Collapsing house of cards: Should we be grateful for the shocking incompetence of Team Trump?

Donald Trump is no Frank Underwood — but his bumbling son may have outdone him in lies and self-incrimination

Published July 12, 2017 5:00AM (EDT)

Donald Trump Jr.   (Getty/Jeff Vinnick)
Donald Trump Jr. (Getty/Jeff Vinnick)

In a strange way, it’s a relief that President Donald Trump and his various henchmen are such idiots when it comes to dealing with what’s rapidly evolving into a presidency-ending scandal. Otherwise we might not know half of what we’ve heard about the increasingly treacherous Trump-Russia story. If Trump was closer to a real-life Frank Underwood, there’d still be a massive scandal, but the president and his people wouldn’t be inexplicably confessing to it.

But Trump is no Underwood, that’s for sure. In fact, many of the president’s most disturbing problems are the direct consequence of his confounding lack of personal discipline and the Trump administration’s all around ineptitude when it comes to standard operating procedures in a crisis -- textbook procedures that have been employed through most of American presidential history. For example, here’s a sentence that Trump and his people ought to learn but which they never will: “It’s not the policy of this administration to comment on ongoing investigations.” Not only is it smart legally, avoiding self-incrimination, but it carries the added bonus of being Twitter-ready. If the president and his staff are feeling chatty on a particular day, they could add, “We refer you to the Department of Justice and the office of the special counsel.”

From the very beginning, the Trumps have handled this in the most ridiculous way possible, telegraphing their guilt and in some cases, accidentally blurting confirmations of the journalism -- the alleged “fake news” -- they’re loudly denying. You might remember how the president famously reacted to leaks in the press about the nefarious activities of former national security adviser Michael Flynn by saying outright, "The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake." If the leaks were real, then the reporting is accurate because it’s … oh, never mind.

Additionally, Trump obliquely confessed to attempting to use the National Enquirer to blackmail Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, tweeting that Scarborough contacted him about killing a damning story about the MSNBC morning hosts and Trump "said no" -- which would indicating that it was a possibility. Of course, we all remember when Trump contradicted the official White House account the firing of former FBI Director James Comey by telling Lester Holt that he had fired Comey to stop the Trump-Russia investigation.

As it turns out, the orange doesn't fall far from the tree. Donald Trump Jr.'s explanation for his June 9, 2016, meeting with a Russian lawyer with alleged Kremlin ties is basically a tacit admission of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to circulate stolen documents. In the statement, Trump Jr. recounted the general details of the meeting, and confessed outright that the meeting took place under the pretext that damning documents about Hillary Clinton would be provided in exchange for weakening U.S. sanctions on Russia handed down in the dual Magnitsky Acts. That's what’s called collusion -- perhaps even conspiracy, according to Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and, remarkably, this is only one small piece of a colossal iceberg.

Adding to Trump Jr.’s continuing self-incrimination, the president's son dumped a series of emails -- via Twitter no less -- between himself and a British acquaintance, a celebrity publicist with Russian ties named Rob Goldstone. The email dump was in reaction to a third New York Times bombshell this week about evidence that Trump Jr. knew in advance that the supposed dirt on Clinton came from the Russian government. This time, rather than blurting “fake news” and whining about the “dishonest media,” Trump Jr. revealed everything, defying best practices and very likely the advice of any competent criminal attorney. (Don’t get me wrong -- I’m not complaining. Quite the contrary.) In the emails, we see definite proof that Trump Jr. was interested in acquiring the spoils of the Russia attack after learning himself about what the Russian government was up to. All of this was well before the general public found out about what Putin was cooking.

In the initial email, Goldstone said to Trump Jr., “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Trump Jr. replied, “[I]f it’s what you say, I love it especially later in the summer.”

Again, Donald Trump Jr. made this public himself. The stupidity is dizzying.

Making matters worse for themselves, the Trump team keeps taking the bait. In other words, every time a new bombshell drops, Trump associates or surrogates rush to comment about it, only to be revealed as liars when the next bombshell goes off. This time, when the first Times article was published on Saturday, Trump Jr. claimed that he, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign manager Paul Manafort met with Natalia Veselnitskaya about Russian adoptions. Then, when it came out on Sunday that the purpose of the meeting was to receive possible Russian dirt on Clinton, the excuse from the pro-Trump Republicans became “oppo research,” even though we have never heard about opposition research being gathered from a hostile foreign government in the midst of a U.S. election. At that point, Trump Jr. decided to confess via the aforementioned statement. Then came the third story on Monday, reporting that email evidence that the Clinton dirt may have come from Russian intelligence. Trump Jr.’s response? Release all the emails, but continue to claim that this sort of thing happens all the time. Pro tip: It doesn’t.

Meanwhile, hovering just slightly under the radar is news that the White House is quietly trying to weaken congressional sanctions on Russia. Good timing, right?

I don’t mind repeating: Thank goodness this was Donald Trump and not a real-life Frank or Claire Underwood. Otherwise, we wouldn't get to enjoy the ongoing accidental confessions of these bungling political Gumps. The more we observe the vast dumbness of what John Oliver calls "Stupid Watergate," it's becoming increasingly obvious there's no way in hell this team of flailing doofuses and preening toddlers won the 2016 election without serious help from Moscow. We are also nearing the point of certainty that more than a few of them are going to prison.

By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.