“Where is the collusion?”
“You know, they’re still looking for collusion!”
“Where is the collusion?”
“Find some collusion.”
“We want to find the collusion.”
These were the words of the 45th president of the United States of America on the night of Aug. 21 as he prodded an obeisant West Virginia crowd into howls of adoration. Of course, “There is No Collusion” is one of Donald Trump’s greatest hits, always played right beside “Fake News” and “Hillary’s Emails.” Going to a Trump rally without the president denying Russian collusion would be akin to seeing Dexys Midnight Runners and the band forgetting to play “Come On Eileen.”
Trump’s collusion is now beside the point
Last week’s denial was particularly jarring as it came mere hours after Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to a slate of crimes that include tax evasion, bank fraud and illegal campaign contributions. During his hearing, Cohen admitted he made six-figure payments to women to buy their silence in advance of the 2016 election, and he said Trump ordered him to break the law by circumventing the campaign-finance reporting system to make the payments. The same afternoon, Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was found guilty on eight felony tax and bank fraud charges.
Yet amid all this turmoil, Trump looks straight ahead and denies collusion, a charge that is darn near ancillary at this point.
It makes sense that Trump would deny colluding with the Russian government in exchange for information damaging to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. In order to charge him, special counsel Robert Mueller would have to prove Trump knew some very specific things surrounding a meeting between Trump surrogates and Russian representatives that took place in Trump Tower before the election.
Exactly what Trump knew about this meeting and when he knew it remains somewhat cryptic, but there is no shortage of other information to provide clear evidence that Trump is unfit for office. Exhibit A: Virtually everything out of Trump’s mouth in front of microphones since he took the job.
There was Trump lying about not having a hand in Donald Trump Jr.’s statement to the news media after the Trump Tower meeting was uncovered. There was Trump lying when he said he had no knowledge of Cohen’s payments to porn start Stormy Daniels. There was Trump bullying and harassing law enforcement officials to get them to stop investigating him and taking to Twitter to undermine the veracity of the investigation altogether.
And finally, there was the president of the United States standing behind a podium taking the word of brutal Russian dictator Vladimir Putin over the word of U.S. intelligence that found Russia had meddled in the 2016 election. At that point, 12 Russian agents had been indicted on charges of meddling, and yet Trump still groveled at Putin’s feet, claiming Mueller’s “witch hunt” was straining U.S.-Russia relations. This is like blaming your scale for making you fat.
What is clear is Trump’s poor character
Perhaps the irony of it all is that Trump has some facts on his side when he argues he didn’t collude with Russia. It would be an extremely difficult charge to prove, and given his behavior as president, no one in America would believe he has the discipline or attention span to carry out such a complicated conspiracy. And yet it is his behavior since the investigations began that has lent more and more credence to his possible guilt.
Pre-eminent among his transgressions is his uncontrollable compulsion to lie about everything. As the “truth isn’t truth” president (a term coined by his current attorney, Rudy Giuliani), Trump simply constructs his own reality and hopes it takes everyone else too long to catch up. If he is telling the truth when he denies collusion, he would simply be offering a small stream of truth in a swimming pool of presidential mendacity.
“In what way has the president set a high example?” said Mark Twain about Theodore Roosevelt, whom he reviled as a liar. “Is it a high example for a president of the United States to keep his word? Is keeping one’s word such a very extraordinary thing, when the person achieving the feat is the first citizen of a civilized nation?”
Perhaps Trump is telling the truth and he didn’t strike some deal with the Russians, but he deserves zero credit for the appallingly low example he has set in the wake of the allegations. In the end, the real scandal isn’t collusion. It is Donald Trump himself.