EDITORIAL: Trump's tweets: Which lies to believe?
In the midst of a Twitter tantrum over the weekend, President Donald Trump offered what looked like a slam-dunk admission that he sought to obstruct justice in the special counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The message addressed the brief tenure of his national security advisor, Michael Flynn, who on Friday pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI and is cooperating with the probe.
“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” Trump tweeted. “He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”
Really? The president knew his national security advisor lied to the FBI? And yet, he urged then-FBI Director James Comey to, in Comey’s contemporaneous notes, “go easy” on Flynn? And then fired Comey when he refused?
Even Double-Down Donald must have recognized he had teed up an obstruction charge better than one of the Callaways at which he swings his gold-plated $3,750 driver.
Or did he? Into the mess stepped Trump attorney John Dowd, who claimed that it was he who drafted the Twitter message in question.
This was a first. Trump had not previously indicated that other voices share the substantial bullhorn that is his Twitter account with its 44 million-followers. And remember, this is his personal account; not the account run by the office of the White House.
So it was no surprise that the Dowd claim was met with skepticism.
But even taken at face value, the defense generates two immediate concerns.
If true, the allegation raises serious questions about Dowd, who ostensibly put his client — the president of the United States — in the path of an obstruction charge with what can only be described as an uncharacteristically shoddy statement.
Indeed, the former chief ethics advisor to President George W. Bush suggested Dowd should be disbarred for such behavior. That seems severe, but one wouldn’t be surprised – again, if the allegations are true — were Trump to fire him. We shall see.
More troublingly, the Trump administration has insisted repeatedly that the president’s unconventional use of social media — Twitter, in particular — is his way of speaking directly with the American people. It is Trump’s method of holding an ongoing press conference without the inconvenience of the press. OK, but the American people should be told when he’s not the one holding the press conference.
How many other statements — from personal barbs, to political put-downs, to threats to foreign leaders, to reactions to breaking stories — have come not from the president but from unnamed members of some unknown Twitter committee?
Because if Trump has ghost tweeters, he has been misleading the American people all along. Or is the claim that Dowd penned the offending tweet suspect? Or are we to believe this was the first and only instance of the president handing over the keys to his Twitter account?
Whatever, the answers, the president either has been or is misleading the public. That’s not uncharacteristic. Nor is it surprising. But in this case, with Special Counsel Robert Mueller having issued a pair of indictments to two Trump associates, to go along with a pair of guilty pleas from two others, it carries additional weight.
Ultimately, his supporters may not care whether the messages shared on Donald Trump’s Twitter feed originate with him. But the special counsel’s office will take a decidedly more discerning view.