On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton – the single biggest upset in modern American politics.
That was 219 days ago.
And yet, on Thursday afternoon, Trump sent two tweets attacking his former opponent.
“Why is that Hillary Clintons family and Dems dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are?,” Trump tweeted just before 4 p.m. eastern time.
He followed that up 12 minutes later with a second tweet: “Crooked H destroyed phones w/ hammer, ‘bleached’ emails, & had husband meet w/AG days before she was cleared- & they talk about obstruction?”
What these twin tweets suggest is something we already knew: Trump just can’t quit the 2016 election, and Clinton.
He spent weeks reveling in his stunning win. He reminded anyone who asked – and lots of people who didn’t – that he had won over 300 electoral votes, a feat people said was impossible for any Republicans. As his 100th day in office approached, Trump handed out electoral maps to reporters coming to talk to him about what he had done for those first 100 days.
Huge framed electoral maps were shown being brought into the White House.
The 2016 election represented Trump’s greatest triumph, his life’s work: Proving that all the elites who mocked him or said he couldn’t do something were mistaken all along. They had to eat their words. He was right. Everyone else was wrong. The end.
Then there’s the fact that Trump also works better when he has someone or something to run against. In Clinton, he found a perfect opponent – someone as cautious as he was risky, someone as insider as he was outsider, someone as mannered as he was unruly.
It makes sense then that in one of the darkest moments of his presidency to date – following The Washington Post’s report Wednesday night that special counsel Bob Mueller was investigating Trump for obstruction of justice – that Trump would return to his best memories and his most reliable foil.
The problem for Trump is that he won the election. It’s over. Has been for a long time. (We are now closer to November 2017 than we are to November 2016.)
In winning, he became the president. And what the current president does or has done matters a whole lot more than what a losing candidate for president does, in the eyes of our criminal and legal systems.
(That’s not unique to Trump. Many members of Congress – of both parties – have resigned in the face of legal problems, knowing that a former House member is a lot less juicy of a target than a sitting one.)
Then there are the specifics of the allegations Trump is making against Clinton in his tweets.
In his first tweet about Russia ties, the story I think Trump is referring to is this one, which ran in The New York Times in April 2015 and was headlined: “Cash Flowed to Clinton Foundation Amid Russian Uranium Deal.” At issue was the fact that a number of Canadians who had been major donors to the Clinton Foundation had sold their company to a Russian company named Rosatom.
Here’s the key paragraph:
“As the Russians gradually assumed control of Uranium One in three separate transactions from 2009 to 2013, Canadian records show, a flow of cash made its way to the Clinton Foundation. Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million. Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors. Other people with ties to the company made donations as well.”
The Clinton Foundation admitted it had made disclosure errors. The allegation that Clinton, as secretary of state, could have vetoed the sale was found to be false by Factcheck.org.
Trump’s second tweet deals with a series of findings aired in the 2016 campaign. The smashing of phones with a hammer and bleaching emails comes from the FBI’s report into her private email server. The other charge deals with Bill Clinton’s decision to meet with then Attorney General Loretta Lynch while their planes idled on the tarmac.
Fired FBI Director James Comey said in congressional testimony last week that he believed that meeting was not appropriate. He also detailed the fact that Lynch had told him to refer to the Clinton email investigation as “matter” and not an investigation – an ask that gave him a “queasy feeling.”
What Trump is arguing is, essentially, that the questions about the uranium mine sale and the plane visit should take precedence over the “hoax” that is the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, potential collusion with his campaign and the possibility that he obstructed justice in the probe.
That is, of course, a matter of personal opinion – and one Trump is very much entitled to. But remember that the special counsel was appointed by the deputy attorney general within the Trump administration. Bob Mueller was deputy AG Rod Rosenstein’s pick, not Clinton’s, or anyone else’s. This was not a partisan action.
Trump is a victim of his own success here.
He won the election. He is the President – and the most powerful person in the country. That means he gets a level of scrutiny no one else does. Particularly when there is so much smoke swirling regarding the ties between Russia and his campaign, and his decision to fire Comey in the midst of a federal investigation into those allegations.
Trump can try to distract. He can try to deflect. He can complain about Clinton’s alleged transgressions. But what he can’t change is the fact that he is President, and this investigation isn’t going to disappear just because he sent two – or two hundred – tweets about Clinton.