At a White House event last Wednesday, Donald Trump ranted for quite a while about the Mueller report, making a long series of claims, each of which were demonstrably wrong. Purely as a matter of political theatrics, it was almost impressive to see a sitting president lie so much, so quickly, about something of great significance.
Referring to the special counsel’s findings, Trump argued, “It said, ‘No collusion and no obstruction and no nothing.’ And, in fact, it said we actually rebuffed your friends from Russia; that we actually pushed them back – we rebuffed them.” The Republican went on to make similarly false claims about his disclosures, his transparency, and federal investigators.
Listening to the tirade, it became clear that the president had simply decided to replace our reality with an alternative version that better suited his purposes. It served as a reminder that Trump had drawn firm conclusions about the Mueller report despite not having read it.
And yet, the president sat down with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos the same day and insisted he had read the Mueller report.
In context, the anchor, speaking with Trump inside the presidential limousine, asked the Republican about his “pitch to the swing voter on the fence.” Trump quickly turned to the Mueller report, his “no collusion” claim, and his perception that voters “are angry about it.” Stephanopoulos began to correct him, but said the two could discuss it in more detail later.
But the president pressed on, again insisting that the special counsel’s findings concluded “no collusion,” and “they didn’t find anything having to do with obstruction.” The ABC host explained, “They didn’t examine collusion. He laid out evidence of obstruction.”
This exchange soon followed:
TRUMP: He said no collusion.
STEPHANOPOULOS: He said he didn’t look at collusion.
TRUMP: George, the report said no collusion.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Did you read the report?
TRUMP: Uh, yes I did, and you should read it, too.
STEPHANOPOULOS: I read every word.
TRUMP: Alright, let’s go. You should read it, too, George.
At that point, the president decided it was time to leave the car.
As Trump’s whoppers go, there’s no way to say definitely whether he read the report or not. Only the president knows for sure whether he took the time to go through the entire document.
But I’m going to go out on a limb and say there is absolutely no way Trump actually read the thing.
It’s a safe bet in large part because Trump doesn’t read much of anything. As a candidate, he conceded that he doesn’t like to read because he doesn’t think he has to. As a president, the Republican can’t even be bothered to read his daily presidential intelligence briefing.
Some aides have found that “even a single page of bullet points” is too taxing for Trump’s limited attention span. A Trump confidant said a couple of years ago, “I call the president the two-minute man. The president has patience for a half-page.”
The Mueller report is 448 pages.
Other aides have found that the only way to get Trump to pay attention to a report is to include “lots of graphics and maps.” The Mueller report has neither.
But for the sake of conversation, let’s give the president the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say Trump pried himself away from his television for a few hours, sat down, and read every word of every page of the Mueller report. That’s what he told George Stephanopoulos, so let’s imagine the fanciful hypothetical in which he told the truth.
The question then becomes something altogether different: if Trump read the whole document, why does he keep making specific claims about its contents that are plainly false?