My long experience as a reporter has left me with a professional belief system. Actually, it’s more like a disbelief system, developed after decades of dealing with corporate types, public-relations people and, obviously, politicians. Put Donald Trump in all three categories.
One of my articles of faith, or lack thereof, concerns leaks and those who profess outrage about them. Simply put — and I warn you, this is profound: He who freaks the most, leaks the most.
The same someone who complains vehemently about information from sources who are not identified is quite possibly responsible for getting someone to whisper in some journalist’s ear. Who tweets a lot about leaks? President Trump. Who has built his entire career on strategic leaks? Bingo! The Trumpster. He’s a master at having it both ways: playing that sleazy game of providing self-serving details using the rules of background information, where the newsman cannot reveal his source, then turning right around and condemning said source.
So it is with The New York Times story about the hardball questions special counsel Robert Mueller might ask the president in an interrogation. Trump has been pretending that he’d love to sit down and face off with prosecutors on the team looking into alleged collusion with the Russian government during the American election, and all things that grow out of that investigation. Many of these questions — and no one disputes the list that apparently was put together by the president’s legal team — have to do with possible obstruction of justice by Donald Trump and those who answer to him.
Sure enough, what followed the story was a Trump tweet, which read in part: “So disgraceful that the questions concerning the Russian Witch Hunt were ‘leaked’ to the media.” Why would he do that, you ask? Publix exposure of those questions might further the president’s constant narrative that the Mueller probe is overreaching, that it’s nothing more than “a witch hunt.” He’s simply the victim of a plot by media and the “deep state” to do him in.
There’s another operating theory I’ve developed over the decades of sad experience covering so many politicians: “When they deny, they lie.” Donald Trump is a star player on this field of schemes. And he has plenty of teammates. Like Rudy Giuliani, who just joined the Trump legal squad and who demonstrates once again that he’s no slouch in the cheesy tactic of undoing a lie for a partner in crime (make that “alleged crime”).
Not too long ago, Trump categorically denied that he had anything to do with his then-attorney Michael Cohen’s $130,000 hush-money payment to Stormy Daniels. Now Giuliani, in response to penetrating questions from Sean Hannity (obviously, I’m being sarcastic), has acknowledged that Trump had everything to do with Cohen’s payoff to stripper/porn star Daniels so she would not go public with her claim that she’d had a one-nighter with The Donald.
Clearly the legal gang had decided the Trump denials raised questions about campaign-finance violations, so Trump, through Giuliani, now has changed his story. The problem is that they may have dug him deeper. The latest version still may qualify as a campaign-finance violation. It probably doesn’t fit the legal definition of money laundering, but it certainly seems to be money hiding.
Robert Mueller appears to be exploring all possibilities. He’s definitely the plodding type. Before he lowers the boom, he makes sure he has a boom to lower. There are nonstop leaks that President Trump will feel so painfully squeezed that he’ll fire Mueller. Those leaks could have been put out by Trump and his buddies (see rule No. 1) as a trial balloon. So far, they’re just that. So far.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.