In all of the drama surrounding Donald Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president, there is one person who is apparently unmoved by it all: Trump himself.
“He’s not bothered; he’s not worried,” says one source who speaks with the President. And the irony of all of this, this source adds, is “he actually likes Joe (Biden)… he has compassion for him.”
In Trump’s world, as we know, empathy has no real estate. “He (Trump) believes the whole system is so rigged and so evil that none of this has any real substance,” says this source.
OK, then. So it’s a game, like birtherism: Create a false narrative, stir the pot (enter Rudy Giuliani, presidential consigliere) and let it boil. It’s a drama that attempts to place Joe Biden and his family in the muck. And when Biden strikes back, the Trumpian worldview is enhanced: the system is rigged, everyone is out to get him, it’s all a witch hunt. In which Trump, of course, has done nothing wrong.
The conversation in which he is alleged to have pressured a foreign government to investigate a political opponent was “absolutely perfect,” according to Trump. It was just “beautiful and warm.”
Now, about that conversation. It’s hard to be specific because the whistleblower complaint about it hasn’t been released to the House Intelligence Committee. It’s the law — and the Trump-appointed Inspector General himself wants to follow it — but the Justice Department mined an apparent loophole, so it remains secret. For his part, Trump has raised the possibility of releasing the transcript of the call, or at least giving it to a “respected source” for review. Meanwhile, his secretaries of State and Treasury remain opposed, saying it would set a bad precedent.
How about when Trump said he would love to testify before the special counsel in the Russia investigation? “I would love to do it… I would do it under oath, absolutely.” In the end, he said, his lawyers just wouldn’t let him appear. So, not his decision. And here we are again.
Speaking of déjà vu, what about Trump’s claim that of course Biden spoke with his son about getting rid of that corrupt prosecutor in Ukraine who was looking into the energy company for which Hunter Biden served as a director. The claims have previously been shown to be false; lots of governments wanted this prosecutor removed. But for Trump, it’s all about the son. “Of course you spoke to your son,” says the President.
Of course? I mean, what about the time that Donald Trump Jr. met with the Russians in Trump Tower to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. Didn’t Trump know? Of course not, he claimed. “Nobody told me” about it, Trump said. As for Biden, well, he had to know.
And in attempting to keep the storyline alive, Trump soldier Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made the case on CNN on Sunday that it was “inappropriate” that Biden’s son had dealings in Ukraine while Biden was vice president. That may be a legitimate case in the abstract, but absolutely no corruption — or corrupt intent — has been proven. And, by the way, what about the Trump family business? As CNN’s Jake Tapper asked, “So it’s OK for Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump to do business all over the world, so its OK for Ivanka Trump to get copyrights approved all over the world while Trump is President, but while Biden was vice president, his son shouldn’t have been able to do business dealings?” Mnuchin’s tepid response: “Again, I don’t really want to go into more of these details.”
Pesky things, those details.
Let’s conclude with this timetable: Just one day before Trump had his phone conversation with the Ukrainian president — in which he mentioned investigating his potential Democratic opponent, with a military aid package still in the offing — former special counsel Robert Mueller was testifying on Capitol Hill. By all accounts, the President was watching.
At one point, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff asked Mueller if “knowingly accepting foreign assistance during a presidential election is an unethical thing to do.”
“And a crime — a crime given certain circumstances,” Mueller replied in an uncharacteristically forthcoming response.
Yet — within 24 hours — Trump still suggested that a foreign leader investigate his political opponent. And why not? “He’s empowered,” says the source who speaks with Trump. It makes some sense: No matter what the Democrats do — or try to do — he escapes, Houdini-like, through the tangle of constitutional and legal questions raised by his unprecedented behavior.
Trump figures that, in the end, this will all become part of his favorite storyline about the Washington swamp out to get him. Unless the facts get him first.