I came here to do a meeting on infrastructure with Democrats, not really thinking they wanted to do infrastructure or anything else other than investigate,” he said, after calling a news conference outside the White House on short notice. “And I just saw that [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi, just before our meeting, made a statement that ‘We believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a coverup.’ ”
Trump complained about the Russia investigation for a moment and bragged about the success of the economy, boasting about how the former hadn't prevented the latter. Then he returned to Pelosi's comment.
"I don’t do coverups,” he said. “You people” — the media — “know that probably better than anybody.”
Well, about that, Mr. President.
There was, you might recall, the matter of Karen McDougal, a Playboy model who alleges that she had a consensual affair with you in 2006. After David Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Inc., told your team in August 2015 that he would help bury negative stories (according to the Justice Department), AMI paid McDougal to buy the rights to her story but never ran it. The August 2015 meeting might ring a bell, because Wall Street Journal reporting indicates that you attended it. The payment will certainly be familiar to you, since you and your former attorney Michael Cohen discussed it in a conversation that Cohen recorded.
The gist of the conversation? You and Cohen wanted to buy the rights from AMI in case Pecker was “hit by a truck” (in your words), and someone else at the company decided to run with it.
If that doesn’t ring a bell, there’s also the payment that was made in October 2016 to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Daniels alleges that you and she had a sexual encounter in 2006, a claim that she detailed to InTouch magazine in 2011, well before you were a candidate for political office. Cohen admitted to federal investigators that he made the arrangement with and payment to Daniels at your behest. You essentially admitted in a tweet that you had approved the agreement.
Those agreements could reasonably be described as coverups. In tweets about the Daniels agreement, you even noted that such agreements to stay silent were common for celebrities such as yourself.
But those aren’t the only examples. There’s also your effort to mask the meeting that occurred at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016. When the New York Times learned about the meeting in July 2017, you wrote a misleading statement for your son Donald Trump Jr. to provide the paper in response. Your attorneys later admitted to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that you had written the initial, obviously incomplete statement.
Why offer a statement that was easily undercut by emails exchanged between Trump Jr. and his associate Rob Goldstone? According to Mark Corallo, a former spokesman for your legal team, a member of your communications team, Hope Hicks, insisted that those emails would never come to light. That was during a phone call in which you and Hicks allegedly chastised Corallo for giving an honest description of the meeting to another media outlet.
Sort of coverup-y.
At Wednesday’s news conference, you spent time talking about how Mueller’s probe cleared you of wrongdoing, including that there had been no obstruction of his investigation. That was not for lack of trying, according to evidence compiled by Mueller. The special counsel detailed 10 separate incidents that seemed as if they might constitute criminal attempts to obstruct the probe that were generally unsuccessful, he wrote in his report, “because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”
Among the efforts to impede the investigation were the Trump Jr. statement and other repeated directives that staffers not publicly disclose information about the Trump Tower meeting. After pressuring former White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller, you allegedly then tried to get McGahn to deny that you had done any such thing. And then, after the Mueller report documenting this incident came out, you reportedly asked McGahn again to defend you on this point.
Your own contribution to the Mueller report, of course, came in the form of written responses to questions offered by the special counsel’s team. Those questions that you did answer mostly earned variations of “I don’t recall.” Mueller’s team decided not to subpoena you for additional testimony under the belief that they had enough evidence at hand already to determine that they could “not exonerate” you on the obstruction question.
Whatever you know has remained covered.
Since the Mueller report came out, your administration has embarked on a blanket effort to stymie Democratic investigations into Russian interference, your campaign, your private business, your inauguration and your presidential transition. That’s included your administration refusing to respond to subpoenas, demanding that potential witnesses similarly refuse to offer testimony and declining to provide requested documentation. Your White House even blocked McGahn from testifying about information that he already gave to Mueller, invoking executive privilege in a way that legal experts think will be quickly thrown out in court.
The argument made is that Mueller already investigated and came up empty, an argument that both overstates the scope of what the special counsel was looking at and misrepresents what he found. There’s a term for going out of your way to prevent investigations from moving forward, though it escapes me at the moment.
In essence, the Wednesday news conference itself was an effort to maintain a coverup.
“I’ve said from the beginning — right from the beginning — that you probably can’t go down two tracks,” Trump said. “You can go down the investigation track, and you can go down the investment track or the track of let’s get things done for the American people.” It echoed Trump’s comments during his State of the Union address that “if there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.” (That comment itself mirrored something Richard Nixon said during the Watergate probe.)
In other words, if Congress wants to get anything done — even something on a shared priority such as infrastructure — Trump is demanding that investigations into his administration and business ties first cease.
But, no, Trump doesn’t do coverups.