The most important question that Donald Trump was ever asked in a press conference is suddenly easy to identify: “Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the course of the election?”
President Trump’s answer last spring was dubious.
He replied that aside from Mike Flynn (who ostensibly resigned as national-security adviser for misleading Vice President Pence about a meeting with Russia’s ambassador) he was not aware of any of his campaign advisers having had contacts with Russia.
Then Trump went much farther:
Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven't made a phone call to Russia in years. Don't speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn't. I just have nobody to speak to. I spoke to Putin twice. He called me on the election. I told you this. And he called me a few days ago. We had a very good talk, especially the second one ... I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge no person that I deal with does. Now, Manafort has totally denied it. He denied it. Now people knew that he was a consultant over in that part of the world for a while, but not for Russia. I think he represented Ukraine or people having to do with Ukraine.
Months ago, in “The President’s Untruths Are Piling Up,” I summarized the many ways in which people Trump deals with have a lot to do with Russia and its power brokers.
But back then, a truth about Trump’s inner-circle had yet to out.
Today, thanks to reporting by The New York Times, the public knows that Donald Trump Jr. arranged a June 9, 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, having been told that she was flying in from Moscow to pass along documents that would incriminate Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Trump Jr. invited his father’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, to the meeting, forwarding them an email with the subject, “Russia - Clinton - Private and Confidential.” Both Manafort and Kushner attended.
Perhaps Donald Trump knew that all this was going on, which would make his statement at the press conference last spring a particularly shameless lie, even by his standards. Only a fool would ever again trust a politician who they caught in a lie like that.
Then again, maybe Trump was oblivious to the meeting that took place in Trump Tower. But if it’s the latter, that means that Trump was so ignorant about what happened inside his own campaign that he didn’t even know about a meeting his own son scheduled for the purpose of colluding with the Russian government, even though both his campaign manager and his son-in-law were also in attendance. That would mean his closest advisers were actively keeping him in the dark.
Both possibilities, though, point to the same conclusion: The president cannot be believed. Either Trump’s denials about campaign collusion with Russia cannot be believed because he is a shameless liar; or Trump’s denials about campaign collusion with Russia cannot be believed because he was utterly clueless about at least one major effort to collude, and thus cannot credibly attest that there were not other efforts to which he wasn’t privy.
Don’t read more into those assertions than is there.
There is still no evidence that Donald Trump or his campaign successfully colluded with the Russian government (despite Trump Jr.’s intent to do so); no evidence that Trump coordinated with Russia to hack the Democratic National Committee’s emails or funnel them to Wikileaks; no evidence that Trump is a puppet of Vladimir Putin; and no proof that the Kremlin possesses kompromat on the president. But one matter should be beyond dispute, even by Americans who think favorably of the president and his agenda: Trump’s denials about campaign collusion with Russia cannot be believed. Only independent investigators can clear him of suspicion. The benefits of all doubts are lost once a man tells so many untruths.