Donald Trump likes talking points that are clean, simple, and easy-to-remember. In this White House, nuances and ambiguities are for losers. When communicating an idea to the public, this president wants short phrases that fit comfortably on a bumper sticker – or lend themselves to Twitter hashtags.
It’s why, in recent weeks, Donald Trump and his team have responded to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings by saying, “No collusion, no obstruction,” ad nauseum. Those who’ve actually read the Mueller report know better, but their summary of the facts takes more than four words.
Sure, Trump’s phrase is wildly dishonest, and paints a deliberately deceptive picture for the public, but it’s simple and exculpatory, and for this president, little else matters.
All of which made it a little surprising yesterday when the Republican added a qualifier to the phrase for the first time yesterday. Asked at a White House event whether he intends to let Mueller testify to Congress, Trump responded with a long, rambling 665-word answer, which included a line he hadn’t previously used.
“I have presidential privilege. I could’ve stopped everything. I didn’t have to give them a document. I gave them 1.5 million documents. I gave them White House Counsel. I gave them other lawyers. Anybody you want, you can talk to.
“At the end of the testimony: no collusion and, essentially, no obstruction.”
Wait, what was that about essentially no obstruction?
Of all of Trump’s claims about the special counsel’s findings, the idea that he was cleared of obstruction allegations is the most ridiculous. What Mueller and his team documented, in great detail, was evidence of the president meeting the statutory threshold for criminal obstruction on multiple occasions.
According to over 800 former prosecutors, from Democratic and Republican administrations, if Trump weren’t president, the Mueller report shows that he would’ve been indicted.
Every time Republicans say, “No obstruction,” they’re peddling nonsense.
And yesterday, Trump himself tipped his hand, ever so slightly, letting us know that even he realizes that one of his favorite talking points is a sham.
I’m trying to imagine how a qualifier like this one might’ve worked in other White House scandals from recent memory. What if Bill Clinton had said he “essentially” didn’t have sexual relations with an intern? What if Ronald Reagan had said his administration “essentially” didn’t trade arms for hostages?