Donald Trump does not like to be criticized. When he is attacked — or even when he thinks he might have been attacked — he tends to fire back in the same way each time: with smears and vague aspersions. On Thursday, his former chief economic adviser Gary Cohn was the latest recipient of his apparent defamation.
When Cohn stepped down in March from his position as head of Trump’s National Economic Council director, Trump called him a “rare talent” and praised him for doing a “superb job in driving our agenda, helping to deliver historic tax cuts and reforms and unleashing the American economy once again.”
“It could have been. A lot of people have said that, you know, Gary Cohn. And I could tell stories about him like you wouldn’t believe. Gary Cohn could have been.” Trump noted that Cohn “issued a statement about how he has great respect for this administration,” but dismissed that asking rhetorically, “but what does that mean?” He then mocked Cohn for not believing in his ability to get his NAFTA 2018 trade deals with Canada and Mexico.
The tactic of suggesting — with no evidence — that Trump has embarrassing stories to tell about someone in his crosshairs is one Trump uses a lot, along with his technique of claiming that his critics secretly had begged him for stuff.
Here are just a few examples:
Senate Democrats who opposed Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation
Just last week, Trump repeatedly used this approach to attack Senate Democrats who criticized his Supreme Court pick. First he dangled blackmail material over the head of an unnamed Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying, “I’ve seen that person in very, very bad situations, somewhat compromising.” Then, at a Mississippi rally, he attacked the whole caucus. “They destroy people, they want to destroy people. These are really evil people and then you see the people who are doing it,” he claimed. “I could tell you things about every one of them.”
Trump’s disdain for the late Sen. John McCain preceded his 2017 vote against Trumpcare. But after the Arizona Republican’s dramatic vote killed Trump’s Obamacare, he attempted to smear McCain by implying knowing something the public did not. “And then, time goes by, and he voted. And then, of course, you know, John McCain came in, and he went thumbs down at 3 o’clock in the morning, and everybody—— Everybody. Oh, I know so much, folks, I could tell you,” he told a rally in Alabama. “It was sad.”
After Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) helped sink the nomination of Trump’s personal doctor to be Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the president was livid. “What Jon Tester did to this man is a disgrace,” Trump said a Michigan rally. “Tester started throwing out things that he’s heard. Well I know things about Tester that I could say too,” he warned. “And if I said them, he’d never be elected again.”
After then-Fox News host Megyn Kelly asked Donald Trump a question about his history of sexist comments during a primary debate in 2015, Trump famously implied that it must have been because she was on her period. But in a CNN interview around the same time, he also implied that he knew secret information about Kelly’s competence. “I like to expose people. I mean, I expose Megyn Kelly as not being very good,” he told Don Lemon. “I could tell you other things about Megyn Kelly that would be very harsh but I won’t bother with that.”
Trump’s smears are not limited only to his critics themselves, but also sometimes extend to their families. During his 2016 primary campaign, opponent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) irked Trump by utilizing a naked GQ photo of Melania Trump. He responded by threatening to expose some unknown information about Cruz’s wife, Heidi.
Lyin' Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin' Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 23, 2016
The “fake” media:
Trump has frequently accused reporters who report negative things about his administration of simply creating “fake news.” But rather than actually identify which reporters he means, he simply leaves that part vague. An Oval Office interview after his first 100 days in office demonstrated this tactic. “I have learned one thing, because I get treated very unfairly, that’s what I call it, the fake media. And the fake media is not all of the media. You know, they tried to say that the fake media was all the — no, the fake media is some of you. I could tell you who it is, 100 percent,” Trump said.
Other rich candidates:
In his 2016 Time “Person of the Year” interview, then-President Elect Trump attacked unnamed other political candidates who pretend they have the common touch. “Others try to hide their wealth,” he said. “I mean I could tell you other candidates that have money, they’ll go around and they’ll get into a bad car just before they get to a rally. I don’t believe in that. I don’t believe in that.”