Donald Trump has been pushed into a corner as more and more details about the Russia investigation become evident, forcing him into his last refuge– the same legal defense that saved Ronald Reagan’s presidency during the Iran-Contra scandal some three decades ago.
Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani tipped the president’s strategy during a shocking CNN interview with Chris Cuomo.
“I never said there was no collusion between Russia and the campaign, or people in the campaign, I have no idea,” Giuliani declared.
“Yes, you have,” Cuomo challenged.
“I have not,” Giuliani replied. “I said the president of the United States.
“There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit, here… conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC (Democratic National Committee).” (See Below)
“He (Donald Trump) didn’t say ‘nobody;’ He said he didn’t.”
The following day, in a followup interview with NBCNews, Giuliani made the Reagan defense clear.
“I represent the president. I can speak only to the president, not the campaign. The president was not involved in, nor does the president have any knowledge of collusion with the Russians or anyone else,” the former New York City mayor said.
Giuliani sensational admission about collusion by the campaign overshadowed, in the subsequent media coverage, his real mission–to plant the seeds for a legal defense of the president based on the assertion that he was unaware of any collusion or conspiracy in his campaign.
Of note, after weapon sales were revealed in Nov. 1986, Reagan appeared on national television and asserted falsely that his administration did not trade arms for hostages in violation of the law.
The statements clearly amounted to obstruction of justice. It took four months for him to correct his remarks in another national address.
The investigation was further impeded when a large volume of documents relating to the affair were destroyed or withheld from investigators by Reagan administration officials.
In the end, a congressional investigation and three-person commission hand-picked by Reagan found that the president was unaware of the various illegal actions that took place during his administration.
As a result, he was absolved of all complicity in the crimes and was saved from impeachment, or resignation.
The finding was incredulous, given the fact that 14 Reagan administration officials were indicted, including then-Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. Eleven were convicted, although some were vacated on appeal.
The most notorious of those convicted was Lt Col. Oliver North, then a member of the president’s National Security Council. North had effectively managed the illegal activities.
The scandal involved secret arms sales to the rogue regime in Iran, to fund a CIA-backed war in Nicaragua waged by the Contras against the leftist Sandinista regime.
George H.W. Bush, who was Reagan’s vice president, granted pardons to all those convicted in the final days of his presidency, even though his own role in the scandal was never investigated.
The Iran–Contra affair and the ensuing deception to protect senior administration officials, including President Reagan, has often been cited as the first example of “post-truth politics.”
The lesson was not lost on the Republican Party, or apparently Trump. The President has taken post-truth politics to an extreme.
Two years after taking the oath of office, he’s made 8,158 false or misleading claims, according to a running tally by The Washington Post, based on a database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president.
Nowhere has his lying been more evident than on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. It’s looking into Russian involvement in Trump’s business affairs, his 2016 presidential campaign and his administration.
Trump has repeatedly asserted that his campaign did not collude with Russian officials. He called the investigation a “witch hunt” more than 80 times last year alone, according to The Atlantic.
“When will this illegal Joseph McCarthy style Witch Hunt, one that has shattered so many innocent lives, ever end-or will it just go on forever?” Trump tweeted early in the morning on Nov. 29.
Long-time lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty later that day, revealing the extent of his cooperation with Mueller.
As indictments and guilty pleas piled up, Trump’s witch-hunt attacks grew even shriller on social media.
The repeated claims by Trump and right-wing pundits fit the post-truth politics playbook perfectly. Repeating falsehoods over-and-over again eventually convince portions of the public that the statements are true. Trump has employed the same tactic on a range of issues.
For example, Trump has said in public statements 127 times that his corporate tax cut is the largest in history. In fact, it’s only the eighth largest, according to The Post’s fact checker.
Trump has claimed 112 times the economy has never been stronger. In fact, it was stronger Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson and Bill Clinton. Trump actually inherited an economic boom that began during the Obama administration.
Fox News and other right-wing propaganda outlets have been an echo-chamber for Trump’s falsehoods, no matter how implausible they may be.
As late as last week (Jan 18), the investigation’s credibility had remained a salient point of attack by right-wing Fox News talking heads.
“At what point in fairness-after 2 years do Americans of good will say enough already?” Tweeted Geraldo Rivera. “If the #SpecialCounsel had collusion don’t you think we would have heard it by now? This is history’s longest running smear job. Free @realDonaldTrump
No one should know better than Rivera, a former crime reporter, that prosecutors don’t reveal evidence until the investigation is finished.
Among Donald Trump’s hard-core base, an estimated 85 percent believe Mueller is conducting a witch hunt, according to various polls. But a majority of independents and 80 percent of Democrats see the investigation as “fair,” according to those same polls.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, the president’s tweets about a witch hunt have become few and far between since the first of the year. Given recent developments, that may also be a sign of a change in strategy.
That follows the most damning evidence of collusion yet. Lawyers for Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, revealed that he shared polling data on the 2016 election with a Russian oligarch Konstantin Kilimnik, who has been linked to Moscow’s intelligence agencies.
The data would have proved useful to help Russian operatives direct their clandestine cyber-campaign on social media to aid Trump’s election.
Manafort is also accused of covering up other meetings and contacts with Killmnik, according to reports.
In a move the presages his latest defense, Trump claimed he was unaware of Manafort’s actions.
Of course that flies in the face of what those close to Trump–from his business, reality television and political career–have said about the president’s management style. Nothing happens without his approval.
Against that backdrop, Giuliani made his incredible revelation in the CNN interview, and it’s clear why.
The Manafort revelations made it impossible to continue to claim the campaign did not collude with the Russians, stripping away that defense from Trump and leaving nowhere else to go, but the Reagan Iran-Contra defense.
As a footnote, Oliver North finally came clean about Reagan’s involvement in the scandal in a 1991 book.
“Ronald Reagan knew of and approved a great deal of what went on with both the Iranian initiative and private efforts on behalf of the contras and he received regular, detailed briefings on both…I have no doubt that he was told about the use of residuals for the Contras, and that he approved it. Enthusiastically,” according to The New York Times.
Whether Trump can save his presidency remains to be seen. Despite reams of speculation about the “evidence,” the Mueller investigation has not tipped its hand about what it knows.
But one thing is certain, Trump has been backed into a corner from which there is no retreat.
See the video below.