Trump's Russia tweets, translated

Cooper: Indictments don't clear Trump
Cooper: Indictments don't clear Trump


    Cooper: Indictments don't clear Trump


Cooper: Indictments don't clear Trump 08:01

(CNN)In seeking to honor President Donald Trump's holiday wishes, let's reflect here on what's been going on lately in his telltale Twitter feed.

Trump has been aggressively online the past few days, posting relentlessly from a few hours after special counsel Robert Mueller's indictment dropped on Friday through to Monday afternoon, when he tweeted his hope that Americans would enjoy a reflective Presidents Day.
But what has the President himself been reflecting on?
According to his tweets, the answer includes, but is not limited to ... Ken Starr! Oprah! Adam Schiff! Hillary Clinton! Former President Barack Obama! National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster! John Podesta! The dossier! A Facebook executive! Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein! A New York Post columnist! The FBI! And, of course, the Florida school shooting.
    Trump has deployed all of the above as part of an effort to bolster a simple message: The real Russia conspiracy, the actual collusion, is happening now -- and it's dedicated to delegitimizing my big accomplishment, my big 2016 election win.
    More than a dozen tweets. One underlying argument. Let's break it down:
    The question, taken at face value, is a big one. Democrats have asked it too. Obama has said he was aware of the ongoing interference and confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin in September 2016, telling him to "cut it out." Why Obama didn't speak more about it, publicly, than he did is another lingering issue.
    Former Vice President Joe Biden recently affixed at least part of the blame to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who Biden said balked at signing a bipartisan statement condemning Russia's actions. (McConnell's office has denied that characterization.) In any event, Obama ultimately decided not to raise it more forcefully as the campaign heated up.
    That's what happened. What Trump is purporting to ask here is much different. It's rhetorical and it suggests that Obama either A) stood down as part of an effort to create an excuse for Clinton if she lost or B) is part of a grand conspiracy, hatched after Election Day, to undercut Trump's presidency.
    Ken Starr, who was to former President Bill Clinton what Mueller is to Trump, gave an interview on Sunday morning to Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo. He said two things that, as seen here, pleased the President.
    First, Starr described the Mueller indictment, which accuses 13 Russian nationals and three companies of conspiring to defraud the US, of "aiming our guns, so to speak, where they should be aimed."
    "I think we should stop pointing fingers at one another in this country and realize who the real enemy is," Starr said. "It was an effort to pit us against one another, and Vladimir Putin has succeeded."
    This fits neatly into Trump's argument, which parries any allegation of wrongdoing on his part (e.g., no collusion!), while reframing any domestic debate -- or fight over the investigation -- into a win for Putin. See next tweet for more on that.
    Starr also hits the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court system, saying there was "a real breakdown" in its dealings with the FBI and Justice Department. His comments were, in effect, a defense of the core messaging in the Nunes memo. So, by definition, pleasing to Trump.
    It might not be creative or especially convincing, but this tweet represented a new (or at least more refined) tack. Rather than defend himself, Trump is attempting to use the upheaval surrounding the Russia story -- which he has done more than anyone else to gin up! -- as evidence that the investigation is bad for the country.
    The logic is absurd, but the argument is clear: When you attack me, you attack the US. Trump's taken a liking to the French during his time in office, so perhaps he's invoking Louis XIV, who said, "L'etat, c'est moi." Translated, that means, "I am the state." If you attack me or my election, it follows, then you are attacking the country.
    This one arrived fully unpacked. Trump, even in his attempt at being glib, can't help asking: "But wasn't I a great candidate?"
    This is the thin reed Trump's been clinging to since the indictment was made public. He's allowing here that meddling occurred -- but insisting again he had no role in it and, implicitly, that it had no bearing on the election results.
    Let's, um, skip by the "leakin' monster of no control" bit and get to the meaningful part: an attempt to lay the blame for whatever the Russians did on the previous administration. This is a weird logic, one he's turned to a few times in the past days, that scolds Obama for not acting to stop or mitigate the Russians' 2016 interference. (Which he is, simultaneously, insisting didn't affect the election results.)
    Speaking at at the Munich Security Conference earlier on Saturday, McMaster slammed the door on any doubts over Russia's actions in 2016.
    "As you can see with the FBI indictment, the evidence is now really incontrovertible and available in the public domain," he said, "whereas in the past it was difficult to attribute for a couple of reasons."
    This did not please the President, who pinged back to remind his aide what he'd neglected to mention -- "that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians."
    This issue was, in the context of McMaster's speech, totally beside the point. In the context of Trump's narrative, however, it's always relevant, if not paramount.
    This one landed with a headline-grabbing thud. Simply stated, Trump here alleges that the FBI's attention to the Russia probe somehow, someway, diverted resources that might have prevented last week's deadly school shooting in Florida. That it's obviously ridiculous doesn't make it any less instructive. Nothing, not even the violent deaths of more than a dozen teen students, is off-limits when it comes to undermining or distracting from the Russia probe.
    Trump seized on a series of tweets from Facebook executive Rob Goldman, who was trying to minimize or muddy the social media network's usefulness to the Russian effort. Facebook has since sought to distance itself from Goldman's words. Regardless, his opinion dovetailed with Trump's core argument, so the President quickly amplified the tweets.
    There is plenty of reporting out there to suggest that Trump was considering a 2016 bid before 2014, but there's no evidence to prove it that had any bearing on Russian planning. (After all, even the most seasoned Trump-watchers were skeptical he'd run until just before he made it official.)
    But again, that's beside the point. The argument here, just below the surface, is that Russia did not actively seek his election. Ergo, his victory remains entirely his own.
    Trump here seems to miss the forest for the trees. He quotes Rosenstein accurately, but doesn't account for the glaring qualifiers that kick off both sentences.
    "There is no allegation," the deputy attorney general says, "in the indictment..." -- which is, despite Trump's wishful interpretation, not a promise that those charges won't appear in a subsequent indictment. It's a stretch to believe that a lawyer like Rosenstein would have included those words for any other reason.
    Here's the Trump-conservative media echo chamber in its purest form. Goodwin, a reliable Trump backer, parroted the President's line, which Trump duly boosted into his Twitter feed. (Note here: No reasonable observer would say that Russian meddling alone won Trump the election. This is yet another swing at an already battered straw man argument.)
    Trump's first online reaction to the indictment signaled the route he would take over the coming days. Here he acknowledges the allegations against Russia, effectively confirms them as true, then insists they played no role in 2016. If you're finding that hard to square, well, it's for good reason. It makes no sense -- except when put in the context of Trump's blinkered fight to protect the perception of his greatest triumph.
    The rest, for the President, is just noise.