On Saturday night at a rally in Washington, Michigan, President Donald Trump said this of Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester: “I know things about the senator I can say, too. If I said them, he would never be elected again.”
Let’s be clear what happened here: The sitting President of the United States told a crowd that he has information on a sitting US Senator that, if revealed, would guarantee that the senator would lose re-election this fall.
What we know of all of this is far less than what we don’t know, so let’s deal with that first.
We know that Trump is angry at Tester, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, for releasing a memo documenting the various allegations made against Ronny Jackson, the President’s nominee to head the VA, by whistleblowers. Those accusations range from Jackson writing himself his own prescriptions to being intoxicated on a foreign trip with then President Barack Obama. Jackson withdrew his name from consideration amid the turmoil but Trump continues to insist that Jackson, who has taken care of the President as the White House physician, is entirely innocent.
“They did that to Admiral Jackson,” Trump said on Saturday night. “They are doing it for a lot of people.”
Now, for what, we don’t know.
Trump offered zero specifics – either in the speech or after it – to back up his charge against Tester. His White House has offered no details as to what information the President possesses that would be devastating to Tester’s chances of winning a third term in November.
There are no news reports suggesting there is some sort of major bombshell waiting to be dropped on Tester. His Republican opponents haven’t – as far as I can tell – mentioned anything that hints at a skeleton in Tester’s closet.
Based on all available evidence then, it seems as though Trump was simply talking without any proof of wrongdoing. As in: The President, angry at Tester for what he believes was the bad treatment of a personal friend, was looking to score some rhetorical points and maybe put a little fear in the Democratic incumbent. And so, he threatened to have information that would be hugely problematic for Tester’s career – knowing full well he had nothing of the sort.
This would be far from the first time that Trump – as a candidate and as president – has purposely trafficked in innuendo and rumor to further his political goals. Lest we forget, he suggested that Sen. Ted Cruz’s father might have been involved in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Trump also insinuated he had tapes of his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey – only to eventually acknowledge no such tapes exist.
Reporters need to ask the White House what Trump meant when he said he knew “things about the senator.” What things? When did he learn them? Why wasn’t he specific on Saturday night about them?
My guess is that White House press secretary Sarah Sanders will try to brush aside such questions – insisting that the President was speaking broadly about Tester being out of step with the conservative-minded Montana, not discussing any specific damaging information.
But, that’s not what Trump said. He didn’t talk about Tester’s votes. He didn’t talk about policy decisions. He said, specifically this: “I know things about the senator I can say, too. If I said them, he would never be elected again.”
What are the things? If Trump truly does know something, wouldn’t it be in the best interests of Montanans to know it before they vote this fall? And, if he doesn’t know anything, then he should be made to answer for why he said he did.
Donald Trump is no longer some fast-talking celebrity/reality TV star. He’s president. You can’t just slander people without being called to account.