During a brief Oval Office Q&A with reporters on Friday, one journalist asked Donald Trump if he’s spoken at all with Attorney General Bill Barr about the possible release of a report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. “No, I have not,” the president replied. “No.”
Asked if he expects to speak with Barr about this, Trump expounded a bit.
“At some point, I guess I’ll be talking about it. But you know the nice part? There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no anything. So that’s the nice part. There was no phone calls, no nothing. We have a – I won a race. You know why I won the race? Because I was a better candidate than she was. And it had nothing to do with Russia, and everybody knows it’s a hoax. It’s one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on this country.
“So I look forward to seeing the report. If it’s an honest report, it will say that. If it’s not an honest report, it won’t.”
There’s probably no point in going point by point, pointing to the evidence of cooperation between Team Trump and our Russian attackers, the evidence of presidential obstruction, and the simple fact that if the Republican were such a terrific candidate, he probably should’ve won more votes than his rival.
But what stood out for me was this “There was no phone calls, no nothing.”
Grammatically, of course, the president’s argument was a mess, but putting that aside, does he really expect people to believe there were no phone calls between Trump’s operation and Russia during Moscow’s attack to put Trump in power?
Because as the New York Times recently noted, we already know about phone calls that happened.
During the 2016 presidential campaign and transition, Donald J. Trump and at least 17 campaign officials and advisers had contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, a New York Times analysis has found. At least 10 other associates were told about interactions but did not have any themselves.
Knowledge of these interactions is based on New York Times reporting, documents submitted to Congress, and court records and accusations related to the special counsel investigating foreign interference in the election.
Among these contacts are more than 100 in-person meetings, phone calls, text messages, emails and private messages on Twitter.
I’ve long considered this one of the foundational elements of the Russia scandal: Trump and his team initially insisted that there no communications whatsoever between the Republican campaign and Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign. Confronted with evidence to the contrary, Trump and his closest associates, at least for a while, continued to insist that the interactions simply never occurred.
As regular readers may recall, there were plenty of denials, all of which have been proven false:
* At a pre-inaugural press conference, Donald Trump himself said no one from his team was in contact with Russians during the campaign.
* Kellyanne Conway, asked about the possibility of communications between the Republican campaign and Russians, said, “Absolutely not.” She added the conversations “never happened” and any suggestions to the contrary “undermine our democracy.”
* On the same issue, Hope Hicks said, “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”
* Sarah Huckabee Sanders added, “This is a non-story because, to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place.”
* Reince Priebus said last year, “Of course, we didn’t interface with the Russians.”
What’s more, as regular readers may recall, there’s ample reason to believe various officials in the Trump campaign knew about the Russian contacts, even while the president and his team denied that the communications were happening.
And yet there was the president on Friday, 28 months after the election, still making the case that there were “no phone calls, no nothing.”
Does Trump not realize that we already know this isn’t true?