The number of conservatives who were able to convince themselves not merely that a typo should be taken out of context and used to willfully misread a statute but that the ACA’s federal exchanges were willfully designed to fail is an indication that there’s essentially no argument too ridiculous for them to believe if their salary depends etc. And so it goes with the state-of-the-art post hoc defense of Donald Trump’s obstruction of justice — that he was Only Joking:
The theory that Trump’s apparent instructions to Comey were not instructions at all, but simply disconnected musings or a hilarious bit that Comey failed to understand, suffers from a number of serious flaws. The first is that Trump instructed the other attendees of the meeting to leave the room before he said it to Comey. That is not what you ordinarily do when you’re about to tell a really good, albeit dry, joke.
Second, after Trump made his “joke” about wanting Comey to halt the Russia investigation, and Comey did not halt it, Trump fired Comey. Nobody would be that committed to a bit. Third, the letter Trump wrote firing Comey has a sentence implicitly casting Comey’s decision not to investigate Trump personally as a point in favor of his keeping his job: “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.” Ponder that “nevertheless.”
Then there is the fact that Trump, in a mind-blowing interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, himself connected the decision to fire Comey to the ongoing Russia investigation.
The nature of language is such that we can never identify an actual instruction with complete certainty. Any number of crimes rely on verbal or written communication that could be a joke or a pun or a fever dream or some kind of absurdist meta-commentary. “Your money or your life,” could be a threat to kill a person who doesn’t surrender their purse, but it could always be a wry philosophical statement about materialism. Generally, though, the straightforward interpretation of language is the correct one. So it does appear that Trump engaged in obstruction of justice, or else words have no meaning.
Another major problem with this defense is that it’s not really clear what the joke is. Fortunately, Brian has obtained new Comey memos that fill in the gap:
Trump’s wacky hi-jinx should be taken seriously but not literally.