“False stories are being reported that a few Republican Senators are saying that President Trump may have done a quid pro quo,” Trump tweeted — and his house retweeted — on Sunday, “but it doesn’t matter, there is nothing wrong with that, it is not an impeachable event. Perhaps so, but read the transcript, there is no quid pro quo!”
Trump was referring to a Friday report from The Washington Post, which, you may recall, he claimed to have booted from the White House. It’s a 280-character roller coaster that dismisses the idea that a quid pro quo is impeachable and then summarily dismisses the idea that there was any quid pro quo in his interactions with Ukraine. A slew of people who work or worked for his administration seem to disagree, but, for our purposes, that’s beside the point.
The point is the next tweet that the White House retweeted on Monday morning.
Remember how, late one night in 2017, Trump tweeted, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe”? He’d obviously meant to type “coverage,” but, like his more recent insistence that a hurricane really was going to strike Alabama, he refused to admit the mistake. Then-press secretary Sean Spicer got a head start on his fancy footwork by telling reporters with a straight face that the tweet was somehow intentional.
“I think the president and a small group of people know exactly what he meant,” Spicer said, earning low marks from the judges.
This was obvious nonsense, so obvious that Trump himself seems to have been in on the joke. But for Trump, the point is never so much accuracy as loyalty, and “covfefe” is a decent proxy for someone’s willingness to accept his word without skepticism.
It’s just a weird thing to revive right now, as Trump is trying to wave away very real questions about his behavior as president. The White House (literally, on Twitter) is asking us to believe both that Trump’s claims about quid pro quo are accurate and that, perhaps, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe” had some secret, deep meaning that has never been identified. Even if Trump’s “covfefe” tweet on Monday is just a joke, it’s a weird way to contextualize the very real and very serious questions about his interactions with Ukraine.
A bit earlier Sunday, Trump attempted the same balancing act while speaking to reporters outside the White House.
Asked whether he’d like to know more about the whistleblower who first drew attention to Ukraine, he began with disparagement.
“Well, the whistleblower gave a very inaccurate report,” Trump said. “And, as you know, certain of the media released information about a man that they said was the whistleblower; I don’t know if that’s true or not. But what they said is he’s an Obama person.”
The transition from “I don’t know if it’s true or not” into “what they said was” is perhaps the most representative train of thought of the Trump presidency. But what’s more important here is Trump’s claim that the whistleblower’s report was “inaccurate.”
Not only is that demonstrably untrue — the whistleblower’s major assertions have been verified both in the abstract and in most details — but it’s also irrelevant. A number of witnesses have stepped forward to provide information about Trump’s attempts to get Ukraine to announce politically useful investigations after having blocked aid to the country. Trump wants people to focus on the guy who called 911, not what the police found at the scene. If he gets you to believe that the whistleblower is the most important part of the story, he can then claim that the whistleblower report was just unfair bias.
“The whistleblower gave a false report,” Trump added later. “And because of that false report, people thought bad things were done. And then you had [House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B.] Schiff go out and speak before Congress and before the American people, and give a false story. He made up a story. And then I released after — after all this was done, I released, and everybody said, ‘He didn’t do anything wrong.’ ”
This is also untrue, but in a different way.
Last month, Trump started reversing the order of events related to the whistleblower — events that had occurred about two weeks prior. In reality, he released a rough transcript of his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which Schiff (D-Calif.) then paraphrased during a congressional hearing. Trump’s new claim is that Schiff offered his version first and that Trump savvily caught him in a lie.
That’s what he did on Sunday: “He made up a story. And then I released after — after all this was done, I released.”
The rationale for reversing those things is clear. Trump’s false ordering would, first, provide a rationale for releasing the rough transcript and, second, expose Schiff as a liar. But that’s obviously not what happened.
Again, though, remember what Trump’s trying to do: convince the world of what happened in his interactions with Ukraine. He’s again trying to establish a particular way of considering recent events that casts him in a favorable light, as with his tweet about Republicans and quid pro quo and as with “covfefe.”
That latter juxtaposition of arguments — nuanced claim contrasted with one that’s obviously not — is also mirrored in Trump’s comments to reporters outside the White House. The nuanced claim was about the whistleblower. The obviously untrue one was about polling.
A reporter noted that more people want Trump to be impeached and removed from office than don't, something reflected in polls from nearly every major pollster.
“Well, you’re reading the wrong polls. You’re reading the wrong polls,” Trump claimed. He added, “Let me just tell you, I have the real polls. I have the real polls. The CNN polls are fake. The Fox polls have always been lousy. I tell them they ought to get themselves a new pollster.”
At times, Trump has hailed both CNN’s and Fox News’s polls — when they said things he liked. The results of their surveys (and one from The Post and ABC News last week) are consistent: About half of the country wants to see him removed from office.
What Trump asks people to believe, though, is that these reliable polls are wrong. That there exist secret polls, polls he has in his back pocket, that show him doing particularly well. That he has exculpatory information that he could show us but has decided not to, a decision at odds with basically every other decision Trump has made as president. Maybe these polls are like the “just released” polls showing him with 95 percent approval from Republicans, polls that are similarly evanescent.
There are no small dishonesties in Trump’s world. It’s all part of the same universe. The only reality is the one Trump is offering as he speaks or as he tweets, and even that is subject to later amendment or revision. Defenses on quid pro quo are as valid as gaslighting about covfefe. His assertions about the bias of the whistleblower are equivalent to his claim that he is in possession of the “real polls.”
Trump truth is the truth. Truth, when inconvenient, is not.