Last night MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell announced on air that according to a source close to Deutsche Bank, Donald Trump’s loans were co-signed by Russian oligarchs. We were all expecting Trump to wake up today and begin refuting the story on Twitter accordingly. Instead, Trump is taking a very different surprise approach.
Donald Trump has had his lawyers send a letter to Lawrence O’Donnell, threatening legal action if the report about the Russian co-signers isn’t retracted, according to the Hollywood Reporter and other news outlets. What does this tell us about what’s really going on in Trump’s head? A lot, actually.
Trump responds to most scandalous stories about him by throwing a Twitter tantrum in which he refutes the story, personally attacks the reporter, or both. Trump surely understands that this doesn’t actually make a scandal go away, and instead magnifies it. But that’s fine with Trump, as long as it’s a story that he doesn’t think will hurt him anyway. He might as well play up a bed bug scandal, as he did yesterday, or play up a story about pardoning his own border officials, as he’s been doing today, because the controversy could distract the public from whatever scandals Trump thinks can hurt him.
The fact that Donald Trump hasn’t publicly addressed the Russian co-signers story is telling. It means Trump thinks this is the kind of scandal that can hurt him. Trump’s private threat of legal action means that he thinks this is the rare scandal that can take him down.
Donald Trump’s actions don’t prove that the Russian co-signers story is true. His actions merely demonstrate that he thinks this story represents a unique threat to him. Of course Trump could prove the story false by giving Deutsche Bank his blessing to publish the loan papers. Trump’s refusal to do that is also not proof that the story is true – but the court of public opinion is going to consider it suspicious. Either way, these financial documents are going to become public before too much longer.
After Trump threatened legal action, Lawrence O’Donnell posted this tweet: “Last night I made an error in judgment by reporting an item about the president’s finances that didn’t go through our rigorous verification and standards process. I shouldn’t have reported it and I was wrong to discuss it on the air. I will address the issue on my show tonight.” We’ll have to see what he has to say about it on-air.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report