Trump tries new defense for ‘I would like you to do us a favor, though’

It was September when the White House first released a call summary of Donald Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Last night on Twitter, the Republican came up with a brand new defense:

“When I said, in my phone call to the President of Ukraine, ‘I would like you to do US a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.’ With the word ‘us’ I am referring to the United States, our Country.

“I then went on to say that ‘I would like to have the Attorney General (of the United States) call you or your people…..’ This, based on what I have seen, is their big point - and it is no point at a all (except for a big win for me!). The Democrats should apologize to the American people!”

If we lower the bar for merit to embarrassing levels, one could generously make the argument that the president’s tweets are a refreshing change of pace. This is, in a way, Trump’s way of trying to address the substance of part of the scandal – and given that he usually avoids engaging in this sort of exploration, I was glad to see him at least make an effort.

The problem, of course, is that it’s a failed effort.

According to the White House’s own call summary, the Ukrainian president brought up the possibility of purchasing additional U.S. military equipment, which Trump responded to by asking Zelensky to “do us a favor, though.” The Republican now wants people to believe “us” referred to the United States’ interests, not Trump’s interests.

Unfortunately, that’s ridiculous. Immediately after bringing up the “favor,” Trump turned his attention to the crackpot conspiracy theory about CrowdStrike and Ukraine possibly having a DNC server. He soon after added, “The other thing, there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”

Throughout this part of the conversation, Trump referenced Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General Bill Barr as individuals the Ukrainian was supposed to speak to.

Is anyone seriously going to believe Trump was seeking favors for the United States, completely unrelated to his personal political interests and 2020 re-election bid? Especially as he held up military aid to Kyiv and Team Trump made related political demands? As if digging up dirt on Joe Biden is a legitimate American priority?

The broader concern with the American president’s latest tweets is the idea that in his mind, the United States’ interests are indistinguishable from Donald Trump’s interests. He’s dabbled in the politics of “L’Etat, c’est moi” (“I am the state”) before, and it’s hard not to wonder if Trump is doing so again.