Some times when President Donald Trump talks, all you can do is shake your head in amazement.
Take his comments Friday morning in the Oval Office, for one. Trump was trying to downplay the raging controversy over a whistleblower’s complaint that deals with communication between Trump and a foreign leader. It didn’t work.
Start here: Trump described the complaint as filed by a “partisan whistleblower.” And he referred to the complaint as a “political hack job.”
Which is interesting! Was Trump telling us that he knew the identity of the whistleblower? And did he have information that proved that this person was, in fact, a partisan out to get Trump? Man, big story!
“I do not know the identity of the whistleblower,” Trump then said.
Wait, what? So:
a) the whistleblower is definitely a partisan engaging in a “political hack job”
b) Trump doesn’t know who the whistleblower is
This all checks out!
But, Trump wasn’t done. Far from it.
Remember that up until Trump started talking, all we knew for sure was that the whistleblower complaint centered on several interactions between Trump and a foreign leader. At that point, The New York Times and The Washington Post had reported that the complaint involved Ukraine. (Later on Friday, after Trump spoke, The Wall Street Journal reported that sources said Trump pushed Ukraine’s president in a phone call to work with Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, who was advocating for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter.)
Enter Trump. Asked about whether the conversation in question was with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump said this:
“I don’t want to talk about any conversation. It was a great conversation. A totally appropriate conversation. It couldn’t have been better.”
So, then, there was a conversation with the Ukrainian president. Which confirms the reporting of the Times and the Post!
(Sidenote: Trump, in Friday’s press availablity, said that the “media is laughed at all over the world,” adding: “You’re a joke.” He then went on to take more than 10 minutes more of questions.)
What Trump appears to have done is totally freelance on an issue that has at least the potential to badly damage his administration and standing in the world. His claim that the whistleblower is a partisan even though he doesn’t know who the whistleblower’s identity is ridiculous on its face. His confirmation that he did, in fact, talk to the Ukrainian president during the window in which the whistleblower’s complaint was filed, adds fuels to the fire surrounding the story.
Here’s the other thing: Repeatedly during his remarks on Friday, Trump urged the media to keep building up the whistleblower story so that when the real story came out the press would look all the more foolish. Know the easiest way for everyone to get to the bottom of this mystery? For the acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to follow the law and release the complaint to the relevant congressional committees.
Why hasn’t Maguire done so? Because of legal advice provided to him by the Justice Department and the Trump White House. Guess who could, with a single tweet or a simple statement, get Maguire to release the complaint to Congress? Donald John Trump.
Trump may be right that his conversation with Ukraine was totally innocuous and well within his rights as president to do. But, nothing he said or did Friday morning helped make that case. In fact, quite the opposite.
UPDATE AND CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correctly describe the reporting in The New York Times and The Washington Post, and to add the subsequent reporting by The Wall Street Journal.