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The contradiction on Russia that Trump just can't explain

The funny thing is, the line Donald Trump peddled yesterday about his dealings with Russia could've been his line all along -- but it wasn't.
Image: APEC Summit 2017 in Vietnam
US President Donald J. Trump (R) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin talk during a family photo session at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)...

NBC News put together a good video today, highlighting multiple instances in which Donald Trump insisted, publicly and repeatedly, that he had "nothing to do with" Russia and had "no deals" in the country. It's contrasted with the president's claim yesterday that "everybody knew about" the Trump Tower Moscow project he pursued, even during his 2016 candidacy.

Those two arguments are plainly in conflict. In fact, for months, whenever Trump would insist he's had "no dealings" with Russia, I wrote over and over and over again that this was, at a minimum, wildly misleading.

In some instances, if we're overly generous about past vs present tense, we could make the case that some of Trump's rhetoric wasn't entirely false, but consider the language he used in a pre-inaugural press conference last year:

"I tweeted out that I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we've stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia... I thought that was important to put out. I certified that. So I have no deals, I have no loans and I have no dealings. We could make deals in Russia very easily if we wanted to, I just don't want to because I think that would be a conflict. So I have no loans, no dealings, and no current pending deals."

The assertion that Trump deliberately "stayed away" from possible deals with Russia was plainly untrue. He said it anyway and asked Americans to believe it.

That is, until yesterday, when the president effectively declared that his previous rhetoric came with an asterisk that only he could see. He "stayed away" from possible deals with Russia except for the one he and top members of his inner circle worked on for months -- which, according to Trump, as of yesterday, "everybody knew about," in part because he "talked about it on the campaign trail."

Except, everyone didn't know about it and he didn't discuss it on the campaign trail. On the contrary, Trump World did its best to keep it under wraps, up to and including lying about it, in the case of Michael Cohen.

Aaron Rupar added this morning, "One question Trump has not yet answered ... is why, if his dealings with Russia were 'very legal & very cool,' he and other Trump Organization officials spent more than two years trying to keep them quiet."

Quite right. The funny thing is, the line Trump peddled yesterday could've been his line all along. The president could've declared months ago that he pursued a possible project in Moscow, in part because he wasn't sure if he'd win his 2016 race and didn't want to close the door on a lucrative possibility, but the deal didn't come together. No muss, no fuss. No harm, no foul.

But Trump didn't say this until his former personal attorney pleaded guilty to lying to Congress. I wonder why.

* Postscript: The Washington Post had a good analysis piece today on the familiarity of this dynamic: "We've seen this pattern repeatedly with Trump: An allegation. A denial or cover-up. New evidence. Rationalization."