In the immediate days following its release, the world had only seen 101 words of a 300-page report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This averages out to one word per every three pages. Imagine grading a three-page book report on just one word and you can understand the dilemma this presents.
As he approached reporters that Wednesday afternoon, I asked Trump if his administration had plans to stop Russian interference in the 2020 election: “The Barr memo says Russia hacked our election, so what do you plan to do to make sure that doesn’t happen in 2020?”
“Be quiet,” he told me, pointing a finger straight at me.
Then he gave me the same look he gave John Roberts from Fox News last week.
"That's his fuck you look,” said more than one reporter.
Hope is with us always. Trump will not be.
“It’s a scorecard for some whack job who wants to assault us,” responded more than one reporter.
Kellyanne Conway has assailed the media with a renewed sense of vengeance following the release of the Barr memo but even so, she had a hard time answering one of my questions: “Does the president think it’s a witch hunt and a hoax now and if he does will he support dropping charges against the 25 Russians indicted by Mueller?”
She tried to turn the tables.
“Let me ask you a question . . .” she began.
“I’m here to ask the questions. You’re here to answer them,” I responded.
She finally said the president thought the only part of the investigation that was a hoax was the part that targeted him. Trump, however, in his first rally following Barr's memo, cast doubt on whether Russia had any involvement in the election at all.
“Russia? What the hell does Russia have to do with my campaign?” he said at a Michigan rally, adding, “After three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead. The collusion delusion is over...This was nothing more than a sinister effort to undermine our historic election victory and to sabotage the will of the American people."
This is only what the general public has seen. Other unseen occurrences are just as disturbing. Trump has rearranged his little visits on the South Lawn in an attempt to pit reporters and photographers against each other and give him an even greater advantage in ignoring us while pretending to be "accessible." The South Lawn visits, approximately one a week, are the only occasions (other than his rallies) where the open press gets to interact with him. The visits last usually less than 10 minutes. The president picks and chooses who he wants to engage with and ignores other questions, pretending he cannot hear others.
When he complains he can’t hear us, I’ve been known to respond “We can do this in the briefing room,” only to have the infamous presidential stink eye shot in my direction. To get into these intimate events, more than 100 reporters and photographers have to cram into three rows behind a rope line; this is the same number of people who routinely show up for White House briefings. Thankfully, most people on the South Lawn bathe and use breath mints—though the unintended intimacy is something with which we’re all still struggling.
In business class is 14 pool reporters and photographers who the world depends on to write down the quotes and take the photos. The rest of us are in coach and it’s first come, first serve. It makes life difficult—and the president knows it. He exploits it for his own ends.
“He knows we’ll do anything to ask him a question,” more than one network reporter stuck flying coach has said. But it doesn’t stop there. The president—in a renewed battle with the press—has even changed the rules on who gets hard passes and thus, easier access into the White House. Under new guidelines, reporters have to show up at the White House more often than the president currently does just to have the luxury of the access to him. But “I’ll get back to you, email me on that” is the answer many of us get from some of the White House press staff when we ask questions. Return emails are rare and it is rarer they get back to you in person on anything. They ignore you and attack you.
Trump engaged the greatest vitriol in Michigan when he called the House Intelligence Committee chairman who oversees the Russian probe in Congress “little pencil-neck Adam Schiff.” Trump derided “Democrat politicians, the media bosses, bad people...crooked journalists, the totally dishonest TV pundits...and all the current and former officials who paid for, promoted and perpetuated the single greatest [hoax] in the history of politics in our country.”
Then the president threw down his Trump card.
“They have to be—I am sorry, they have to be accountable.”
The rallying crowd yelled “Lock them up!"
The president of the United States is laid bare again. He is an addled old man who stumbled into a great deal of power he was never prepared to wield, and he leads a great number of people who represent the suckers born every minute. They will follow him eagerly into the hell he wants to create, assured he is their savior and convinced all who oppose him should be locked up or dead. He doesn’t care about any of them. He only cares for himself and close to the end of his own life, he doesn’t think about those who follow. He only thinks in the moment. He is abusive, petty, arrogant, ignorant and has permanently stained the fabric of our nation in ways fascinating and frightening. We never thought it could happen here and yet here we are.
The Barr memo is, in essence, Pandora’s Box. It has unleashed the demon and summoned forth the fury of one of the seven princes of hell. A Lord of the Flies feasting on excrement. Beelzebub. Or Donald Trump. All are the same.
His administration consists of those desperate to try and hold down the carnage while fighting the Dark Lord of the Sith; those who believe in his cause and incompetent bunglers who can’t operate the machinery and look to Trump for salvation. When Prometheus stole fire from the heavens, Zeus took his vengeance by presenting Pandora to the world. She opened a box containing sickness, death and many unspecified evils. Left in the box was hope. Hope is with us always. Trump will not be. But for now his pestilence runs free, bolstered by the Barr memo. He remains eager to make life a living hell for anyone who even appears to oppose him.