On Sunday afternoon, after Attorney General Bill Barr released his summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, Donald Trump and his team were thrilled. Soon after, however, someone close to the president raised the prospect of the Republican being a little too pleased.
One White House correspondent spoke to a Trump adviser who noted the president’s tendency to screw things up for himself when confronted with good news. There was a real possibility, the adviser said, of Trump “overreach.”
With this in mind, the president traveled to Capitol Hill yesterday to speak with Senate Republicans, and Trump chatted briefly with reporters before the private meeting. One started to ask the president about the Barr letter, when Trump interrupted.
“The Mueller report was great,” he said, referring to a document he has not read. “It could not have been better. It said, ‘No obstruction. No collusion.’”
As best as we can tell, he was lying. We may not know much about Mueller’s findings – we’re relying on characterizations from Trump’s handpicked attorney general – but we know this presidential description of the unseen report is wrong.
But that wasn’t the only exchange of note.
Q: Mr. President, you’re accusing the people who launched the investigation into your campaign of treasonous acts. How high up do you think it went?
TRUMP: I think it went very high up. I think what happened is a disgrace. I don’t believe our country should allow this ever to happen again. This will never happen again. We cannot let it ever happen again. It went very high up, and it started fairly low, but with instructions from the high up. This should never happen to a President again. We can’t allow that to take place.
Q: Mr. President, do you think it reached the West Wing of the Obama White House?
TRUMP: I don’t want to say that, but I think you know the answer.
And to think people close to the president were concerned about “overreach.”
We’re only a few days removed from the release of Barr’s controversial memo, and the Trump White House clearly received the headlines it was desperate to see. Whether those headlines accurately captured Mueller’s findings remains a point of contention, and the full picture probably won’t come into sharp focus until the special counsel’s report is released – if it’s ever released.
But over the course of these few days, we’ve already seen Trump lie about the report he has not read. We’ve seen him peddle an anti-Obama conspiracy theory. We’ve seen his White House peddle other discredited conspiracy theories. We’ve seen his campaign lash out at Democratic “false claims” that were not actually false. We’ve seen Trump call for retribution against his perceived enemies. We’ve seen the White House seek the resignation of a House committee chairman who’s done nothing wrong.
On the policy front, we’ve seen the emboldened president take new steps to strip tens of millions of Americans of their health care coverage. We’ve also seen the Trump administration begin to redirect funds away from the military, in defiance of Congress, in pursuit of a pointless and unpopular “wall.”
Keep in mind, all of this unfolded within 48 hours of the release of a dubious memo from a controversial attorney general. The “overreach” stage has begun, and it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.