Last September, Donald Trump sat down with a far-right website and peddled a new reason to question Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s credibility. “I could give you 100 pictures of him and [former FBI Director James] Comey hugging and kissing each other,” the president said.
It prompted BuzzFeed to submit a records request with the FBI. The Bureau concluded it had “no pictures of Mueller and Comey embracing each other. None.”
Nevertheless, this remains on the president’s mind. A reporter asked Trump yesterday whether he intends to allow the special counsel to testify to Congress, and as part of the president’s 665-word answer, we were treated to this gem:
“…Bob Mueller is no friend of mine. I had conflicts with him. We had a business dispute. We had somebody that is in love with James Comey. He liked James Comey. They were very good friends; supposedly, best friends. Maybe not, but supposedly, best friends. You look at the picture file and you see hundreds of pictures of him and Comey.”
Let’s quickly run through some of the more obvious factual errors. Trump did not have actual “conflicts” with Mueller, and there was no meaningful “business dispute.” What’s more, as the Associated Press has reported, “Though James Comey succeeded Mueller as FBI director, and though they served together in the Bush administration, the men are not known to be social friends. There is certainly no evidence, as Trump has repeatedly suggested, that they are ‘best friends.’”
There’s even less evidence of the two former FBI directors being “in love” with one another.
Meanwhile, I’m not at all sure what a “picture file” is, or why Trump has been preoccupied for months with photographs ostensibly featuring both Comey and Mueller. It’s not even clear what it would prove if some kind of connections between the two men were documented. (Trump is convinced that Comey is a nefarious criminal, but that isn’t true, either.)
But the broader significance of this goes well beyond the president’s weird whining. What matters more is the fact that the White House still can’t quite figure out what to say about Mueller’s findings.
Indeed, yesterday’s presidential tirade made the transition from talk of “picture files” to related complaints – each of which are demonstrably false – about the Mueller probe and the federal investigators involved with uncovering the truth.
I wasn’t in the room, but the question that kept coming to mind watching Trump go on and on was, “Aren’t you the guy who told us the Mueller report ‘totally exonerated’ you?”
The president can’t seem to make up his mind. He believes Mueller acted “honorably” when performing his duties and produced a report that “could not have been better” for the White House. He also believes Mueller was burdened by unforgivable conflicts of interest, oversaw an illegal probe, and was even photographed with that rascally Jim Comey, which is obviously proof of … something.
Unsure which of these competing lines is the most politically effective, Trump ends up pushing both, indifferent to the contradiction.