It wasn't long after Steve Bannon's criminal indictment that Donald Trump fielded some reporters' questions in the Oval Office. Not surprisingly, the president was asked for his reaction, and while Trump didn't literally say, "Steve, who?" he came close.
"I haven't been dealing with him for a long period of time, as most of the people in this room know. He was involved in our campaign. He worked for Goldman Sachs. He worked for a lot of companies. But he was involved, likewise, in our campaign, and for a small part of the administration, very early on. I haven't been dealing with him at all.... [A]gain, Steve has had a great career at Goldman Sachs. He's had a career with a lot of other people. I haven't dealt with him at all, over years now -- literally, years."
Note, for some reason, he twice referenced Goldman Sachs, a popular source for members of Team Trump.
To the extent that reality matters, Bannon played a key role in Trump's campaign, Trump's transition team, and Trump's White House. He also, among other things, reportedly helped write the president's inaugural address.
And while it's true that Bannon is no longer part of the West Wing team, when Trump needed to find a reliable conservative to help move Voice of America to the right, the president turned to Michael Pack -- perhaps best known as a close Bannon ally.
What I find funny, however, is the frequency with which Trump pretends not to know his friends the moment they run into trouble. Late last year, for example, the president described U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland -- part of "a small cadre of ambassadors who enjoy direct and frequent access to Trump" -- as "a really good man" and a "great American."
Soon after, when Sondland got caught up in the Ukraine scandal that led to the president's impeachment, Trump said, "Let me just tell you, I hardly know the gentleman."
A month earlier, Trump said he didn't know Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas after their arrests, despite his previous interactions with them.
Indeed, it's quite a club. As regular readers may recall, after his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was indicted, the president argued, in reference to the former vice president of the Trump Organization, "Michael Cohen was a PR person who did small legal work, very small legal work."
Around the same time, in the wake of Jamal Khashoggi's murder, Trump reportedly told associates he "barely knows" Mohammed bin Salman.
When Paul Manafort was indicted, for example, Trump's former campaign chairman became some random staffer "who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time."
When White House National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign in disgrace, Team Trump decided he was "a former Obama administration official" who did some "volunteer" work for the president.
Carter Page was described as someone Trump "does not know." George Papadopoulos was dismissed as a "coffee boy." Trump World even tried to downplay its association with Cambridge Analytica, the Trump campaign's data firm.
No one outside the White House ever takes this rhetoric seriously, but it's obviously on the first page of Trump's playbook, unveiled even when everyone knows it's laughable.