Inside the Trump defense strategy

Playground rules persist and Trump plows forward in the wake of Michael Cohen's stinging testimony

By Lucian K. Truscott IV


Published March 2, 2019 8:00AM (EST)

 (Getty/Win McNamee)
(Getty/Win McNamee)

For more than two years, we’ve been hearing from insiders in Washington that if you talk to certain Republicans privately, they will admit to you that Trump is uncouth, a liar, an ignorant lout, unfit to serve, but well, er, ah, The Base! Republicans are too afraid of The  Base to come out and admit what they think about Trump, and certainly unwilling to act on those beliefs.

Well, the Cohen hearing before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday threw out even that tepid Republican response to Trump. If they didn’t say it outright, they admitted by their refusal to defend Trump from Cohen’s charges that they are acting on behalf of a man even they can’t marshal the gumption to defend. Pundits have been pointing out for two days that the Republican strategy (if it can be called that) was to attack Cohen’s credibility and ignore the charges Cohen made about Trump and the various document he had to back them up.

No wonder. Cohen asserted that Trump is a con man who lied about his net worth and income to move up the Forbes wealthiest list and convince Deutsche Bank to loan him millions of dollars. He provided bank statements to back up his claim. Silence.

Cohen told the committee that Trump is a cheat and a liar who repaid him for the hush money he paid Stormy Daniels, and he did it after he assumed the presidency! He provided canceled checks with Trump’s signature as evidence.


When tea-partier Mark Meadows attempted to refute Cohen’s assertion that Trump was privately an outrageous racist by trotting out Trump family factotum Lynne Patton, apparently the lone African American employed by the Trump Organization, it backfired spectacularly.

Facts, logic, and argument are simply not on the Republicans’ side when it comes to defending Trump. I’ve had people call me terrible names like “liberal” all the time when I write Salon columns pointing to incidences of possible “collusion” between the Russians and Trump, but only very occasionally does one of my Republican critics venture very far into the facts involved.

Look what happened this week after I wrote a column about the role George Papadopoulos played as the first conduit between the Russians and the Trump campaign. Papadopoulos was living in London when he ran into a Maltese “professor” named Joseph Mifsud on a trip to Rome who took an interest in him when he learned that young George had just been appointed a “foreign policy adviser” to the Trump campaign. Mifsud would later inform Papadopoulos that on a trip to visit senior government officials in Moscow he had been told that the Russian government was in possession of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails” which they would be willing to disseminate in order to damage her campaign.

A Twitter follower (whose identity I’ll withhold so as not to subject him to retaliation on that frequently poisonous forum) replied to my column this way: “Joseph Mifsud is from Malta and met Papadopoulos at the behest of Arvinder Sambei (former legal counsel for FBI in UK). The ‘Russian’ Mifsud brought to meet Papa was actually a Brit citizen posing as Putin’s niece. Papa did an hour interview on Dan Bongino’s podcast. He explains it.”

Okaaaaayyyy. I responded by pointing out that on the occasions when I’ve traveled to Europe, I have not met anyone who has introduced me to anyone “posing” as a Russian, much less as one related to Vladimir Putin.

“What are you a moron?” my follower tweeted. “Joseph Mifsud has an attorney named Stephen Roh who has claimed on his client’s behalf that he was working at the behest of the FBI when he approached Papadopoulos. Does that explain it well enough to you?”

Now I understand. The FBI, our top domestic law enforcement agency, reached out to this putative “professor” Mifsud in London and told him to travel to Rome, 1,200 miles away, where he was to “approach” another resident of London, Papadopoulos, just at the time he had secured a position on the Trump campaign.

That would be the same FBI which would open a counterintelligence investigation of Papadopoulos and the Trump campaign a couple of months later, after Trump’s “foreign policy adviser” blabbed to an Australian diplomat in a London bar that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton they were going to use against her. Makes perfect sense to me.

My twitter buddy responded this way: “You’re supposed to be a journalist? Do your job and dig. Let me rid myself of the shite (sic) I smell hold on a sec . . .”

See what I mean? Arguing the facts in the Trump-Russia story leads down rabbit holes that lead to gopher holes which take you into ratholes which lead to one man: Donald Trump.

Trump appointed Papadopoulos, the son of Greek immigrants born in Chicago, to his “foreign policy advisory board.” How he found the young American who had been working for something called the “London Center of International Law and Practice” in Great Britain is a mystery. How and why Papadopoulos ran into “professor” Mifsud in Rome is a mystery. How and why Mifsud traveled to Russia to meet with senior government officials in Moscow is a mystery. Why these Russian officials confided in him that they had Hillary Clinton’s “thousands of emails” is a mystery. Why they apparently told Mifsud to inform Papadopoulos, a junior official in the Trump campaign, that they had stolen the Democrats’ emails is a mystery.

However, it’s not a mystery why Donald Trump responded with “Wouldn’t that be great!” to Roger Stone’s informing him that WikiLeaks was about to “dump” thousands of Hillary’s emails. Nor is it a mystery why Donald Trump Jr. responded with “I love it!” to an entreaty on behalf of the family of Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov to set up a meeting in Trump Tower with six Russians connected to Russian intelligence about the Russian government having “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

Trump used the fact that the Russians had stolen the Democrats’ emails to get elected. He mentioned those stolen emails more than 160 times in the closing months of his campaign for the presidency. Donald Trump told his followers over and over again “I love WikiLeaks!” They knew exactly who he was and what he meant. That’s why they voted for him.

And it’s why Republicans are so reluctant to argue with the facts that we now know about the way the Russian government helped Donald Trump get elected president. They would rather call Michael Cohen a “liar,” or me a “moron” or the “shite” (sic) they smell, or the entire American media “fake news” than dip their little toe into arguing the facts of the Russia investigation.

As for Trump himself? After denying for months and months that he or anyone on his campaign had anything to do with Russians, he has now decided to admit it and claim it wasn’t illegal because it wasn’t “collusion.” And everything else — protecting Flynn, firing Comey, firing others engaged in investigating him, tampering with witnesses, dangling pardons, hell even renting out entire floors of his Washington hotel to dictatorial foreign governments — well, it’s all legal because he’s the president.

You can’t indict a sitting president. You can’t impeach and convict a sitting president if his name is Trump because The Base won’t let you. Donald Trump’s defense has come down to this: Na-na-na-na-ya! I’m Trump! What are you going to do about it?

By Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. You can read his daily columns at and follow him on Twitter @LucianKTruscott and on Facebook at Lucian K. Truscott IV.

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