A spate of unflattering stories about President Trump’s administration have been published over the past week. Some are obviously a function of Trump, like the days-long brawl over his claims that Alabama would be affected by Hurricane Dorian. Others are murkier. To what extent were Trump or the White House involved in Vice President Pence’s decision to stay at a Trump Organization property in Ireland? How did the Air Force end up using Trump’s private company’s facility in Scotland during flights from Kuwait to Alaska?
Trump has a pat response to both of those questions: He had nothing to do with either.
“NOTHING TO DO WITH ME,” Trump tweeted about the Air Force stopovers. Similarly, he claimed he had “nothing to do with” Pence’s decision to stay at the Trump property in Doonbeg. Pence and the Air Force just reached their own decisions, Trump says, without his input — though Pence’s team at first suggested Trump had suggested the vice president’s stay.
That formulation — I had nothing to do with it — turns out to be a common one for Trump. And a review of the times he has deployed it as a defense since he began his presidential campaign suggests that he has often used it to dismiss things that he very much had something to do with.
Feb. 18, 2016: History of using eminent domain. During the 2016 Republican primary, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) hit Trump for using eminent domain as a developer. Cruz’s campaign created an ad focused on the issue.
At a CNN town hall, Trump denied it.
“There’s even one going up now in Nevada. He’s got something about land — that I’m for taking back the land. I have nothing to do with it. He — he will make up stories.”
But not only did Trump use eminent domain as a developer, the specific example in Cruz’s ad of a widow who fought back was well documented.
March 25, 2016: Allegations about Cruz in the National Enquirer. During the campaign, the National Enquirer ran a story alleging multiple extramarital affairs by Cruz, allegations he strongly denied. People soon noted Trump’s cozy relationship with the tabloid, prompting him to deny any link on Twitter.
“Lyin’ Ted Cruz is now trying to convince people that his problems with The National Enq.were caused by me. I had NOTHING to do with story!”
As The Washington Post reported in June of last year, though, the tabloid would often send Trump’s team copies of stories that it planned to run — including ones about Cruz. There’s no evidence that Trump’s team was involved in either generating or approving the story about the affairs.
March 25, 2016: Trump’s relationship with the Enquirer. At another point, Trump denied having a relationship with the tabloid.
“I have nothing to do with the National Enquirer and unlike Lyin’ Ted Cruz I do not surround myself with political hacks and henchman and then pretend total innocence.”
This was untrue. The National Enquirer’s parent company, for example, admitted to federal investigators that it had helped bury stories alleging affairs between Trump and two women, working with Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen.
May 9, 2016: Sympathy to ousting Paul Ryan. After former Alaska governor Sarah Palin endorsed Trump, she attacked then-Speaker Ryan (R-Wis.) and embraced Ryan’s Republican primary challenger Paul Nehlen. Asked about it, Trump denied being involved in wanting to see Ryan ousted.
“I have nothing to do with that.”
Later in the campaign, though, Trump tweeted praise for Nehlen. When Ryan announced his retirement this year, Trump bashed him. Nehlen was banned from Twitter after anti-Semitic comments.
July 27, 2016: Relationship with Russia. Trump has repeatedly insisted that he had nothing to do with Russia and Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. One of the first times was during a news conference in July 2016, focused specifically on alleged business deals.
“Every year I have a routine audit. I’m under audit — when the audit’s complete I’ll release them. But zero, I mean I will tell you right now, zero — I have nothing to do with Russia, yes?”
“I have nothing to do with Russia, John. How many times do I have say that? Are you a smart man? … I have nothing to do with Putin.”
As it turned out, Trump had been trying to finalize a development project in Moscow through intermediaries until June 2016. Cohen had even spoken with a representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s team about the project.
Oct. 20, 2016: What voter fraud claims are about. Trump claimed, shortly before the election, that his unfounded allegations about possible voter fraud were about the sanctity of elections and not his concerns about winning.
“We want fairness in the election. This is having nothing to do with me but having to do with the future of our country. We have to have fairness.”
After the election, though, it became obvious that his concern was his vote totals. He alleged fraud not in Pennsylvania — his focus before the election — but in California and New Hampshire, places he lost and which, he falsely claimed, saw just enough fraud to deny him popular-vote victories.
Dec. 11, 2016: Relationship with Trump Organization. Before taking office, Trump was pressured to divest from his stakes in the Trump Organization. He pledged in a Fox News interview that he would no longer be involved in managing the company.
“My executives will run it with my children. It’s a big company. It’s a great company. But I’m going to have nothing to do with management.”
Because of the murkiness of Trump’s relationship with his company and the fact that it’s privately held, it’s not clear how stringent he has been in removing himself from managing it.
Feb. 16, 2017: WikiLeaks’ 2016 efforts. As the country learned more about the breadth of Russia’s efforts in 2016, Trump was prompted to make more-direct denials about what he had been involved with. That included denying involvement in WikiLeaks’ document dumps at a news conference.
“Now, when WikiLeaks, which I had nothing to do with, comes out and happens to give, they’re not giving classified information. They’re giving stuff — what was said at an office about Hillary cheating on the debates.”
According to Cohen, though, Trump was given some sort of heads up about upcoming WikiLeaks releases. The report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III suggests that the Trump campaign team welcomed the releases.
April 12, 2017: Slow confirmations. Shortly after taking office, Trump complained in an interview that Democrats were holding up his appointments.
“They’re obstructionists, so I have people, hundreds of people that were trying to get through. I mean you see the backlog, can’t get them through. And then the newspapers will say Trump doesn’t get them through. Well it’s nothing to do with me — statutorily you have to go through this process.”
This did have something to do with Trump, though. At times, he failed to send nominations to the Senate for confirmation. At others, he simply failed to nominate anyone at all.
April 30, 2017: Russian hacking. Trump told CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Russia’s efforts to steal information from Democrats wasn’t related to his campaign.
“I can tell you one thing. Had nothing to do with us. Had nothing to do with this, and everyone knows it. And by the way, even my enemies on your show said, ‘We haven’t found anything that the Trump campaign did wrong.’ ”
Mueller’s report indicates that Russia hacked the Democrats as part of its effort to influence the 2016 campaign in Trump’s direction, though there was not evidence that Trump’s team was involved in the hacking itself. (Mueller decided against charging anyone with aiding the distribution of the stolen material.)
Aug. 10, 2017: Russian efforts didn’t help Trump win. Trump, at a news conference in August 2017 (as well as at other times), denied that Russia played a role in his victory.
“I didn’t win because of Russia. Russia had nothing to do with me winning.”
There’s certainly reason to believe that the WikiLeaks dumps in particular had at least some influence on voting, if not a definitive one.
Nov. 5, 2017: Russian collusion. This, of course, is the granddaddy of Trump denials, made repeatedly during his administration, including in an interview in November 2017.
“Look, all I can say is that I have nothing to do with Russian collusion. Nothing whatsoever.”
The Mueller report didn’t conclude that Trump’s campaign didn’t collude with Russia.
“We did not address ‘collusion,’ which is not a legal term,” Mueller said during his congressional testimony in July. “Rather, we focused on whether the evidence was sufficient to charge any member of the campaign with taking part in a criminal conspiracy. It was not.”
April 21, 2018: New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman. Frustrated about a story, Trump claimed on Twitter that Haberman had no relationship with him.
“The New York Times and a third rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip.’ ”
By that point, Haberman had already reported on — and interviewed — Trump repeatedly. She’s also a member of the White House press pool.
April 26, 2018: Cohen’s business. When Cohen’s home and office were raided by investigators, Trump sought to distance himself from his then-attorney.
“I would say probably the big thing is his business and they’re looking at something having to do with his business. I have nothing to do with his business. I can tell you he’s a good guy.”
There’s no indication that Trump had any connection to Cohen’s side businesses in real estate or taxi cabs — but those were also not the only components of the charges he faced.
May 3, 2018: Cohen’s financial schemes. Among those charges were ones related to his payment of hush money to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. Trump distanced that effort from the campaign in a very formal tweet.
“Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a nondisclosure agreement, or NDA.”
Cohen and federal investigators, though, linked Cohen’s efforts to the campaign directly.
June 15, 2018: Paul Manafort’s alleged crimes. Manafort, who ran Trump’s campaign in the summer of 2016, was charged with various federal crimes by Mueller’s team. At a news conference, Trump distanced himself from Manafort, as he had from Cohen.
“I feel badly about a lot of them, because I think a lot of it is very unfair. I mean, I look at some of them where they go back 12 years. Like Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign.”
Trump’s here referring to Manafort’s alleged crimes, which were indeed separate from the campaign. Manafort had obvious ties to the campaign itself — and his actions on the campaign raised questions about Russia’s efforts that Mueller was ultimately unable to answer.
Aug. 28, 2018: Drop in soybean prices. In late August 2018, China responded to tariffs imposed by Trump by retaliating with tariffs on agricultural products. Trump claimed in an interview that this wasn’t a function of his actions.
“I’ve always said if you’d go from Election Day five years back, take soybeans. It’s dropped in half. That had nothing to do with me.”
There was a big drop in soybean prices from 2014 to 2018. But there was also a sharp drop from April to September 2018. Economists linked that drop to concern about Trump’s trade war.
Sept. 24, 2018: Puerto Rico being a “disaster.” Facing criticism for the government’s response after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, Trump told Geraldo Rivera that ongoing power problems on the island weren’t his fault.
“You know, the power plant and the power, as I said, was absolutely a disaster for many years. It has nothing to do with President Trump, by the way.”
It is true that the island’s power grid was unstable before the storm. That it took so long for power to be restored, though, is attributable at least in part to the government, of which Trump is the head.
Sept. 26, 2018: Women coming to Trump’s defense. After the New York Times ran a report criticizing Trump’s relationships with women at the Trump Organization, several then came forward to defend him. At a news conference, Trump denied encouraging them to do so.
“I knew them a long time ago. 15 years ago, 20 years ago. I said, that’s too bad. I’m surprised at them. And then all of a sudden, I see them on television. Nothing to do with me. The next day or day later, they were incensed. They said, Donald Trump is a nice guy.”
There has been no suggestion that Trump was involved in the women coming forward.
Oct. 16, 2018: Daniels. Speaking to the Associated Press, Trump denied having had any sort of relationship with Daniels.
“I had nothing to do with her. So she can lie and she can do whatever she wants to do.”
Daniels’s allegations were conveyed to a magazine in 2011. She and Trump were photographed together at the 2006 event where she says the interaction took place.
Nov. 20, 2018: Saudi business connections. After Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed, apparently murdered by Saudi Arabian agents, in Turkey, Trump denied financial ties to the kingdom.
“I don’t have money from Saudi Arabia. I have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia. I couldn’t care less.”
There were, however, a number of known ties between the kingdom and the Trump Organization. One Trump property cited a visit by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince as a reason that the business was profitable.
It’s worth noting that Trump’s defenses of the kingdom have included language similar to his defenses of himself.
“We do not like seeing what’s going on. Now, as you know, they’re saying we had nothing to do with it. But so far, everyone is saying they had nothing to do with it.”
June 23, 2019: Why Democrats won in 2018. After Democrats retook the House in the 2018 election, Trump claimed on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it was a function of health-care politicking and not his presidency.
“Nothing to do with me.”
There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the outcome of the midterms was, in fact, heavily a function of views on Trump.
July 5, 2019: Pence not going to New Hampshire. After the vice president suddenly canceled a planned trip to the state, rumors swirled. As Trump said to reporters:
“There was a very — a very interesting problem that they had in New Hampshire. And I can’t tell you about it. It was a very — but it had nothing to do with White House. There was a problem up there. And I won’t go into what the problem was, but you’ll see in about a week or two.”
It was not related to the White House. Pence had been slated to meet with a number of people, including someone who was soon after arrested on drug charges.
Aug. 7, 2019: El Paso shooting. The mass murder of nearly two dozen people at a Walmart in El Paso was allegedly carried out by a shooter who appears to have posted a short political document online before carrying out the act. In it, he echoed Trump’s rhetoric on immigration. Speaking to reporters, Trump denied a link.
“It had nothing to do with President Trump.”
That comment came immediately after he had tied a shooter in Dayton, Ohio, to two Democratic senators using very iffy links. Trump also responded to the shooting by suggesting new restrictions on immigration, something the shooter’s apparent screed had sought.
Aug. 20, 2019: Barring Congress members from going to Israel. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu initially barred two Democratic members of Congress from entering his country, Trump seemed to praise the move.
“I don’t blame Israel for doing what they did. I have nothing to do with it. But I don’t blame them for doing what they did.”
That decision came after this tweet from Trump.
It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2019
Aug. 30, 2019: Iran rocket-launch failure. An Iranian attempt to launch a rocket failed at the end of August, resulting in damage at the launch site. Speaking to reporters, Trump preemptively denied U.S. involvement.
“They had a mishap. It’s unfortunate. And so, Iran, as you probably know, they were going to set off a big missile, and it didn’t work out too well. It had nothing to do with us.”
It’s hard to evaluate that claim. We do know, however, that the United States has targeted Iran surreptitiously under Trump — and that it was watching that particular launch quite closely.