Donald Trump tries out the mental incompetence defense after Papadopoulos and Gordon incriminate him

Donald Trump knew in advance that his campaign adviser George Papadopoulos was plotting to conspire with the Russian government to alter the outcome of the 2016 election. We now know this because Papadopoulos confirmed as much in his formal confession as part of his guilty plea, and because his fellow Trump adviser J.D. Gordon was in the room and is confirming it happened. In response, Trump is now trying out the first stages of what would be a rather jarring legal defense strategy.

Papadopoulos says he pitched Trump the idea of setting up a secret meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Gordon has confirmed that Trump “heard him out” (link). This puts Trump on the legal hook for at least misprision of a felony, and potentially a number of felony conspiracies. Trump seemed to realize he’d been cornered by Gordon’s confirmation, so he went ahead and admitted that the meeting took place. Here’s what he said about it today: “it was a very unimportant meeting, took place a long time, don’t remember much about it.” There’s only one place this is going.

The ‘I don’t recall’ defense is not a valid legal strategy. You can convince a judge and jury that you can’t remember what you had for lunch on a particular day last year, or some other detail that wouldn’t have been important enough to notch itself into your memory. But you can’t convince a jury that you forgot you robbed a bank, because that kind of thing would have been too crucial in your life for you to have reasonably forgotten about it.

Donald Trump’s attorneys, as inept as they are, must have explained this to him by now. He can’t just say he doesn’t remember. Trump knows he has to take it further by providing a valid premise for why he wouldn’t recall something as crucial as one of his own campaign advisers pitching him a Russian conspiracy plot involving Putin. He has to paint himself as having become too senile to recall such an important thing. Even that’s not really how a mental incompetence defense works – but there’s little doubt at this point that Trump is trying it on for size anyway.

Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report