“If you ask about some of his favorite topics — politely smile and nod — then maybe you’ll ingratiate yourself with him.”
Hours ahead of his first meeting with Vladimir Putin as president, Donald Trump had John Podesta on his mind. He’d have you believe other world leaders did, too.
On Friday, Trump — in Germany for the Group of 20 summit — tweeted that “Everyone here is talking about why John Podesta refused to give the DNC server to the FBI and the CIA. Disgraceful!”
The tweet comes amid Trump’s ongoing effort to cast doubt upon the US intelligence community’s consensus conclusion that Russia interfered in the election on his behalf. During a news conference on Thursday in Poland, Trump refused to unequivocally say that Russia was responsible, instead offering that “it could have been other people in other countries.”
But Trump’s position is incoherent. While he’s repeatedly tried to downplay Russian involvement, he’s simultaneously tried to blame Democrats for not doing more to stop election interference in the months leading up to the election.
As NBC’s Bradd Jaffy detailed, there are a number of problems with Trump’s tweet about Podesta. He’s conflating the hack of the Democratic National Committee with the hack of former Hillary Clinton campaign chairman Podesta, which were two separate incidents — neither of which directly involved the CIA. Also, the notion world leaders share Trump’s interest in relitigating Democrats’ response to US election interference during a summit in Europe is absurd on its face.
But on Trump’s favorite TV show, National Review political correspondent Jim Geraghty bent over backward to justify Trump’s tweet. Alluding to Trump’s very awkward first meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in March, Geraghty suggested that Merkel might have used Podesta as an icebreaker this time around.
“Merkel and Trump did not have the warmest or best of initial meetings, so if you’re a G20 world leader, maybe you ask about this sort of thing,” he said during a Fox News appearance. “You know it’s a topic on the president’s mind that probably can get him talking. If you ask about some of his favorite topics — politely smile and nod — then maybe you’ll ingratiate yourself with him.”
“So, maybe they are talking about it,” Geraghty added, before proposing an alternate explanation of the tweet: “Or maybe when he says ‘everyone here,’ maybe he’s just talking about within his limo.”
Host Brian Kilmeade echoed Geraghty’s theory before changing the topic to President Obama’s alleged “shadowing” of Trump.
Geraghty’s Fox & Friends comments echo what he said earlier Friday morning on Twitter.
Another more likely possibility is that Trump — who has a history of making unfounded claims but giving them the veneer of plausibility by citing what ‘people think’ or what ‘many people are saying’ — simply made the whole thing up. But Geraghty’s attempt to justify the president’s tweet is par the course with Fox & Friends, which reliably covers Trump in a fawning, uncritical manner.
While it’s unclear exactly what Trump and Putin discussed during their meeting, Trump administration officials told reporters that election meddling wasn’t expected to come up. Trump and Putin have shared the same talking points about election interference, with both suggesting the hacks of Democratic targets could’ve been the work of non-state amateurs.
Disclosure: John Podesta is a founder of the Center of American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent website housed at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, CAP’s sister organization.