Liz Plank · Tuesday, June 13, 2017, 1:22 pm
Trump wasn’t too dumb to know what he was doing; he was too smart to get caught.
Donald Trump is not a child. Donald Trump is not stupid. Let’s dispel the myth right now that Donald Trump doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing.
The president’s alleged ignorance has become Republicans’ official line of defense against monumental accusations that Trump fired his FBI director to help out his buddy at best, or help himself at worst.
"The president's new at this,” House Speaker Paul Ryan rebutted after a reporter asked him about the allegation that Trump attempted to obstruct a federal investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s ties to Russia. Similarly, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) justified Trump’s behavior as simply the result of the fact that “he’s used to be being the CEO.” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie even described accusations of Trump demanding “loyalty” from FBI Director James Comey as “normal New York City conversation.”
As Trump surrogates now call for the president to fire Bob Mueller, the man leading an investigation into Russian interference in the election and ties to the Trump campaign, let’s not pretend that Trump is clueless. He’s taking deliberate actions to shield himself and his protégés. And the Republican Party is enabling him to do it.
The evidence is clear: Trump knows what he's doing
Perpetuating the idea that Trump isn’t competent enough to be held to the standard of commander in chief when it comes to something as serious as the obstruction of an FBI investigation isn’t only irresponsible — it’s hard to believe.
If we are to take Comey’s testimony under oath as truthful, it’s difficult to see how Trump’s behavior was negligent rather than carefully calculated. Arguing that Trump’s actions were those of a novice is ridiculous when you look at the evidence that points to the very opposite. As my colleague Ezra Klein put it, Trump’s behavior is not that of a president; it’s that of a mob boss.
Trump left no fingerprints: Trump asked key advisers to leave the room in one of his meetings with Comey, even when Attorney General Jeff Sessions and top hand Jared Kushner lingered. In a separate meeting, Trump wanted Comey alone and allegedly demanded “loyalty” (something he has a history of valuing above any other quality). If the president really thought he wasn’t doing anything wrong, why wouldn’t he do it in front of his staff?
Trump covered himself with cryptic language: Republicans have tried to claim that Trump didn’t explicitly say, “Kill the investigation into Michael Flynn or you are fired.” But in fact, his decision not to proves the case even more clearly. He said, “I hope you can let this go,” and referenced the investigation without “the cloud” as opposed to giving Comey a direct order. This isn’t the behavior of a person who doesn’t know the rules — it’s the actions of a man who’s deliberately trying to zigzag around them.
Trump set up a creepy dinner: Trump brought Comey into a one-on-one dinner in the White House, where he highlighted his power over him, reminding the FBI director that many people wanted his job. As Comey put it during his testimony, “The dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.”
Trump then fired Comey: There’s a narrative here. Trump pressured Comey repeatedly. Comey didn’t comply. Trump fired him. This is not the logical path of a compulsive person who didn’t know what he was doing. It’s a straightforward path.
Trump knew that Republicans would defend him no matter what, and that the media would buy it
If the “Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing” argument feels familiar, it’s because it’s not the first time his conservative surrogates and the media have used the line to shield him from responsibility. There’s no reason to think Trump wouldn’t expect the same again.
During the election, when candidate Trump made baffling references to Hillary Clinton and the Second Amendment, campaign surrogates downplayed his behavior as simply gauche. “He is not a politician. He is not a person like you who’s very articulate, very well-spoken,” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) said to Wolf Blitzer on CNN. “I’m not going to judge him on that, because I don’t think that’s what he meant,” he continued.