To hear the White House respond to one mess after the next, one question frequently arises: Well, which is it?
After reports a grand jury was empaneled in the Russia affair, President Donald Trump’s lawyer Ty Cobb gave a statement.
“The White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion of his work fairly,” Cobb said. “The White House is committed to fully cooperating with [special counsel Robert] Mueller.”
But at a rally in West Virginia, Trump called the Russia-collusion suggestions “a hoax” and said of his opponents and Democrats, “They’re trying to cheat you out of the leadership that you want with a fake story.”
Which is it? Hoax or resolution?
Well, the two can conceivably be consistent if it somehow turns out that Mueller finds all suggestions of campaign collusion to be a hoax.
Then again, adviser Kellyanne Conway went on CNN and said: “These types of endeavors end up being fishing expeditions” — thus suggesting they may be unworthy of cooperation.
Last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that from the start the administration told official Russia: “We want to work with you, but you are going to have to take some steps” to address concerns about its actions.
That’s not quite how Trump was telling it after signing a bill upping sanctions on Moscow that he nonetheless criticized as possibly unconstitutional.
“Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low,” the president tweeted. “You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us [health] care!”
So which is the problem -- Americans in Congress, or Putin’s actions?
Here’s a way to imagine the two as consistent: The Russians need to make concessions, and Congress is too dug in against them. But if that accurately reflects the position, why doesn't the administration say so?
Conflicting signals have also come rapidly in smaller bursts from the Oval Office in recent weeks.
First the story from lawyer Jay Sekulow was that Trump didn’t direct his son’s statement on a meeting with a Russian lawyer; then a person speaking on behalf of the president said he actually did.
First Trump said he got a congratulatory call from the head of the Boy Scouts for his controversial political speech at its jamboree. Then it was revealed he did not.
Which is it? Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted there was no call.
At least that seems resolved.
The bottom line is that whether you consider them lies or truth, honest errors or sketchy fibs, with good intent or bad, the communications from this administration are as confusing and contradictory as we’ve seen.
Maybe Ralph Waldo Emerson, if he were still around, could help out Trump with his famous quote:
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.”
For great souls or small, however, consistency can help the public understand a politician’s statements — and perhaps even give them a little credibility.