By Jay Rosen
White House reporter Jonathan Karl of ABC News gave a scary report Sunday about the recent round of interviews by the President’s new lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. On ABC’s “This Week,” Karl said:
“I think what you are seeing now is a new war on Robert Mueller, a new war on the investigation. Mueller and the investigation are now central to the Trump midterm election strategy and his re-election strategy. They want to vilify, they want to delay this investigation. They want to draw it out. You will see more interviews like this. They actually want this issue to be front and center. Because, George, they believe that the biggest motivator for the Trump base in the midterm elections will be fear of impeachment.”
Speaking on CNN’s Reliable Sources, Carl Bernstein said of Guiliani:
“What he has done, unlike any of the president’s surrogates, is to picture the President of the United States as almost a grifter, with no interest in anything but conning the American people, saying as he said today, ‘Oh yeah, there might be more Stormy Daniels,’ and ‘there might be more hush payments.’ It’s extraordinary what Giuliani is saying and the picture he — not the press — is presenting.”
On Jake Tapper’s “State of the Union,” Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff said:
“I have to say I am a little taken back by this new lawyer Giuliani’s strategy. His legal defense for the President seems to be, ‘You can’t believe the President of the United Stated, that’s our defense. So when he says things you just gotta discount them’… Other things that Giuliani said in his maiden voyage as the Presidents new lawyer were deeply hurtful to the President’s case.”
I was confused by this myself until I heard Jon Karl’s interpretation this morning. By normal criteria, Giuliani’s recent television appearances have been at best puzzling and at worst disasters for his client. “Normal criteria” means common sense propositions like these…
- the President doesn’t want to be seen as a liar in front of the whole world;
- the President doesn’t want to do anything that would put him at greater legal risk;
- the President doesn’t want to prolong an investigation that is time-consuming and emotionally-draining;
- the President doesn’t want to strengthen the case for his own impeachment, the ultimate humiliation for any commander-in-chief.
What if none of these any longer apply? We need to be alert to the possibilities Jon Karl outlined. I think we should resist the term “strategy” for Trump’s egoistic maneuvering. There is no strategy. But there may be a new fact pattern, the outcome of his lawyers attempting to manage their client’s malignant narcissism by accepting its most bizarre constraint: any managing will have to be done through semi-regular television appearances that explode the news cycle. Nothing else will the big boss trust.
Plug in those factors and the crazy machine spits out widgets like these…
- prolong the special counsel’s investigation as long as possible so as not to relinquish a potent source of resentment;
- add to the chances that impeachable offenses will be found— by, for example, making the Comey firing sound sketchier and sketchier;
- instead of building a case for the President’s basic innocence, confuse the case by constantly shifting your explanations and by spicing them up with trace elements of guilt;
- instead of steering away from sources of legal danger, like the Stormy Daniels case and lawyer Michael Avenatti, sail right into them so as to thicken the atmosphere of crisis and guarantee non-stop news coverage;
- instead of minimizing evidence that the President lies in his public statements, dangle additional proof and let the press pounce on it;
- instead of projecting lawyerly competence and command of the case, let Giuliani admit that he still doesn’t know the facts, even though he’s on TV arguing about them.
- instead of denying that worse news is yet to come, flip it around: it may well be that more damaging stuff about the president will come out… so stay tuned!
- raise the psychological price that core supporters would have to pay for abandoning Trump by making them swallow bigger and more blatant falsehoods, and then hint around that this is indeed what you have done.
As with so many other moments since that escalator ride, we’re in uncharted territory for the American presidency, where crashing the ship of state is seen as clever programming, and willing the impeachment of the President is revealed as an Oval Office plan.