This is a real exchange that happened between President Donald Trump and Fox News’ chief White House correspondent John Roberts in a press conference with the Norwegian prime minister on Wednesday afternoon.
Roberts: “Are you open to meeting with (special counsel Robert Mueller)? Would you be willing to meet with him without condition? Or would you demand that a strict set of parameters be placed around any encounter between you and the special counsel?”
Trump: “Well, again John, there has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians or Trump and Russians. No collusion. When I watch you interviewing all the people leaving their committees, I mean, the Democrats are all running for office, trying to say this that – but bottom line, they all say there’s no collusion. And there is no collusion.
“And when you talk about interviews, Hillary Clinton had an interview, where she wasn’t sworn in, she wasn’t given the oath, they didn’t take notes, they didn’t record and it was done on the 4th of July weekend. That’s perhaps ridiculous and a lot of people looked upon that as being a very serious breach and it really was.
“But again I’ll speak to attorneys – I can only say this, there was absolutely no collusion. Everybody knows it. Every committee – I’ve been in office now for 11 months. For 11 months, they’ve had this phony cloud over this administration, over our government. And it has hurt our government. It does hurt our government. It’s a Democrat hoax that was brought up as an excuse for losing an election that frankly the Democrats should have won because they have such a tremendous advantage in the electoral college.
“So it was brought up for that reason. But it has been determined that there is no collusion and by virtually everybody. So we’ll see what happens. We’ll see what happens. I mean certainly we’ll see what happens – when they have no collusion and nobody’s found any collusion at any level it seems unlikely that you’d even have an interview.”
So, um, yeah. (Huge thanks to the one and only Brenna Williams for her help with that exchange.)
In case you weren’t counting – and I was – Trump uses the exact phrase “no collusion” seven times in that answer. He goes with the alternative “nobody’s found any collusion” once. Let’s call it a soft eight.
For Trump, it’s virtually Pavlovian. Any mention of the Russia investigation immediately elicits the phrase “no collusion.” (In a 30-minute interview with The New York Times over the holidays, Trump said the words “no collusion” 16 times.)
Why? Because he has absolutely convinced himself that there is no “there” there, and that “everyone” knows it. In his answer to Roberts, he argues – wrongly – that a) “they all say” there is no collusion b) the whole investigation is a “Democrat hoax.”
To be clear:
On Point A: Both Mueller’s special counsel investigation and the congressional investigations into Russia’s attempted interference in the 2016 election are ongoing. While no collusion is alleged yet, it is incorrect to assert that those investigations have definitively concluded there was no collusion.
On Point B: The congressional committees looking into the Russian matter are chaired by Republicans. The Justice Department which chose the special counsel is run by Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions. Mueller was appointed as FBI director by Republican President George W. Bush.
The Point: Trump is obsessed and irritated by the ongoing Russia investigations and the questions he continues to get about them. He believes he is totally innocent of any wrongdoing but, in defending himself, he relies on a script built on inferences, questionable facts and outright falsehoods.