Aboard Air Force One en route to a campaign rally in Montana on Thursday night, President Donald Trump was asked about allegations that Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan knew about alleged widespread abuse within the Ohio State University wrestling program. Here’s how he responded:
“I don’t believe them at all. I believe him. Jim Jordan is one of the most outstanding people I’ve met since I’ve been in Washington. I believe him 100%. No question in my mind. I believe Jim Jordan 100%. He’s an outstanding man.”
Now Jordan, the former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus and a staunch Trump defender, has said he was entirely unaware of the alleged abuse by Dr. Richard Strauss of wrestlers on the OSU team. (Jordan was an assistant coach on the team from 1986 to 1994.) But four wrestlers have told NBC that Jordan was, in fact, aware of Strauss’ behavior.
Given both the nature of the allegations and the extreme likelihood that Trump knows only the most basic information about the case, the most prudent approach for a president to take would have been to simply say: “I know and like Jim. I believe him to be a man of principle. But I also understand the hurt these young men are speaking about. And because of that, I want to wait until the investigation is complete to offer a more fulsome response.”
But this is Donald Trump. And this is far from the first time he has insisted – in the face of serious allegations – that someone he knows must be telling the truth because, well, they say they are.
A few examples:
- Trump defended Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore against a series of allegations by women who said he pursued relationships with them as teenagers and, in some cases, he forced himself on them. “He denies it. Look, he denies it,” Trump said of Moore. “If you look at all the things that have happened over the last 48 hours. He totally denies it. He says it didn’t happen. And look, you have to look at him also.”
- In the face of allegations of domestic abuse from two ex-wives of White House staff secretary Rob Porter, Trump came to Porter’s defense. “He says he’s innocent and I think you have to remember that,” said Trump after Porter had already resigned from the White House. “He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, but you’ll have to talk to him about that.”
- Despite the unanimous conclusion of the intelligence community that Russia actively meddled in the 2016 election to benefit Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton, the President seemed to take Russian President Vladimir Putin’s side when the two men met in November 2017. “He said he didn’t meddle,” Trump told reporters of Putin. “He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times. Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it.”
- Trump spoke out in support of both Fox News president Roger Ailes and Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly amid claims that they had acted inappropriately with coworkers. “Personally, I think he shouldn’t have settled,” Trump said of O’Reilly. “Because you should have taken it all the way; I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.” Of Ailes, Trump said: “I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he’s helped them, and even recently.”
Trump’s defense of his friends is reflexive. “I know this person. He says he didn’t do it. I believe him.” The end.
You might be surprised – OK, you won’t be – that Trump does not extend that same benefit of the doubt to people who are less friendly to him.
Trump has repeatedly insisted, for instance, that former FBI Director James Comey leaked classified materials despite the fact that Comey is on the record (and under oath) saying he has not.
Trump has also called for the prosecution of Hillary Clinton for her decision to use a private email server as secretary of state. “No, she gets special treatment,” Trump said of Clinton in Montana on Thursday night. “Sorry. Sorry. She gets special treatment under the Justice Department.”
In the midst of then Sen. Al Franken’s groping scandal, Trump tweeted this: “The Al Frankenstien picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words. Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5 & 6 while she sleeps?”
It doesn’t take a genius to diagnose a severe case of situational ethics in Trump. He is always willing to take the word of someone – evidence (or lack thereof) be damned – who he likes or, perhaps more importantly, who acts like they like him. He is quick to assume the worst, on the other hand, when it comes to allegations against people who he dislikes (or who dislike him).
Context matters here when understanding Trump’s thinking. Remember that Trump himself faced more than a dozen allegations during the 2016 campaign of inappropriate sexual conduct with women over the last several decades. He denied all of them, insisting the women were lying and/or put up to it by his political opponents. “None of this ever took place,” he told The New York Times. “I don’t do it. I don’t do it.”
That stance has been repeatedly reiterated by Trump’s White House since the November 2016 election. In December 2017, amid a re-airing of a number of the allegations against Trump, the White House released a statement that said:
“These false claims, totally disputed in most cases by eyewitness accounts, were addressed at length during last year’s campaign, and the American people voiced their judgment by delivering a decisive victory. The timing and absurdity of these false claims speaks volumes and the publicity tour that has begun only further confirms the political motives behind them.”
Trump, quite clearly, has one standard for himself and his friends and a very different one for anyone who doesn’t fit into those two categories.
None of that means that the allegations regarding what Jordan knew when in the Ohio State case are true. Or false.
Trump doesn’t know – or care. All he knows is that Jordan has done nice things for him and, therefore, is nice. Which is a pretty simplistic way of viewing people – and the world.