Is it happening again?
It’s a familiar pattern: Someone accuses President Trump or a member of his inner circle of doing something illegal or unethical, the administration’s typical first response is to deny that Trump knew about it.
His statements, or his flack’s, then evolve through half-admissions and justifications that culminate in someone (often the president) making the argument that crimes aren’t actually crimes.
The process appears to be repeating itself with the revelation that federal prosecutors are investigating whether Trump’s inaugural committee broke the law by misspending funds or allowing donors to exchange money for policy concessions.
On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors are investigating whether the Trump inaugural committee misspent some of the $107 million it raised for the president’s January 2017 inaugural festivities.
The committee raised more than double what the 2009 Obama inaugural committee raised, mostly from wealthy donors and corporations. How the money was actually spent is not clear. What is known is that the big donors were given access to the new president — including candlelight dinners with the Trumps and the Pences.
The first response to the report from the White House was to insist that Trump knew nothing about how the money was spent.
“That doesn’t have anything to do with the president or the first lady,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Thursday evening.
“The biggest thing the president did, his engagement in the inauguration, was to come here and raise his hand and take the oath of office. The president was focused on the transition during that time and not on any of the planning for the inauguration.”
“He didn’t know about it” is the Trump administration’s favorite first line of defense, and it’s historically just the beginning of a process. Trump’s defense then typically morphs to “he knew about it, but didn’t order it to happen,” and then to “he authorized it, but it’s not illegal.”
Here are some of the other instances in which Trump pleaded ignorance, then amended his story as facts trickled out.
Hush money to cover up alleged affairs
When it was first reported that the National Enquirer had paid Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal over $100,000 each to “catch and kill” their stories about the affairs they said they had with Trump, his spokesperson Hope Hicks said “We have no knowledge of any of this.” Trump also denied knowing anything about the payment his attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, made to silence Daniels in April. “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen,” the president told reporters who had asked him about it. “Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael.”
In May, he acknowledged that he had authorized the payment. He said the non-disclosure agreement was “very common among celebrities and people of wealth.”
On Thursday, Cohen pleaded guilty to a variety of crimes, including those related to the hush money payments and was sentenced to three years in prison. The president’s former “fixer” told ABC News in an interview broadcast Friday that Trump knew it was “wrong” to pay off accusers during an election. NBC News and the Wall Street Journal recently reported that Trump himself was in the room during discussions of the hush-money payments.
Business deals in Russia
Trump regularly denied having any connection to Russia or attempting to do business there while running for president. In July 2016, he said “I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia.” At his last press conference before his inauguration, Trump said he had “no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away.”
However in November, Trump admitted he did actively consider conducting business in Russia well into the 2016 presidential campaign, including construction of a hotel in which one possible carrot was to offer Russian President Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse suite.
Trump Tower meeting with Russians
After news broke in July 2017 that senior Trump campaign aides had met in June 2016 at Trump Tower with Russian nationals, and Donald Trump Jr. issued a statement dictated by his father that the meeting was about Russian adoptions.
In July 2018, Trump admitted that the meeting was intended to “get information on an opponent” and defended the practice.
Trump still maintains that he did not know about the meeting, though two days beforehand, he gave a campaign speech saying he was “going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”
Carter Page’s role in the Trump campaign
After he became a political liability in the thick of the 2016 presidential race, the Trump campaign denied that campaign aide Carter Page had any role in the Trump campaign. “Mr. Page is not an advisor and has made no contribution to the campaign,” Trump’s then spokesperson Jason Miller said in September 2016. “I’ve never spoken to him, and wouldn’t recognize him if he were sitting next to me.”
Page was in fact a foreign policy aide on the campaign, and the FBI suspected he had been recruited by the Russian government. Page called himself an “informal adviser” to the Russian government in 2013.
In 2017, Trump defended Page on Twitter, and said Page “now wants to clear his name.”
So now it is reported that the Democrats, who have excoriated Carter Page about Russia, don't want him to testify. He blows away their….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017
…case against him & now wants to clear his name by showing "the false or misleading testimony by James Comey, John Brennan…" Witch Hunt!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 31, 2017
Ironically, Trump criticized President Obama in 2013 for saying “he knew nothing about anything.”
Isn't the WORLD tired of hearing President Obama say he knew nothing about anything-time to take responsibility for all of your mistakes!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2013
“Time to take responsibility for all of your mistakes!” Trump urged — not long before he found himself in the White House, facing scrutiny of his own.