On Tuesday, in preparation for his phone call with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, President Trump was given a briefing paper directing him to condemn Russia’s poisoning of a double agent on British soil and NOT to congratulate Putin on his rigged election. (“DO NOT CONGRATULATE,” read the all-caps, but apparently still too subtle, instructions.) Instead, Trump went the other way. He decided not to mention the awkward attempted murder and did congratulate Putin.
Republicans have responded to this episode with outrage. But their indignation is directed not at a president who has once again demonstrated his bizarre, deeply rooted affinity for Putin. Instead, they are angry that we know about this episode at all. “I don’t agree with congratulating #Putin but bigger outrage is this leak that could only come from someone in @POTUS inner circle,” says Marco Rubio. Former Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer complains, “Who leaks this stuff? This WH still is disloyal to the president and to each other. What a mess.” White House chief of staff John Kelly “is furious over the leak,” reports Politico. A Republican aide gripes to Axios, “It is a disservice to the president when every single thing and every single thought gets leaked out … I don’t understand why people don’t get that. It’s not fair to the president, to his agenda, and to those who work hard every day to move the ball down the field.”
It is obviously natural to want the White House to avoid leaking. What’s unnatural is the Republican belief that the leaking, rather than the subject of the leaks, is the underlying problem.
The predominant theory of the case in Republican circles, as I argued recently, is that Trump is an innocent man who acts guilty for no apparent reason. This explains their fixation with his tweeting, which is the safest and most common aspect of the Trump president for Republicans to question in public. Twitter is an open-access channel into his mind, into which Trump constantly feeds unfiltered confessions that defeat their efforts to spin on his behalf. Republicans are trying to make the case that, say, Andrew McCabe was fired for legitimate violations of FBI policy, and then Trump writes a tweet making it seem quite evident that he was fired because Trump personally hates and wants to discredit him.
Ed Rogers, the Republican lobbyist and America’s worst columnist, has a new column noting that Trump is doing more things that make him seem extremely guilty, like hiring lawyers who want to shut down the investigation and cozying up to Putin over and over. “Trump constantly does things to make himself appear guilty,” observes Rogers. “Let’s not even talk about his ‘congratulatory message’ to Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
Why does Trump constantly say and do things that make him look guilty? Occam’s razor would offer one explanation. The Republicans have a different one.