On Tuesday, the New York Post published an extraordinary leak about the grand jury impaneled by Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia.
The piece — written by Richard Johnson, a Page Six gossip columnist — quoted a source discussing the nature of the jury, even though the composition and activities of the grand jury are supposed to be secret.
“The grand jury room looks like a Bernie Sanders rally,” my source said. “Maybe they found these jurors in central casting, or at a Black Lives Matter rally in Berkeley [Calif.]”
Of the 20 jurors, 11 are African-Americans and two were wearing “peace T-shirts,” the witness said. “There was only one white male in the room, and he was a prosecutor.” Mueller was not present.
The quote drips with racism — suggesting that, unless there is a minimum number of white people in a jury room, the process is illegitimate.
And whoever leaked this tidbit to the New York Post sounds an awful lot like Donald Trump.
“Central casting” is a Trump signature
The most telling aspect of the anonymous quote provided to the New York Post is the source’s use of the term “central casting.”
This term, which originated in the entertainment industry to describe someone whose appearance matches the stereotypes associated with an acting role, is a favorite phrase of Trump’s.
“[Pence] has been so wonderful to work with. He’s a real talent, a real guy. And he is central casting, do we agree? Central casting,” Trump told the National Governor’s Association in February in reference to his vice president.
“This is central casting. If I was doing a movie, I pick you, general,” Trump said of his Secretary of Defense, General James Mattis, last January.
Trump has also used the phrase to defend his plan to discriminate against certain immigrants. “But, you know, they want you to look at a woman who’s in a wheelchair, that’s 88 years old, and barely making it, and let’s say, comes out of Sweden. She’s supposed to be treated the same way as a guy that looks just like the guy that just got captured, who is central casting for profiling,” Trump said in September 2016.
Trump’s use of the phrase “central casting” is so pervasive that multiple articles have been written on the subject over the past year.
MSNBC took on the topic last February, reporting that the president is “preoccupied” with the term.
The same month, the New York Times also referenced Trump’s fondness for the phrase, describing it as “one of his favorite accolades.”
In announcing Neil M. Gorsuch as his Supreme Court nominee during atelevised event Tuesday night at the White House, President Trump rightly extolled the judge’s “brilliance,” academic credentials and qualifications, but, interestingly, he left out one of his favorite accolades: that the choice was straight out of “central casting.”
The New York Times noted Trump’s predilection for the phrase again last October, in a piece discussing his choice of Jerome Powell to head the Federal Reserve.
One White House official described Mr. Powell as a “safe” choice as well as the candidate who most closely fit Mr. Trump’s penchant for filling top jobs with characters from “central casting,” as he has often put it.
Trump’s cozy relationship with Richard Johnson
In addition to the Trumpian speech patterns in the anonymous quote, it was also published by a reporter who has deep ties to Donald Trump.
Although Richard Johnson is now a columnist, he served as editor for Page Six from 1993 to 2010 — a publication that is famously revered by Trump. Susan Mulcahy, who served as Page Six editor in the 1980s, wrote last June that Trump “loves Page Six and used to have it brought it to him the moment it arrived in his office.” She described speaking to him on a regular basis during her tenure.
Johnson is on record about his close relationship to Trump. Last month, he detailed their connections in a column entitled “Richard Johnson’s life with the Donald.”
In that column, Johnson revealed that he “served as a judge for the Miss Universe pageant when Trump owned the franchise.” He also described a personal conversation he had with Trump shortly after he won the presidential election.
Many of Johnson’s recent columns appear to rely on sources close to Trump. A December 24 column, for example, provides details of a White House Christmas Party that was closed to the press. “[S]ome of the guests were so thrilled by the experience, they couldn’t maintain their silence,” Johnson wrote.
The sourcing on Johnson’s New York Post story from Tuesday leaves open the possibility that the anonymous quote did not necessarily come from someone who has served as a witness in Mueller’s investigation. Johnson writes the information about the grand jury was relayed to him from “one witness.” But he describes his conversation with “a source” without specifying whether his “source” was the “witness.”
Trump has a history of being an anonymous source for stories. For years, a spokesman named John Barron would defend Trump in various news outlets. It was later revealed that Barron was actually Trump himself.
But of course, just because Page Six’s source sounds a lot like Trump does not definitively mean it is Trump. It could also be, for example, someone who has picked up Trump’s speech patterns by spending a lot of time with him. Trump’s adult sons, Eric and Don Jr., fall in this category.
And if the source of the anonymous quote hoped to spark a bigger narrative about the credibility of the Mueller investigation, it appears to be working. The anonymous tipster’s point was echoed on Wednesday morning by Brian Kilmeade, the co-host of Fox & Friends, Trump’s favorite TV show. Kilmeade claimed that Mueller was not “demographically pursuing justice” because he failed to include enough white people on the grand jury.