Yesterday, Donald Trump responded publicly for the first time to the scandal surrounding the intelligence community whistleblower, and the president’s first attempt at pushback was hardly persuasive.
In a pair of tweets, the Republican made the case that he’s simply too clever to “say something inappropriate” with foreign officials when people might be listening, which was a problematic response for a variety of reasons, including ample evidence that he’s already been caught saying inappropriate things to foreign officials.
This morning, again via Twitter, Trump tried again:
“They think I may have had a ‘dicey’ conversation with a certain foreign leader based on a ‘highly partisan’ whistleblowers statement. Strange that with so many other people hearing or knowing of the perfectly fine and respectful conversation, that they would not have also come forward. Do you know the reason why they did not? Because there was nothing said wrong, it was pitch perfect!”
Putting grammatical concerns aside, this doesn’t work as a credible defense, either. For one thing, there’s no evidence the whistleblower is “highly partisan,” and in theory, Trump shouldn’t know who the person who filed the complaint even is.
For another, the president seems unaware of how difficult it is for someone within the intelligence community to put his or her career on the line, facing the very real possibility of White House reprisals, and call out alleged presidential wrongdoing through proper and legal channels.
To hear Trump tell it, if he’d truly crossed any lines, others would’ve also gone to the intelligence community’s inspector general. Reality isn’t nearly that simple: a limited number of people were aware of the conversation – or conversations – in which the president may have gone too far. How many of them are prepared to be lose their jobs? Or be targeted by a White House with an unfortunate reputation for targeting critics?
For that matter, while we’re aware of one whistleblower, we don’t know for sure whether others also spoke to the inspector general about the incident(s).
In the Oval Office this morning, sitting alongside Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Trump went a little further.
The Republican again repeated the claim that the whistleblower is “partisan,” before adding that it “doesn’t matter” what he discussed with the Ukrainian president. Trump went on to say he doesn’t know the identity of the whistleblower, but he “hears” that it’s a “partisan person.”
In apparent reference to the whistleblower’s complaint, which he said he hasn’t read, the president added, “Everybody’s read it; they laughed at it.”
The comments lead to some straightforward questions:
* If Trump doesn’t who the whistleblower is, how does he know the person is “highly partisan”? From whom did he “hear” this?
* If “everybody” has read the whistleblower’s complaint, and people “laugh” at it, why is the administration ignoring the law and hiding it from Congress? Why not just disclose it and move on?
* If Trump’s conversation with Ukraine’s president was, as Trump put it this morning, “beautiful” and appropriate, why not release a transcript and resolve the scandal?
Finally, the American president may be of the opinion that “it doesn’t matter” what he discussed with Ukraine, but he’s mistaken. If Trump, for example, tried to pressure a foreign government to interfere in an American election in order to help keep Trump in power, that’s an outrageous abuse – and very likely the sort of act that falls under the rubric of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
This scandal is now a week old. It should probably worry the White House’s allies that the president still doesn’t know how to respond to it coherently.