Rarely has an elected official anywhere in the world lied with as much ease and disregard as the current occupant of the Oval Office. Donald Trump’s lies are so bountiful, it becomes necessary to group them into subcategories to catalogue them all.
There are his broken promises, the things he said he would do as president that he has either ignored or outright contradicted. There are his grandiose proclamations, those absurd, self-affirming statements of fiction — usually attributed to a nameless, non-existent third party — meant to stoke his insatiable ego.
But perhaps most nefarious are his blatant attempts at gaslighting, directed both at his dimwitted supporters and the American public at large. These are the lies designed to make people question their own sanity. You know the ones: Donald Trump claiming he never called Meghan Markle “nasty,” despite audio recordings to the contrary. Donald Trump anointing himself the most popular president in history, despite every poll showing the opposite. To this day, it is a safe bet that Donald Trump still insists his inauguration was the most attended ceremony in history.
And within the gaslighting subgenre exists an even narrower category of deception, one that has gotten renewed attention in the last few weeks — namely, the growing list of people that Donald Trump once knew.
For generations of wealthy, influential American businessmen, the true measure of one’s status wasn’t the size of his yacht or the number of cars in the garage, it was the weight of his Rolodex.
To be able to pick up the phone and have a senator or a foreign dignitary or a CEO on the other end in seconds was, and remains, the great differentiator among the rich and powerful, and it is an arms race in which Donald Trump excelled.
For years, the accidental billionaire collected the acquaintances and photo ops with anyone who’s anyone, in much the same way today’s twelve year olds collect Pokemon. For a shallow, useless socialite, such a hobby comes with little risk. For a president, though, those harmless interactions can suddenly become a liability, as Trump has rediscovered this week.
When Jeffrey Epstein was arrested on numerous charges of child sex trafficking, Donald Trump was among the rich and powerful whose acquaintence and photographs Epstein possessed.
“I knew him like everyone in Palm Beach knew him,” said Trump on Monday, attempting to distance himself from his fellow sexual predator. “He was a fixture in Palm Beach.”
That much is true. Trump ally and former Epstein lawyer Alan Dershowitz put it succinctly to the New York Times this week, telling the paper “In those days, if you didn’t know Trump and you didn’t know Epstein, you were a nobody.”
Of course, Donald Trump was no nobody. Those who knew the two men say they were close once, and shared an appetite for attractive young women. One local entrepreneur told the Times he arranged for 28 girls to attend a party at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where the only two attendees were Epstein and Trump himself.
“I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy,” Trump said of Epstein in 2002. “He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”
Trump’s conveniently foggy memory of his relationship with Epstein fits a pattern — it is the latest instance of him furiously, sloppily trying to rip a card from a Rolodex he spent decades meticulously building.
Last month it was E Jean Carroll, an advice columnist for Elle Magazine. Carroll published an excerpt from her upcoming memoir in which she credibly alleges that Donald Trump raped her in the mid-1990s in a dressing room at Manhattan retailer Bergdorf Goodman. Multiple people corroborated the details of her story.
This time, Donald Trump denied even knowing Carroll, a specious claim to begin with given the proximity of both to New York’s bourgeoisie before the turn of the century, but one that was rendered entirely farcical after photographs of the two talking to one another surfaced mere minutes after his denial.
He has played this game time and again, stretching back decades. When white supremacist Ann Coulter soured on Donald Trump’s ineptitude at securing funding for his southern border vanity wall, Trump responded to her criticism by telling reporters “I don’t know her.” She has introduced him on stage at several campaign rallies. When the notion of Russian influence on the 2016 presidential campaign was just starting to bubble up shortly before the general election, Trump told reporters in Florida “I never met Putin, I don’t know who Putin is.” He said the opposite in 2015. And 2014. And 2013. When former campaign advisor George Papadopolous found himself ensnared in Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russian operatives, Trump told reporters “I don’t know him.” The two had been photographed together in a meeting. The photo was shared by Donald Trump on Twitter. Even Paul Manafort — who managed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign — was subjected to disavowal once the indictments began to rain down.
Nobody has a perfect memory, of course (though, claiming your own campaign manager “has nothing to do with our campaign” is a hard sell). Then again, Donald Trump does not deserve the benefit of the doubt, at least not according to one reliable source — Donald Trump.
“You’ve stated that you have one of the best memories in the world,” said a lawyer representing the plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought against Donald Trump over his Trump University grift.
“I don’t know. Did I use that expression?,” asked an incredulous Trump.
“‘One of the best in the world’ is what the reporter quoted you as saying,” the lawyer replied.
“I don’t remember saying that,” was his final response.