Washington • President Trump offered a curious defense against a whistleblower’s reported allegation that he made a troubling “promise” on a call with a foreign leader.
"Is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially 'heavily populated' call," he asked.
Why, yes. Yes, I am dumb enough to believe it, given that the president has previously: handed over highly classified intelligence to Russia; sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin against U.S. intelligence; devised military strategy in public at Mar-a-Lago; "fell in love" with North Korea's dictator; invited the Taliban to Camp David; altered a weather forecast with a Sharpie; said windmills cause cancer; and hired Rudy Giuliani.
The last may be most worrisome, for when the former New York mayor and current raving madman went on CNN Thursday night to explain the president’s promise, his primary defense was to shout out Joe Biden’s name — 24 times. Giuliani said he had proof that Biden bribed the Ukrainian government to protect his son, but “I don’t have to give you the proof” — and, alas, available evidence doesn’t support Giuliani’s claim.
In the process, Giuliani managed to contradict himself within seconds, first saying he didn't ask Ukraine to investigate Biden, then saying, "Of course I did." He completed his defense of the president with a series of random interjections shouted at host Chris Cuomo: "You are a sellout. ... Come after me! ... Do you think I'm a fool? ... Holy God! ... You don't think there's a Deep State? ... You shouldn't be embarrassed for me. ... Of course I'm aware of what I'm saying! ... You shouldn't have a good night!"
Clearly, Trump and his wild-eyed lawyer can do better. I am here for them.
When The Washington Post reported Wednesday night that the administration was blocking Congress from learning about an "urgent" intelligence-agency whistleblower complaint involving Trump's promise to a foreign leader, it listed possible countries as Russia, North Korea, Qatar, Pakistan and the Netherlands. This left open the hopeful possibility that Trump, having failed to buy Greenland from Denmark, had entered into a promise to buy Aruba from the Dutch. This would likely be a friendly transaction, because the people of Aruba's capital, Oranjestad, would welcome an orange president.
Even if the mystery leader turned out to be Putin, all was not lost. Trump needn't have promised Putin Ukraine. Maybe he promised him something innocuous, such as a Mar-a-Lago membership, a presidential medal of freedom or Alaska. Maybe it was as simple as promising Putin a new steed for his next horseback photo shoot.
The defense became trickier Thursday night, however, when The Post reported that Trump's "promise" did indeed involve Ukraine, and Friday, with reports that he asked Ukraine to investigate Biden's son. This raised the ominous possibility that Trump might have offered to give Ukraine a promised $250 million in military aid against Russia-backed separatists only if Ukraine provided dirt on Biden.
Still, there are plenty of totally benign explanations for why Trump withheld the $250 million:
1. Trump was just joking, like when he asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails. (The new Ukrainian president was a comedian!)
2. Mexico was supposed to pay for it.
3. Biden took the $250 million!
4. Trump had the $250 million in cash, but it fell out of his pocket while he was boarding Air Force One.
5. Trump needed the $250 million because Saudi emoluments were in arrears at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
6. Biden took it!
7. Trump needed the money because the Air Force stopped booking personnel at Trump's resort in Scotland.
8. The Pentagon repurposed the $250 million to build the wall.
9. Biden took it!
10. Trump needed the funds for hush money.
11. The funds were needed to keep Giuliani under 24-hour supervision in a tranquil setting.
12. Also, Joe Biden!
In the unlikely event all these explanations fail, Trump could finally fall back on this one, which has the virtue of being true: His "promise" wasn't necessary. Russia is already interfering in the 2020 election cycle, undoubtedly to help Trump as it did last time. Trump has also befriended many of the world's most brutal autocrats and strongmen, in North Korea, the Philippines, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Hungary and Brazil — and some of them are sure to give Trump an assist in the election as well.
Is Trump "dumb enough" to believe he has to ask?
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.