Throughout his first year as president, Donald Trump didn’t just obsess over the intensifying Russia scandal, he was also preoccupied with whether he was personally under investigation. Last fall, the Republican declared, “As far as I’m concerned, I haven’t been told that we’re under investigation, I’m not under investigation.”
The curious phrasing notwithstanding – as far as Trump is “concerned,” all kinds of fictional claims may seem true – the rhetoric slowly faded from the president’s talking points. Yesterday, in an impromptu interview with the Wall Street Journal, the claim made a comeback.
Mr. Trump said the Russia probe is unwarranted. “Of course they say it’s not an investigation. You know, in theory I’m not under investigation…I’m not a target. But regardless, I think that whole – I call it ‘the rigged witch hunt,’ is a sham.”
I haven’t yet seen a full transcript, and context can often change the meaning of quotes, but I’ll confess to being confused by Trump’s apparent assertion that “they say it’s not an investigation.” Who are “they”? Why would anyone deny the fact that the investigation into the Russia scandal is an investigation?
But it was the next line that really stood out: “You know, in theory I’m not under investigation.” I suppose, at some level, there may be some truth to that – because in theory, all sorts of things that aren’t true could conceivably be true.
In theory, Trump is wildly popular. In theory, he won the popular vote. In theory, Russia didn’t attack our elections in the hopes of putting Trump in power. In theory, the president hasn’t been caught lying thousands of times.
But what the president considers theoretically true is far less interesting than what’s actually true.
And in reality, Trump is, in fact, the subject on an ongoing federal investigation. The president’s legal defense team is well aware of this, and the public has known this fact since April.
In fairness, as far as we know, Trump isn’t a target of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, and as we discussed months ago, the distinction between the subject of an investigation and the target of an investigation is important. If Trump were a target, it would suggest federal investigators are moving forward with plans to indict him.
But none of this means that Trump is some bystander, watching a scandal unfold around him with the benefit of detached innocence. If that were the case, the president’s lawyers probably wouldn’t be concerned about Trump answering the special counsel’s questions.
Whether the president likes it or not, he’s currently under investigation. Theories about what might conceivably be true are trumped by what is true.