President Trump gave a very specific and narrow denial when asked if there should be a special prosecutor on Russia Monday morning, saying he hasn’t called Russia in ten years.
After Trump’s “listening” session with executives of health insurance companies, as the White House pool was being led out, Trump was asked if there should be a special prosecutor on Russia, according to the White House pool report sent to PoliticusUSA.
Trump waited until the pool was “mostly out” and then mouthed the word “No” to those at the table. With most of the pool out of the room, Trump then told the executives in the room, “I haven’t called Russia in 10 years.”
So basically Trump didn’t answer the question and then as the pool reporters were leaving, he mouthed his denial to the executives, as if he didn’t want that denial reported but he couldn’t resist trying to clear his name with the executives.
That’s not to say Russia hasn’t called him, he hasn’t tweeted directions to them or indeed used his public rallies to direct them, like the time he publicly asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton and then, likely when that proved impossible (it is said that Clinton used her private server because it was so secure – a value Donald Trump could stand to contemplate instead of using his unsecured phone), they hacked the Democrats.
And what is “calling Russia” anyway. With someone as slippery as Trump, this could mean anything. He could be saying he hasn’t called the country, Russia. This is probably what he will claim after evidence of his contact – which he has bragged about in the past- is brought up. But of course he doesn’t need to “call Russia” to collude with Russian intelligence agents.
On July 27, Donald Trump publicly invited Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, and read in context with what we know today, Trump’s comment reads as if he knew they were listening to him and waiting for direction, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
He continued with what appears to be a slip because it was not public knowledge that Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC, “By the way, they hacked — they probably have her 33,000 e-mails. I hope they do. They probably have her 33,000 e-mails that she lost and deleted because you’d see some beauties there. So let’s see.”
But the real problem here is Trump’s words have no meaning. His denials are meaningless, because he denies what he says frequently and often, even when it’s on tape.
Trump has denied he had any relationship with Russia, saying of President Putin, “I have no relationship to — with him. I have no relationship with him.”
But Trump is on tape bragging about his relationship with Russia. PolitiFact noted, “Prior to early 2016, Trump seemed to tout his ties to the Russian leader.”
PolitiFact went on to list several examples of Trump bragging about his relationship with Russia:
“I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today. He’s probably very interested in what you and I am saying today, and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form.” — interview, November, 2013
• “You know, I was in Moscow a couple of months ago. I own the Miss Universe Pageant and they treated me so great. Putin even sent me a present, a beautiful present.” — address at the CPAC conference, March 2014
• “Russia does not respect our country any longer. They see we’ve been greatly weakened, both militarily and otherwise, and he certainly does not respect President Obama. So what I would do—as an example, I own Miss Universe, I was in Russia, I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success. The show was live from Moscow, and we had tremendous success there and it was amazing, but to do well, you have to get the other side to respect you, and he does not respect our president, which is very sad.” — address at the National Press Club, May 2014
• “As far as the Ukraine is concerned … if Putin wants to go in — and I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes. We were stablemates, and we did very well that night.” — portion of an answer at the Fox Business News debate, Nov. 2015. (The notion that the two men appeared together on 60 Minutes has been debunked. As Time magazine put it succinctly, “In fact, they weren’t even on the same continent.”)
None of these contacts involved Trump calling Putin, and at any rate, it’s the people in Trump’s campaign and administration who are record as having these contacts. They all have the same boss. So, that’s awkward.
The press isn’t going to let the Russia connections go unaddressed, so Donald Trump needs to get used to it. Every denial he utters publicly will be used against him if it proves to be inaccurate. This specific denial sounded like one of Trump’s usual off-the-cuff showmanship shell game routines.
But the game is getting old, and the press isn’t that stupid. “I haven’t called Russia in 10 years.” Oh, okay then.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.