head of yesterday’s Senate hearing on the Russia scandal, Donald Trump’s tweets suggested he was feeling anxious. In the morning, he tried to argue via Twitter that the mess surrounding Michael Flynn was the Obama administration’s fault, and soon after, the president suggested without evidence that Sally Yates may have illegally leaked classified information.
After the hearing, Trump’s anxiety was just as obvious, with a series of tweets trying to downplay the damaging revelations, change the subject, and dismiss the seriousness of the entire ongoing investigation. The president added that in his mind, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that there’s “no evidence” of “collusion” between Russia Team Trump.
President Donald Trump changed the banner image on his Twitter account late Monday night, and then changed it again several hours later after people on the internet thoroughly mocked it.
Trump made the top image on his Twitter page a photo of House Republicans celebrating passing the American Health Care Act, superimposed with a tweet the president had sent earlier that day about congressional testimony from former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on the subject of collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.
Broadly speaking, there are two angles to this that are worth keeping in mind. The first is the focus on the facts, which the president continues to struggle with, and the second is the acute fear Trump appears to be feeling about the seriousness of the scandal.
On the former, Trump may believe Clapped cleared Team Trump of colluding with Russia during its espionage operation to elect him, but that moment did not happen, and the president is pointing to a quote that was not uttered during yesterday’s testimony. Mother Jones’ David Corn had a good report on this:
On March 5, Clapper was interviewed by NBC News’ Chuck Todd on Meet the Press and asked if there was any evidence of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians. “Not to my knowledge,” Clapper replied. Since then, Trump and his champions have cited Clapper to say there is no there there with the Russia story. Trump on March 20 tweeted, “James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence Potus colluded with Russia. The story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!” White House press secretary Sean Spicer has repeatedly deployed this Clapper statement to insist there was no collusion.
At Monday’s hearing, Clapper pulled this rug out from under the White House and its comrades. He noted that it was standard policy for the FBI not to share with him details about ongoing counterintelligence investigations. And he said he had not been aware of the FBI’s investigation of contacts between Trump associates and Russia that FBI director James Comey revealed weeks ago at a House intelligence committee hearing. Consequently, when Clapper told Todd that he was not familiar with any evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, he was speaking accurately. But he essentially told the Senate subcommittee that he was not in a position to know for certain. This piece of spin should now be buried. Trump can no longer hide behind this one Clapper statement.
What about Yates’ testimony on possible collusion? On this point, we didn’t learn much. Asked about possible evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials, the former acting attorney general said, “Senator, my answer to that question would require me to reveal classified information. And so, I can’t answer that.”
If the president perceives all of this as an exoneration, he’s imagining things.
But looking past these details, one starts to get the impression that Trump is more than a little nervous about the entire controversy. Confident leaders, certain that allegations will be discredited as baseless, don’t lash out at witnesses before their testimony, don’t make up quotes, and don’t overcompensate with strange protestations.