After starting his show saying his thoughts are with the people of Sunday’s mass shooting in Texas that left 26 churchgoers dead, John Oliver kicked off Last Week Tonight with a probe of the week’s biggest headline involving Donald Trump, “statues of whom will inevitably be erected and then, one day, taken down in a storm of controversy.”
Dominating the week was Monday’s bombshell: first charges in Rob Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the election.
“Yes its finally happening!” Oliver said gleefully. In a 31-page indictment, Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s business partner Rick Gates are charged with hiding tens of millions of dollar they received from a pro-Russian Ukranian political party, by hiding their work, funneling more than $75M to unreported foreign bank accounts, laundering the cash, and lying to the IRS and Justice Department.
“Trump must be furious with them, not so much for the part where they allegedly lied to the government, but where they pretended to have less money than did,” Oliver speculated, noting their alleged actions “violated the tenets of whatever sticky back issue of F*ckable Yacht magazine Trump considers his code of ethics.”
How does Donald Trump fit into this?
To hear him tell it, he doesn’t. Trump noted the indictments cover alleged incidents from years ago before Manafort became part of his campaign, campaign, tweeting, “Why aren’t Crooked Hillary and the Dems the focus…Also there is NO COLLUSION.”
That argument means one of two things. Either Trump did a background check, discovered the suspicious activity, and didn’t care, or he didn’t so much as Google the name Manafort before hiring him, “because everybody knows Manafort is dodgy,” Oliver said, having repped strongmen and dictators around the world, including some with close ties to Russian ruler Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, Manafort may been gone before election, but Mueller’s team says Gates had nearly 55 bank accounts, helped run Trump’s inaugural committee, and has been a frequent White House visitor.
The big question, Oliver said, “Did Trump know all of this and not care? Or did he know none of it because he’s incompetent. In other words: is Trump smart enough to be evil?”
Monday’s biggest revelation may have been the guilty plea from George Papadopoulos, who admitted to lying to the FBI. Mueller’s camp revealed Papadopoulos told Team Trump he had Russian contacts claiming to have dirt on Hillary Clinton, to which a member of the team responded encouraging him to pursue the contact, and that he had done “great work.”
It speaks to the stupidity of the people involved that so many of them left written records of potential criminal action. “It’s like if, during Watergate, we had an email chain of Howard Hunt saying ‘About to break in!’ and Nixon replying, ‘Noice!’,” Oliver described.
One of Papadopoulos’s former professors described him as “zealous and a bit simple” in re his having thought one of his sources was Putin’s niece; she is not.
“Yes we are now living in a world where the top New York Times headline could conceivably be ‘Shades McCool Got Catfished by a Fake Putin Niece’,” Oliver snarked.
Trump has tried to distance himself from Papadopoulos, calling him a “low level volunteer,” though he had previously been recorded telling WaPo that Papadopoulos was an “excellent guy,” and posted to Instagram a photo of Papadopoulos sitting with him at a national security meeting during the campaign.
And White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders scoffed that Trump has thousands of photos of himself taken with millions of people. Which gave Oliver a too-good-to-resist cheap-shot chance to show photos of Trump with OJ Simpson and with Harvey Weinstein.
Trump, meanwhile, has said he does not remember much about that meeting, undercutting his frequent boast of having “one of the great memories of all time.”
Trump is “playing the Trump card…using his own incompetence as a defense,” insisting he did not know anything about the people he should have known these things about. It’s Trump’s signature move.
And, it may work, Oliver cautioned. Because the counter-argument is that Trump is a meticulous man who makes strategic decisions, fully aware of the consequences of his actions. And that’s a very tough case to make.
Still, Oliver urged America not to accept the Trump Card.
“We’d be saying this guy is too dumb to really understand what he is doing, so I guess we have no choice but to let him keep being President,” Oliver warned.
“Please, let’s not do that.”