Trump backers try out the incompetence defense against obstruction concerns

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He wasn’t trying to intimidate investigators. He just lacks “language discipline.”

President Donald Trump speaks about healthcare in front of Air Force One, Tuesday, June 13, 2017, at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wis. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

In response to allegations that President Donald Trump illegally attempted to stymie an investigation into his campaign, the GOP has come up with a novel excuse: Maybe, they say, the president is just too bad with words to avoid incriminating himself.

Representative David Schweikert (R-AZ) offered the latest and clearest example of this rationale on NPR’s Morning Edition on Thursday, as first highlighted by CNN’s KFile.

“I’m at the point where we also have to be real careful from the standpoint that we have a President that’s not from the political class,” Schweikert said. “The learning of the disciplined use of language and what certain words mean in our context — if you’re not from this world you may not have developed that discipline.”

Schweikert is saying that Trump, as a political neophyte, may lack the “discipline” of language to avoid obstructing justice or giving the appearance of obstruction of justice.


“Sometimes when you’re as we were just hearing, saying, ‘tell the world I’m not the subject of the investigation,’ well the very fact of asking you to tell the world may be a violation of — because you asked them to tell the world. I mean think about that circle,” said Schweikert.

He added that he believed the special investigation was “healthy” because it would help set the facts straight as to what actually happened, and answer whether any issues were a matter of “just ill-used language” or actual wrongdoing.

Trump ran for the presidency by bragging, among other things, that he had “the best words.” He also touted his reputation as a legendary dealmaker and businessman, which presumably requires mastery of language and a passing familiarity with legal norms. Now, as president, he has an entire team of lawyers whose job it is to help him navigate the (admittedly arcane) legal system.

And as President of the United States, Trump has the power to trigger international crises through as little as one unfortunate turn of phrase. There’s more than just his own guilt or innocence at state when even his supporters admit he lacks the ability to choose his words carefully.

Nonetheless, more and more Republican politicians have been embracing the incompetence defense to absolve Trump of intentional wrongdoing.

After ousted FBI director James Comey testified that President Trump had tried to cultivate an inappropriately close relationship with him, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) excused Trump’s actions because he’s “new to government.”

“He probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI, and White Houses. He’s just new to this,” said Ryan.

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And speaking on Face the Nation on Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) offered a similar lamentation — expressing his frustration that the president couldn’t stop putting his foot in his mouth.

“But here’s what’s so frustrating for Republicans like me: You may be the first President in history to go down because you can’t stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that if you just were quiet would clear you,” Graham said.

Trump backers try out the incompetence defense against obstruction concerns was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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