President Trump can’t seem to leave the Russia investigation alone, even though doing so might’ve let the story die down. First he fired FBI Director James Comey, and now he’s reportedly trying to quash special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation with an obscure ethics rule; he keeps feeding the story, to his own detriment.
But here’s the thing: Trump might not know how else to get what he wants.
During the campaign, he bragged about his ability to bend people to his will. All it took was a little greasing of the wheels — with money, power, and a bit of charm.
“As a businessman and a very substantial donor to very important people, when you give, they do whatever the hell you want them to do,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal in 2015. He even bragged that a donation got Hillary Clinton to come to his wedding.
The key here is that Trump believed he controlled them, and because of that, he could use them to get what he wanted.
Fast-forward to the present, and Trump is using these tools to interfere with the Russia investigation: He’s fired people, he’s reportedly asked people to make public statements for him, and now he’s reportedly trying to find ways to declaw the man in charge of the investigation.
This is an astounding diagram, and not because it might suggest Trump has something to hide. (After all, there are at least two other investigations into this matter.)
Rather, it’s because it shows Trump constantly trying to get people to do what he wants.
Reports indicate he asked the FBI director, the National Security Agency director, and the director of national intelligence to publicly say there was no collusion with Russia. He has made his press secretary go out and lie, time and again. And he appears to have continued to try to quell an investigation that might reveal evidence to question the legitimacy of the election.
People who have been around Trump have witnessed this kind of behavior before. Neil Barsky, who covered Trump in the early 1990s, wrote in the New York Times that Trump’s accomplishments were “minuscule” compared with those of successful real estate developers. But Barsky writes that it seemed Trump didn’t care about that. Rather, he was obsessed with how he was viewed by other people. Barsky writes:
He made up the prices he was getting for his condominiums, the value of bids he had turned down for various properties and his prospects for luring corporate tenants to his buildings.
Oddly, he seemed less interested in making money than in creating the perception that he was wealthy. This is why, I believe, he continually floated plans to build the world’s tallest building. People would notice. His feuds with Forbes magazine over his net worth were legion.
In short, what Trump was good at was using other people (and baiting journalists) to shape public perception of his wealth. And when Barsky wrote articles critical of Trump’s finances, Trump used other people to attack Barsky’s reputation.
When Trump signed up to be roasted on Comedy Central, he allowed virtually every joke to be made about him — including ones about his hair, his wife, and his weight. But there was one joke that wasn’t allowed: that Trump isn’t as wealthy as he claims to be.
The political equivalent of that, as it turns out, is that Trump didn’t win the election on his own. To outside observers, the diagram above is Trump inappropriately meddling in an investigation of his campaign. To Trump, it’s just using the strategy he knows to get what he wants.