JOHN BRUMMETT: The Trump rules

Posted: November 2, 2017 at 2:58 a.m.

A newspaper executive once disarmed a critic who was assailing his publication for biased coverage.

The newspaperman said he'd found over the years that nearly every charge of bias leveled against his paper's news pages, when investigated, turned out to be nothing sinister, but simple incompetence.

At this juncture in the Donald Trump-Russian affair, it probably is advisable to keep the news executive's words in mind.

All men are innocent until proven guilty. But not all men are competent--ever.

It is possible that the George Papadopoulos affair will turn out to be less an international criminal conspiracy than typical amateurish buffoonery by the Trump campaign, which wasn't ready for prime time but won the ratings anyway because the nation had descended into Kardashian-caliber programming.

I feel sure of this much: The national security advisory group that Trump appointed for his campaign in March 2016 was nonsense.

Trump was strong in the polls, but he stood accused of vulnerability based on lacking any apparent command of international issues or any advisers in that vital field.

So he felt it necessary to throw together for mere appearances' sake a stable of men that, according to Politico at the time, was deemed mysterious and bewildering by the conservative foreign policy establishment.

"I don't know any of them," Kori Schake, a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institute and a former official in the George W. Bush State Department, told Politico at the time. "National security is hard to do well even with first-rate people. It's almost impossible to do well with third-rate people."

The youngest member of this peculiar group was Papadopoulos, then 29, a 2009 graduate of DePaul and an international energy lawyer who had been a "researcher"--which sounds a little low-level--for the conservative Hudson Institute. That was before landing a position with what was called the London Center of International Law Practice.

More dubious than being a supposed foreign adviser to the Trump campaign was that Papadopoulos had been a supposed foreign policy adviser to the campaign of Ben Carson, the one Republican presidential candidate last year who demonstrated less issue command than Trump.

The Trump people, desperate for bodies, got Papadopoulos' name from the Carson people, or so it logically seems.

It's possible, then, that Trump is not exactly contradicting himself, at least by Trump rules, when he says now that Papadopoulos was low-level and unpaid, although he said in March 2016 that the young man was "excellent."

By Trump rules, nothing uttered is ever accurate, but adapted self-servingly according to the momentary need. Trump could well have found it necessary for the appearances' sake that consumes him to contend in March 2016 that this kid was excellent. And he surely finds it necessary to contend now that Papadopoulos is most certainly not excellent at all.

The truth, in between, is that Trump needed to trump up some foreign policy bona fides in March 2016 and his people couldn't find anyone better. And needs to contend now that the young man is a lying nincompoop.

The fact is that he hasn't the least idea either way--about Papadopoulos, or on foreign affairs, or about what Papadopoulos might have been doing regarding Russia and whether his people were engaging or encouraging the youngster in his delusions of international grandeur.

Yes, there is a photo of Trump at the head of the table surrounded by this foreign policy advisers group, and, yes, Papadopoulos is sitting there all important-seeming.

It was a photo for a photo's sake.

It is entirely within the realm of possibility that Papadopoulos was a big-talking wannabe who, when in Italy, bumped into a big-talking Scottish political science professor from Malta.

It's entirely possible that the professor was a big-talker himself.

It is entirely possible Papadopoulos oversold his importance to the Trump campaign and that the professor oversold his intimacy with high Russian sources.

It is entirely possible that the starry-eyed young Papadopoulos shot emails back to Trump campaign officials about his new high-level contact and to explain that he was now well-positioned to maneuver even higher in Russia to serve Trump's interest if not an entire new world order.

It is possible that Trump's people didn't know any better than to say "great, go ahead."

It is possible that, because of those emails becoming available to the staff of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Papadopoulos got officially asked about them by grim-faced G-men and that he, scared half to death, lied.

And it's possible Mueller extracted a guilty plea for him for lying in case the young man, amid his naiveté and delusion, might have something worthwhile to relate on the entire Russian imbroglio.

All of that is possible because, for now, Trump's incompetence remains much more self-evident than his conspiratorial crookedness.

I mean--who knew Russian relations could be complicated?

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John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was inducted into the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame in 2014. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Editorial on 11/02/2017