In late June 2017, President Donald Trump huddled with Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and then-communications aide Hope Hicks to figure out how to handle the fact that news of a June 2016 meeting between several Russians and his three top campaign officials (including Kushner) was about to break. Hicks warned that the story would be a big deal — Trump operatives meeting with Russians with the promise of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton looked very bad, even if there was nothing illegal in it. Kushner disagreed, dismissing the story.
Then this happened, according to Mueller’s report: “The President did not want to talk about it and did not want the details.”
The back-and-forth is part of almost 300 pages of documents detailing witness testimony in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into election interference unsealed — at the request of CNN and Buzzfeed — on Monday night. And it’s hugely revealing about the way in which Trump deals with realities that he either doesn’t like or make him uncomfortable: He buries his head in the sand.
Remember what we are talking about here: Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort met with a group of Russians in June 2016 at Trump Tower. According to publicly released emails, Don Jr. agreed to the meeting after an intermediary promised that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton; it “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” wrote the intermediary. Replied Trump Jr.: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
The eventual meeting, according to Trump Jr., was a nothing burger — and ended quickly.
Whether or not you believe that was wrong, it’s quite clearly an issue that needed to be addressed by the White House — especially given that at the time of the 2017 meeting between Hicks and the others, Mueller was in the midst of an investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. (Mueller eventually found that there was no evidence of collusion but cited multiple examples of potentially obstructive behavior by Trump.)
Hicks, to her credit, appears to have understood that. Kushner, for some unknown reason, did not think it was a big story. And Trump just didn’t want to engage.
But it’s more than that — Trump not only wanted to stick his head in the sand because he didn’t like the facts being presented to him, but he also “did not want the details.” The reason for that seems clear: Trump wanted to maintain plausible deniability. He wanted to be able to say, effectively; I don’t know anything about that meeting.
Which I get at some level! Trump is someone who has regularly operated right on the edge of acceptability — and has deputized the likes of people like Michael Cohen to carry out some of the less savory tasks he needs carried out. (Cohen, you’ll remember, executed the payments to silence two women — Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal — alleging extramarital affairs.) So he’s trying to insulate himself from potential trouble.
Except that we know that Trump was intimately involved in the response to the stories that were written about the Trump Tower meeting less than a month after that June 2017 meeting. In fact, he dictated the statement that was attributed to his son in response to the controversy stirred up by the revelations.
So, he didn’t want anything to do with it — except that he did have a lot to do with it! Put more accurately: Trump didn’t want people — even those who worked closely with him — to know he had something to do with all of the machinations in response to the Trump Tower meeting. But he did in fact, when time came, put himself squarely in the middle of it.
If this makes very little sense to you, then welcome to the party. Trump’s natural inclination when presented with information he doesn’t like or doesn’t want to hear is to bury his head in the sand like an ostrich, or, if you want another image, clap his hands over his ears and sing loudly. And yet, in almost all of these situations, Trump finds his way directly to the center of the very same thing that he insisted he wanted nothing to do with.
Contradiction, thy name is Trump.