The story couldn’t hang together for even one day
Yesterday we noted that the White House’s amateurish modified limited hangout would not fly because it was inherently unbelievable. It required the listener to believe:
(a) The President didn’t know that his campaign’s foreign policy advisor and soon to be National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was going to (and did) call the Russian ambassador to advise them on how to respond to the United States’s sanctions on Russia for interfering with our national elections.
(b) Even though he didn’t have any knowledge of what Flynn did, he “instinctively” knew that it was not illegal. And in fact it is not (per Spicer).
(c) Shortly after Flynn falsely told Vice President Pence about the phone calls, Trump receives information from the Justice Department advising that Pence had made compromising calls to the Russian ambassador.
(d) After receiving that nonpublic report, Trump fires the acting Attorney General and tells reporters he never heard anything contrary to Flynn’s false description of the phone calls to Pence.
(e) Three weeks after Trump received the intelligence from Justice, newspapers publish the information, and Trump fires Pence noy because he did anything wrong, but because the president had lost trust in him.
Now this cover-up has the weakness that several of the premises can’t be believed at the same time by a rational person, because they cause cognitive dissonance. But cognitive dissonance is an unpleasant feeling that can be understood only by those who are trained not to lie to themselves, something that the Cover-Up planners evidently have no understanding of.
But they couldn’t even float this boat for a day, because the chief actor, Donald Trump, blew the whole premise—that he lost confidence in Flynn—by characterizing Flynn as a “wonderful man” done in by the press, during a joint press conference with the Israeli prime minister today.
Now far be it from me to offer advice to professional liars in how to lie, but why didn’t they follow this line: At first hint of trouble, Trump issues statement: Yes, I told Flynn to talk to Russia because I thought Obama was being precipitous. I would be in office in less than a month and I did not need an unnecessary confrontation with a world power—one precipitated by a president who worked to defeat me. We will get to the bottom of this, but the answer is not throwing a world power’s diplomats out of the country at a sensitive time: during a transition of government. If this was technically illegal, then you can blame me. Frankly, I did it to secure this country from needless hostilities. Particularly when I knew for a fact that Russian did not offer any kind of help to my campaign.”
Could Trump have pulled that off? Maybe. It would still hard to believe that Trump was not acting nefariously. But it would have cut the legs out from under the opposition because it is plausibly related to our national interests. It would have gotten Flynn off the hook, and it would have given Trump the much needed patina of a guy in charge. It would also explain his December 30 tweet, which the modified limited hangout did not.
So why didn’t he do it? My suspicion (and I used to examine people in depositions and courts for a living) was that he could not carry out the deception part: namely, that his campaign had no dealings with Russia. So the usual route had to be followed: Throw underlings under the bus and pretend that the jefe had no knowledge. It is very unlikely, however, that Trump has the self-discipline to have conducted himself to maintain plausible deniability. This, after all, is a guy who tweets in the middle of the night when celebrities are mean to him. But one thing is for sure. Whatever involvement Trump had is far worse than the Cover-Up I propose (even though it probably included his ordering Flynn to make the calls). Anyone who thinks that a rouge general (even one as loopy and delusional as Flynn) did this on his own will probably be in the minority. And in any event will have to explain why Donald Trump still says he is a “wonderful guy.”