Editorial: Trump successes eclipsed by controversies
First the good news: The Commerce Department reported last week that the U.S. economy grew at a blistering 4.1 percent rate during the second quarter of this year. That’s the largest gain in Gross Domestic Product since the third quarter of 2014.
The announcement came just hours after North Korea turned over what it said were the remains of 55 U.S. soldiers killed during the 1950s Korean War.
Both positive developments. And both to the credit of President Trump and his administration.
But after a Friday South Lawn press conference at which Trump claimed victory for the strong economic showing, according to CNN, “he turned and retreated through the South Portico as reporters erupted into questions about the latest Russia development.”
Trump has long complained that the press doesn’t give him his due. He uses stock pejoratives to decry the media for continuing to focus on not only “the Russia developments” -- the ongoing probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and potential complicity by the Trump campaign -- but questions about past affairs and allegations of hush-money payments.
Sorry, Mr. President, it’s not the media, it’s you.
Consider this: In the days leading up to and including the GDP and North Korea announcements:
An audio recording made by Trump’s former private lawyer, Michael Cohen, captured the pair discussing a six-figure payment to a former Playboy model who alleges a yearlong affair with Trump in the mid-2000s. Trump has denied the affair and any knowledge of the payment.
The White House banned a CNN reporter from an event after she asked questions about the Cohen recording at a press gathering. Even Trump-friendly Fox News criticized the seemingly retaliatory move.
Sources reported that Cohen maintains he was present when Trump learned of plans for a highly controversial 2016 meeting between his son, Donald Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russian informants claiming to have dirt on then-Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton. Again, Trump has long denied knowledge of the meeting.
Within 24 hours of the Russia meeting story, it was disclosed that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who had not publicly responded to a recent invite to the White House, invited Trump to Moscow and says he is prepared to visit Washington. Suspicious timing aside, Trump is reportedly considering the invitation.
No reporter worth their salt is going to ignore the fast-moving and quickly changing narrative that is the ongoing Russia investigation -- not during a week when a U.S. senator’s office was targeted by a Russian fishing expedition. And between his contradictory explanations, defiant tweets and attacks on his own intelligence agencies, Trump does little to quell curiosity.
And remember, these latest developments came in the wake of the president’s suspiciously compliant performance at a press conference with Putin following the recent Helsinki summit. And the substance of that private, two-hour conversation has yet to be provided by the White House.
So there are plenty of legitimate questions and Trump, who hasn’t held a formal press conference since the first month of his administration, shouldn’t be surprised when reporters take any opportunity -- photo ops, briefings on unrelated issues, press conferences with foreign officials -- to pursue these complex, bedeviling and unprecedented issues.
If the president and his administration want to keep press and public attention on accomplishments like the steady economy, they need to stop making themselves and the questions they raise about Trump’s ties to Russia and other past misdeeds the bigger story.