Trump: I didn't order Flynn to talk sanctions with the Russians -- but I would have if he hadn't

I’ve mentioned it before but one of the best descriptions of a Trump presser I’ve read came early on in the campaign from Leon Wolf, who compared it to a military jet firing off “chaff” to divert heat-seeking missiles. There were so many colorful, noteworthy, ill-informed, sometimes flatly mendacious bits of news emanating from Trump every few minutes, Wolf noted, that when it was over commentators frequently wouldn’t know what to focus on. There were too many lights in the sky to find the most newsworthy targets. Today’s hour-plus presser was that all over again, except it was a presidential news conference and Trump was hitting on all cylinders, across an array of topics so wide that it felt like he touched on every major news story of the past three weeks. CNN was reduced to gawking that it was “a stunning moment in modern American political history.” Watching it and trying to pick out the newsiest stuff felt like playing an extremely advanced level of “Missile Command,” with stuff raining down faster than your eyes can follow. How do you make sense of Trump riffing on Flynn and Russia and the media and whether the people at Republican townhalls are “not the Republican people that our representatives represent” and about 15 other topics for 77 minutes? The only safe thing you can say about today’s spectacle, I think, is that it confirmed your view of Trump, whatever that view may be. If, like Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, you’re a diehard Trumpist, it was Trump Woodstock. If you’re not, it was Altamont.

Since we have to choose which of 80,000 different newsy bits this afternoon was the newsiest, let’s choose two in which Trump discussed the story of the week, Mike Flynn’s resignation. His first point below was something he could have said days ago. No, he claims, he never ordered Flynn to talk sanctions with the Russian ambassador — but he would have if Flynn hadn’t taken it upon himself to do so, never mind all the heavy breathing lately by critics about the Logan Act. If Trump had come out and said that on Monday, making the case that there was nothing improper about an incoming national security advisor noting to a diplomat that U.S. foreign policy would be duly reviewed in three weeks, Flynn might still have his job, especially since there’s apparently no quid-pro-quo smoking gun in the transcript of what he said to the ambassador. So … why didn’t Trump say all of this sooner while refusing Flynn’s resignation? The answer, in case you missed it yesterday, probably lies in this post. Trump, Bannon, Priebus, and Kushner allegedly all had doubts about Flynn and his way of operating for various reasons dating back weeks, at least. (Kushner reportedly was anti-Flynn since before he was named NSA.) Trump says in the first clip below that he let Flynn go because he deceived Mike Pence, but … Trump apparently deceived Pence too by not telling him sooner that Flynn misled him. He could have taken the position last week that, yes, Flynn misleading Pence was bad and mustn’t be repeated but that he had apologized and learned his lesson and deserved a second chance. He could have gotten away with keeping him on if he had wanted to — except he didn’t want to. That’s the point. All of this bold “Flynn did nothing wrong on the call” blather evaporates amid the reality that Flynn must have done a lot of other things wrong, and not just to Pence, to have had so many top Trump advisors ready to knife him so soon.

The other newsy bit, caught in the second clip below, is Trump being asked whether any member of his campaign had contact with Russian officials, as the Times and CNN alleged a few days ago. Well, *I* didn’t have any contact with Russia, Trump replied. Hmmmm. Pressed again whether any staffers had had contact, Trump gave an uncharacteristically precise answer: “Nobody that I know of,” he said. That’s the sort of thing you say when you’re no longer sure enough to say definitively “Of course not. No one in the campaign had any contact with Russians. Why on earth would they?” He’s tacitly allowing for the possibility here that Paul Manafort, Carter Page, or whoever might have had a meeting with Russians at some point but that it was kept secret from the candidate, never mind the mortal danger a revelation like that would have posed to his candidacy in the middle of a tight election. And he’s also given the media a new bone to chase: If the Times’s reporting is correct that Trump staffers were in contact with the Russians, now they can catch Trump in a major lie, told right here on television, if they can prove that in fact he did know about it. Assuming there’s any evidence of that, presumably that’ll be the next round of leaks.

Here are the two clips of Trump followed by two clips of commentary by Jake Tapper, for whom this was most definitely Altamont.