White House

On Russia, Trump Acted Innocent

(Carlos Barria/Reuters)
The media were never willing to credit the idea that Trump sincerely believed that he was being treated unfairly — because he was. 

The release of Robert Mueller’s finding that Donald Trump didn’t collude with Russia should settle a question his critics — and, quietly, some of his allies — have asked repeatedly over the past two years: Why was he acting so guilty?

It turns out that he was acting innocent, only in a typically combative, over-the-top Trump fashion.

The Left and the media were never willing to credit the idea that Trump sincerely believed that he was being treated unfairly — because he was. 

When Trump said in his infamous Lester Holt interview that the Trump-Russia thing “is a made-up story,” he wasn’t confessing to obstruction of justice; he was stating a fact that the Mueller probe would establish 2,800 subpoenas and nearly 500 search warrants later.

The prudent thing for Trump to do once the Mueller probe got going would have been to cooperate without complaint and bide his time awaiting his eventual vindication. Instead, Trump fought like a caged animal (while actually cooperating with the probe).

Trump is a creature of the media and cares a lot about what is said of him. So imagine him sitting in the White House and watching the media constantly suggest that a smoking-gun Russia-collusion revelation is just over the horizon, that the walls are closing in, that he might be guilty of one of the worst political crimes committed in the history of the republic — and all the while knowing that it wasn’t true. 

It’s very easy to be relaxed about someone else’s reputation. We saw this during the Kavanaugh controversy when progressives were outraged that Brett Kavanaugh got emotional about being falsely accused of gang rape. Trump, apparently, was supposed to be cool and nonplussed about being accused of treason. 

Of course, he wasn’t, and got caught in an endless feedback loop with the press. He’d be presumed guilty in the coverage, he’d lash out, and then commentators would take his reaction as further evidence he was guilty. For two long years.

As recently as a couple of weekends ago, an epic Trump tweet-storm was taken as a sign that he was completely panicked over the impending Mueller report.

It didn’t occur to anyone that he might be acting out of a sense of aggrieved (although often self-defeating) innocence. This is what got the Mueller probe rolling in the first place. Trump fired James Comey because the FBI director refused to state publicly what he told Trump privately — that the president himself wasn’t under investigation.

The fallback position of Democrats now is that they can get Trump for obstruction for all his impure thoughts about a probe that reached its conclusion unimpeded, and that found no underlying Russian collusion to cover up.

This was Watergate without the break-in and the Lewinsky affair without, well, the Lewinsky affair.  

You don’t have to endorse Trump’s attacks on the integrity of Robert Mueller, his mockery of his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or his distorted view of the Justice Department to find the dynamic here unsettling. Trump was basically told that he’d be investigated and smeared for years over Russia collusion that didn’t happen, and if he objected and wanted to make it stop, they’d investigate him for that, too.

The ultimate weapon he had was, funnily enough, the truth. As he said again and again, there was no Russia collusion. Every time he repeated the phrase, the press rolled its eyes and opined about how it showed an untoward defensiveness. Then it dug into another news cycle devoted to Trump’s impending doom.

A news industry that should have a healthy skepticism could never apply any skepticism to its own narrative and assumptions. And so, on the question of Russia collusion that put a cloud over the White House and dominated the past two years of our public life, Donald Trump was a more reliable narrator than the media that so self-righteously scorns him. 

© 2019 by King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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