Trump’s interest in disassociating himself from the Russia story

Philip Bump writes: Sen. James E. Risch (R-Idaho) made a comment during the Senate Intelligence Committee’s questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions that has an obvious exception.

“I don’t think there’s any American,” Risch said, “who would disagree with the fact that we need to drill down to this” — that is, Russian meddling in the 2016 election — “know what happened, get it out in front of the American people and do what we can to stop it again.”

There is one American, at least, who seems generally uninterested in that need: Sessions’s boss, President Trump.

In his testimony, Sessions told Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) that he “did not recall” any meeting during which Trump expressed concern or curiosity about what Russia had been doing during the 2016 election. Sessions also testified that he himself, as the country’s and Trump’s lead law enforcement official, was never briefed on Russian interference. [Continue reading…]

This has become a common narrative — that Trump and those around him lack interest in getting to the bottom of the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 election — but even while superficially there might appear to be a lack of interest, there can’t be any doubt that this is a facade designed to conceal terror.

Trump is terrified that as soon as he acknowledges the reality and scope of the Russian influence campaign, he opens Pandora’s box, leading to the inescapable conclusion that his presidency lacks legitimacy. That conclusion will not necessarily hinge on proof of collusion.

But the question of legitimacy runs even deeper.

Trump’s line of attack against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was to claim that each lacked legitimacy and while this might look like conventional smear tactics in dirty politics, in the case of Trump it seems more indicative of his own insatiable craving to be legitimized.

Legitimacy, and more specifically Trump’s own sense that he lacks this, is his core issue. Trump regards legitimacy as a finite resource that he can only claim if he succeeds in stealing it from others. He believes the only way to rise up is by pushing others down.

Trump’s fear of the Russia story is not necessarily an indication of collusion at risk of being exposed. More likely, it is based on the fear that eventually he will be exposed as a political fraud — incapable as he is of recognizing that in the eyes of most of the world, that is already how he is perceived.

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