In Russia scandal, Trump tries to separate himself from own team

It's been a while since Donald Trump shared his thoughts on the Russia scandal in any real detail, so it was interesting to see the president discuss his perspective with reporters on Air Force One late last week.

"Now, they've practically found that there is no collusion."

I'm not sure what Trump thinks "practically" means. It's also unclear who "they" are. Regardless, there have been no such findings by any independent entity.

"They've given up -- everybody has given up on collusion."

No one has given up on investigating possible cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russian government during Moscow's attack on our elections. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is ongoing.

"I didn't meet with Russians because I love the United States."

Hmm. By that reasoning, are we to believe that those who did meet with Russians don't love the United States? Because I seem to recall a certain meeting in Trump Tower involving Trump's son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman in which they welcomed Russian assistance in the 2016 race.

"There was no talking to Russia."

There were actually all kinds of communications between people close to Trump and Russia.

"There was no phone calls."

Grammatical concerns aside, there was apparently a 2016 call between Donald Trump Jr. and Russian developer Emin Agalarov.

"I didn't make phone calls to Russia. I didn't receive phone calls. I didn't have meetings. I didn't have texts. Anything. I have nothing to do with Russia."

And that's the rhetoric that stood out for me as especially notable.

Most of Trump's rhetoric on Friday about the Russia scandal wasn't specifically about him as an individual. When the president said, "There was no talking to Russia," and "There was no phone calls," he seemed to be referring to his political operation during the campaign.

But then he switched gears. He didn't have calls. He didn't have meetings. He didn't receive texts.

There was a point in May 2017 at which Trump seemed to be putting some distance between himself and his campaign team, suggesting that he sees himself as innocent, his operation's actions notwithstanding.

His latest comments suggest the every-man-for-himself posture, in which people close to the president are casually thrown under the bus, has returned.

As for Trump's assurances about having "nothing to do with Russia," let's not forget that during his campaign, a top executive from the Trump Organization emailed Vladimir Putin's spokesman "to ask for help advancing a stalled Trump Tower development project in Moscow." The financing for the deal was supposed to come by way of a bank owned and controlled by Putin's government in Russia.

And as regular readers may recall, this wasn't a situation in which a Trump lieutenant tackled a business venture on his own: as the Washington Post  reported last year, Michael Cohen "said that he discussed the deal three times with Trump and that Trump signed a letter of intent with the company on Oct. 28, 2015." That's several months after Trump launched his campaign. (He even participated in a primary debate that evening.)

This is the same business deal -- which ultimately did not happen -- that Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate developer and Trump associate, also tried to help close, saying in an email at the time that completing the agreement could help put Trump in the White House.

Something to keep in mind as the president insists he has "nothing to do with Russia."