Three weeks ago President Trump sent the following two tweets:
The real story is that President Obama did NOTHING after being informed in August about Russian meddling. With 4 months looking at Russia...— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 26, 2017
..under a magnifying glass, they have zero "tapes" of T people colluding. There is no collusion & no obstruction. I should be given apology!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 26, 2017
It was a telling example of the astonishing narcissism of our president. Everything is about him and his fragile ego: the country be damned.
Indeed, if anyone deserves an apology it is the American people — from Donald Trump. And not just for the incessant lying about his campaign staff’s contact with Russian officials intent on disrupting the 2016 presidential election, but also for peddling such obvious, self-refuting nonsense about those contacts.
This week in Paris, Trump answered a reporter’s question for the first time since the New York Times revealed Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian attorney peddling dirt on Hillary Clinton. He said the meeting was one that “everybody” in politics would have held. That’s consistent with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus’s statement last week that the sit-down was a “nothing burger.”
If that’s true, why didn’t the White House reveal the meeting months ago?
Why did Donald Trump Jr. go on television six weeks after the June 2016 meeting and say that allegations of Russian support for Trump’s campaign were “phony” and “disgusting”?
Why did Trump Jr. and Trump’s top aide and son-in-law, Jared Kushner (who also attended the meeting), let the president and White House aides consistently deny that there had been any contact between Russian intelligence and the Trump campaign when they knew it wasn’t true?
And why would the Trump campaign and now the Trump administration spend the last year lying about an issue that they now claim is no big deal? Why subject the president to a constant drumbeat of Russia collusion stories if they could have just cleared things up months ago?
If one wants to be both charitable and naïve, one could argue that the Trump camp didn’t want to deal with the embarrassment that would come from such revelations. But does anyone really believe that? Does anyone seriously believe that the June 2016 meeting with Trump Jr., Kushner, and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort was the only time that Trump aides ever spoke to Russian officials about the campaign? And does anyone truly believe that somehow Trump himself was out of the loop? We know that the president fired FBI director James Comey because of the Russia investigation — he admitted it publicly. This week, we know why he did it.
Until recently, the Russian collusion story always struck me as a bit far-fetched. I figured some level of cooperation was possible, perhaps by some of the hangers-on to the Trump campaign, but if it was something bigger, why hadn’t the evidence leaked out sooner? I found it hard to imagine that Trump and those around him could possibly be this clueless. This week’s revelations are a reminder that underestimating the incompetence and corruption of the Trump clan is a fool’s errand.
It’s not just the growing mountain of evidence that suggests active collusion. It’s the incessant lying. To be sure, this president and this White House lie all the time. It’s what they do.
But it’s the scope of deception on Russia that is so striking. Mike Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner have all lied about their contacts with Russian officials — and repeatedly so. The White House and the president have consistently peddled a false narrative about Russia — one that those within Trump’s inner circle could at any time have corrected. When you combine these facts with Trump’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge Russia’s role in the 2016 election hacking and his bizarre solicitousness with Russian President Vladimir Putin, I think we all know where this story is going to end.
In many ways, American politics has become something of a waiting game — waiting for the next shoe to drop, the next revelation, and the next story that provides conclusive evidence that the Trump campaign actively colluded with a foreign government to win a US presidential election.
When that happens, Trump should not just apologize; he should beg the American people for forgiveness. Just don’t hold your breath on that happening.Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.