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Clarence Page: President’s blame game wearing even more thin

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Clarence Page, Syndicated Columnist

After news broke that his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Manafort's longtime associate, Rick Gates, had been indicted, President Donald Trump responded by tweet with a familiar response: Investigate Hillary Clinton.

Clarence Page
Clarence Page

"Sorry," he tweeted after Monday's 12-count federal indictment was unsealed, "but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????"

Translation: "Manafort? Manafort? Do I know a Manafort? So when are you going to arrest Hillary Clinton and her fellow Democrats?"

Blame Hillary First has been a standard White House response in the days leading up to the first Russia-gate indictment. "If any collusion took place it was with the Clintons," said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders in response to the indictments.

Trump has charged that the Clinton Foundation received "pay for play" donations from Russians in order for then-secretary of State Hillary Clinton to sell a uranium mining company to a Russian one and "gave Russia 20 percent of American uranium."

But, even though the Clinton Foundation received enormous donations and Bill Clinton received enormous speaking fees from leaders involved in the deal, the Washington Post Fact Checker and the fact-checking website Snopes.com found no evidence that Hillary Clinton was involved personally in the deal, which may not even have risen to the level of her office.

But as we have seen repeatedly, Trump and his allies are not about to let anything as trivial as facts get in the way of a good slam at their favorite targets, like Hillary Clinton.

Devin Nunes, a California Republican and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, plans to look into Clinton's role in a 2010 uranium deal that became a favorite attack line by candidate Trump. Fine. I would not stand in the way of officeholder's accountability to public scrutiny. But that doesn't excuse Team Trump from similar scrutiny.

Yet three minutes after that "Crooked Hillary" tweet, Trump added this: "Also, there is NO COLLUSION!"

Well, not so fast. Even as Trump tapped out that presidential tweet, newer news broke: The FBI has evidence of -- Surprise! Surprise! -- collusion.

Foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos secretly pleaded guilty three weeks earlier, it turned out, to charges that he lied to FBI agents about meetings he had with Kremlin-connected Russians during last year's presidential campaign who claimed to have "dirt" about Hillary Clinton's campaign.

News of the plea came as Manafort and Gates were charged with conspiracy to launder money, making false statements and other charges related to their work advising a political party in Ukraine that is friendly to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Sanders tried to dismiss Papadopoulos as "a volunteer." That sounds like his job was no more important than answering phones. But he had enough clout to be one of five people Trump listed and praised as foreign policy advisors during a Washington Post editorial board meeting last year.

But his dirt-chasing contacts sound very much like the invitation Donald Trump Jr. received to another meeting with Russians to which Junior famously replied, "If it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer."

Papadopoulos, according to court filings, was told by an unidentified "professor" with Kremlin contacts -- since identified as Joseph Mifsud of Scotland's University of Stirling -- that Russians had "dirt" on Clinton, including "thousands of emails." This came a month after Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta's emails were hacked in March.

There's a lot more to this story, but you get the idea. Papadopoulos' plea deal as a "proactive cooperator," rebuts Trump's weak charges of "fake news" -- especially if, as CNN legal commentator Jeffrey Toobin speculated, Papadopoulos has been wearing a wire.

As Mueller's investigation moves closer into Trump's inner circle, Watergate-style questions arise, such as "What did the president know and when did he know it?" In Trump's case, the question of what he did not know is just as appropriate.

However he may have handled his affairs in the private sector, he was poorly prepared in many ways for the extra accountability that public sector jobs entail, especially in the White House.

In Trump's case, I can't help but wonder not only about what he didn't know but also why he didn't seem to care -- as long as he had someone else to blame.

CLARENCE PAGE writes for the Chicago Tribune. His column is distributed by Tribune Content Agency.