For all his lifelong scheming and increasing erraticism, some aspects of Donald Trump’s behavior are so consistent as to be predictable. We’ve seen him strategically create one controversial mess after another on Twitter, just as an ugly bombshell was landing in his Trump-Russia scandal, in the hope of distracting the media and the public from the real story. Yesterday we saw it happen yet again.
One of the worst kept secrets in politics for the past several weeks has been that Trump was going to fire VA Secretary David Shulkin. It’s been all over the media. Anyone paying attention knew it was coming. In fact the only reason for Trump to wait was so he could use the announcement as a distraction once he needed one. Yesterday afternoon the New York Times reported that Trump’s former attorney John Dowd had dangled pardons in the faces of Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort sometime in the second half of 2017.
Less than an hour after the pardon story was published, Trump jumped on Twitter and promptly announced that Shulkin had been fired and replaced with Trump’s personal military physician Ronny Jackson. It’s not that the move was going to impress anyone, or fix the worsening problems at the VA. In fact it’s an objectively ludicrous move, as Jackson has no qualifications for the job, and Trump appears to be simply paying him back for having lied about Trump’s weight and height during a recent physical. But the timing here is everything.
So now we know that Donald Trump really, really didn’t want you to know that he teased Flynn and Manafort with pardons sometime last year. We don’t yet know why he was trying to distract from this. Maybe he didn’t want everyone to know that he tricked Manafort, as the pardon clearly never did happen. Maybe his remaining legal team has advised him that he can be criminally charged for having offered pardons to his co-conspirators in exchange for not testifying against him. Maybe Trump thinks it means John Dowd has flipped on him. We’re not sure yet. But Trump really didn’t want the pardon story out there yesterday.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report