In the midst of stonewalling multiple congressional investigations and with his lawyers fighting desperately in various courts to keep his tax returns and bank records under wraps, President Donald Trump told reporters assembled in the Rose Garden Wednesday that he is the “the most transparent president, probably, in the history of this country” and seemed to expect everyone there to agree with him. Those unfamiliar with the man’s ways might have assumed that he was joking. Weirdly, he was not.
This is not the first time Mr. Trump, the only president of the modern era who hasn’t released his tax returns, has made the case for transparency — as in he’s got the transparent thing bigly. It’s mostly been in the context of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. His point is essentially this: Look at all the Trump administration people who provided records or spoke to investigators for months and months. There were lots of them (the president not included). That makes me transparent.
Of course, in reality, it mostly means he complied with the law. Or, in some cases, chose not to exercise executive privilege. You know who else chooses to cooperate with investigations into wrongdoing? Innocent people. They do it all the time. They are, however, less likely to dangle pardons, or label an investigation a “witch hunt,” or seek a loyalty pledge from the FBI director or fire said FBI director and then misrepresenting their reasons for doing so, or order top intelligence officials to clear them, or pressure the attorney general to limit the scope of the investigation (and un-recuse himself from overseeing it), or dictate a misleading statement about a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer at Trump Tower, or try to fire the special counsel. Surely, we all know the basic facts behind an obstruction-of-justice case against Mr. Trump by now.
President Trump has decided the Congress shouldn’t exercise its oversight role of the executive branch. So he’s chosen to go to the mattresses. President Trump’s choice to walk out on a meeting about a $2 trillion infrastructure plan with top congressional Democrats was just a bit of added theater. Does anyone believe it was a spontaneous reaction to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s suggestion of a “cover-up” by the White House? Seriously? We can’t entirely dismiss a measure of petulance from the executive-in-tweet, that’s par for the course, but Democrats have been griping about this administration’s cover-ups since the day his spokesman was claiming record inauguration crowds and probably before. This wasn’t a sudden discovery of Democratic criticism. He even had a visual aid waiting for him at the speaker’s podium.
Alternative facts have become such a standard practice from the reverse-billionaire with the string of financial setbacks he won’t admit that one wonders if President Trump even expects Americans, at least those not indoctrinated in the Fox News cult, to take his claims seriously. When a crowd in Pennsylvania cheers at the president’s claim that Joe Biden “deserted” the Keystone State (and thus should not be supported in his run for president), does the audience even care that Mr. Biden was 10 years old at the time? So, there was Mr. Trump last Monday night in Montoursville castigating Mr. Biden for not standing up to his father who moved the whole family from Scranton to Wilmington, Del. in 1953 so he could take a job cleaning boilers. The nerve of that fourth grader. Give that youngster heck, Sean Hannity.
Still, there is one interpretation of Mr. Trump’s actions that might allow that “transparency” claim to hold up. Perhaps what he meant was the this administration is the most transparent ever in its motivations to distract Americans and derail congressional investigations. This president doesn’t like criticisms of him to hold a prominent position in the news cycle. So he’s perfectly willing to shut down all the business of Washington to keep House Democrats out of his business. That’s pretty obvious. In this one respect, Donald Trump is more like the all-time, greatest and most wondrous “plastic wrap” president — he seals stuff up, but you can still see right through him.