Two oddly similar political news stories came out today, though both got kind of buried in the wake of the astonishing firing of White House Communications Director Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci. In fact, in a strange kind of way, all three stories are connected. I mean, all politicians try to control their own political narratives. That’s why administrations have a ‘communications director.’ But Trump emerges as, perhaps, a bit more hands-on than most.
Okay, so here’s the first story. Remember a few days ago, when the big story involved a meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and an amazing assortment of Russian spies, money launderers, attorneys and hangers-on. The deal was that they would provide dirt on Hillary Clinton, in exchange for, well, who knows? Anyway, Donald Jr. sort belatedly remembered that meeting, which took place in June of 2016, when his Dad was still running. And his initial account of that meeting was misleadingly vague.
Well, it turns out that his Dad wrote it. That is, Donald Trump wrote, or rather, dictated, the first account given by Donald Jr. about his June meeting with Russians. Here’s what the President came up with:
It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up.
“I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.
It’s not that this description of the meeting is a lie. It certainly is misleading. What it leaves out is the fact that it was set up with the promise that Trump Jr. would get dirt on Hillary Clinton, and that the person setting it up claimed it would be “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Also, that the meeting was attended by Rinat Akhmetshin, a lobbyist who has been linked to Russian money-laundering, and by Ike Kaveladze, a former Russian intelligence operator, who is generally believed to still be conducting espionage on behalf of Putin’s government. Also, if Trump knew nothing about this meeting, as he claims, why was he dictating his son’s response to it?
Also, and this is a key question for me, how stupid is this? Did the President genuinely believe that this brief, uninformative statement would end all media coverage of the meeting? Did he really think that Washington Post reporters would stop digging? According to the Post story, various Trump advisors urged Donald Jr. to be much more transparent. Get accurate information out there, quickly. Wouldn’t that have been a better course of action? And can anyone imagine Donald Trump following that counsel?
The second story is even more amazing. A lawsuit alleges that Donald Trump and Sean Spicer colluded with Fox News to build a disinformation campaign around the death of a Democratic National Committee staffer. According to this lawsuit, Trump, Spicer, and Fox News host Sean Hannity worked together to make up the Seth Rich story.
We have to be careful with this one. A private investigator, Rod Wheeler, claims that he was hired by a wealthy Trump supporter, Ed Butowsky, to investigate the death of Seth Rich, a young DNC staffer. Rich, in July 2016, died in an apparent robbery-gone-bad. The crime is still being investigated by DC police. Right-wing media outlets, including Hannity and including Fox News, fell in love with this story last fall, alleging that Rich had been the one responsible for the DNC documents exposed on Wikileaks, and that Hillary Clinton had therefore had him murdered. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that this might be true, and the Fox narrative has been debunked by law enforcement, and by every fact-checking website out there, including Politifact, Snopes, and FactCheck.org.
But Fox News ran with it anyway, basing much of their story on quotations from Wheeler. Wheeler now claims that those quotations were fabricated. He also claims that Butowski, President Trump and Spicer were involved in the writing of the story. Wheeler says he was made the scapegoat when other news sources discredited it, and Fox was forced to back off.
I think this story warrants further investigation. And since it’s currently the subject of a lawsuit, it seems likely that it will receive the additional scrutiny it needs. The fact is, Rod Wheeler was the main source for the Seth Rich story on Fox. I think there’s very good reason to question his credibility, including these new allegations involving Trump and Spicer. The Seth Rich story is the very definition of fake news, and Rod Wheeler was instrumental in its creation. And his lawsuit alleges that he was some kind of innocent victim. Uh, no. He says Fox News misquoted him in creating the story. Maybe he was misquoted. But he’s also responsible. For him to play the victim card is a bit much.
On the other hand, if the President and Spicer were involved in embellishing his, Wheeler’s, account, he would certainly be in a position to know. We have seriously untrustworthy people involved here, from Sean Hannity to Wheeler to Spicer. Sadly, one of the most untrustworthy of them is the President. The Seth Rich fake narrative was unquestionably useful to Trump. Probably, at least some Trump supporters still believe it. Did he help craft it? If so, that’s an explosive allegation.
But why should it be? After all, Trump’s entire narrative is both suspect and self-serving. Trump declares himself to be the best negotiator, the best deal-maker, a self-made man, a billionaire, author of the best-selling business book of all time, uniquely smart and driven and good. And none of that’s remotely true. He’s a fabulist, a weaver of tales. A BS artist, and a con man. A liar and a fraud. The Seth Rich story serves Trump’s purposes. Was he involved in creating it? I don’t know, and that the guy who says he did is not someone with a lot of credibility. But maybe.
At the very least, we can see why Trump is having a hard time hiring a communications director. There were a great many people in the room when Trump re-wrote his son’s account of his Russian meeting. Some of them were advising against him doing that, but he’s Trump and did it anyway. Now it’s backfiring on him, as was inevitable. The sheer hubris and stupidity of both stories witness to their credibility. I wish that wasn’t true of the President. But, sadly, it is.