John Dean must be having a deja vu moment. Or three. When Dean became a liability to his boss, Richard Nixon, during the Watergate scandal, Nixon not only fired him. He wrote him off. Completely.
It was as though Dean, in his three years as Nixon’s chief counsel, had never been privy to Oval Office discussions about Watergate. So how could he testify about the “alleged” coverup?
Well, now it’s Trumpgate time in the world of Alternative Facts. And as this president’s ties to the Putin regime in Russia come under greater scrutiny, more than one member of Trump’s revolving inner circle are getting the John Dean treatment.
Remember Paul Manafort? Trump’s chose him as his campaign manager after winning the Republican nomination — then dropped him once it was revealed that Manafort had long and deep business ties to Putin’s political allies.
Here’s White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, writing off Manafort in the press room on Monday:
But, as Aaron Blake writes in a Washington Post news analysis, “Manafort is hardly the only player the Trump team has downgraded retroactively — and often in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.”
Here’s the rest of Blake’s insightful piece on the perils of playing fast and loose in Trump’s sandbox.
In the same briefing Monday, Spicer seemed to dismiss longtime informal Trump adviser Roger Stone and former foreign policy adviser Carter Page as “hangers-on.” “Some of those names, the greatest amount of interaction that they’ve had is cease-and-desist letters sent to them,” Spicer said. Former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, meanwhile, was only a “volunteer of the campaign,” Spicer said.
The common link between all four men, of course, is that they are now liabilities — under scrutiny for their interactions related to an investigation of Russian meddling in the campaign. But Spicer’s efforts to suggest that their roles didn’t amount to much truly strain credulity.
The Trump campaign did part ways with Stone in August 2015, and the two certainly have had an odd relationship. But that relationship dates back decades, and Stone is widely still considered a Trump associate. He told the National Review on Monday that he still advises Trump, in fact. “I prefer to communicate with the president through short, pithy memos, as I have for 39 years,” he said.
Stone is now facing scrutiny and may have to testify about his contacts with the hacker Guccifer 2.0, who has claimed responsibility for the hack at the Democratic National Committee.
Page was named to the Trump foreign policy team in March 2016, and as recently as August was described by Trump spokesman Hope Hicks as an “informal adviser.” But after it was reported that his contacts with Russia were being investigated, Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller insisted that Page “has made no contribution to the campaign,” and Kellyanne Conway said he was “certainly not part of the campaign that I’m running.” Spicer said in January that Page was “an individual who the president-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign.” Trump said in February that Page “was a very low-level member of I think a committee for a short period of time.”