John Oliver Wants You To Reject The “Trump Card"

by Joseph D. Lyons
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver/HBO

President Trump and the Russia investigation were the opening topics of Last Week Tonight on Sunday, the first episode to hit airwaves since Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team handed out their indictments on Monday. John Oliver went into the recent developments, but most interestingly, he zeroed in on Trump's ongoing excuse for the entire thing, something that Oliver called the "Trump Card." It's the president's use of "his own incompetence as a defense."

First, though, Oliver explained what had happened in Trump's orbit this week, particularly with regards to the investigation, which he continues to call Stupid Watergate. Oliver put a picture of the main people linked to the investigation up on the screen and joked it's "a story that, like Watergate, could well end up toppling democracy, but only because one of these idiots slipped on a banana peel, yelled something stupid like, 'Uh oh Spaghetti-O,' and accidentally knocked democracy over."

Then he moved onto the indictments. "Yes, it's finally happening," Oliver said, almost giddy. He went on to talk about Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager who was indicted Monday on 12 counts including conspiracy against the United States. He has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers said the charges were embellished.

Oliver found the mention of the money Manafort spent on clothes and rugs as particularly entertaining. The court filings show he spent about $2.3 million on clothes and rugs combined. "Over $2 million on rugs and clothes?" Oliver asked. "Now, I can't speak to the quality of his rugs, but how the f*ck did this guy spend so much on clothing? He looks like he bought all the suits he was going to wear for the rest of his life on one day in 1982 with a cashier's check for $900."

Then, though, Oliver got to the meat of his argument. "Let's ask ourselves the question that Donald Trump asks himself everyday, 'How does Donald Trump fit into this?'" Oliver mused. In this instance, Trump has argued that he doesn't have anything to do with it. "Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign," Trump tweeted on Monday.

"If you think about Trump’s defense here, which he definitely hasn’t, it’s actually pretty straight," Oliver said, "because he’s essentially saying Manafort had already done all this stuff at the time that I, Donald Trump, decided to hire him as my campaign manager, which means one of two things: either Trump did a background check, discovered his suspicious activity, and didn’t care, or he didn’t so much as Google Manafort before hiring him because everybody knows that Manafort is dodgy."

Then he went into some of the other latest developments in the Russia investigation, particularly those surrounding George Papadopoulos, who served on the Trump Campaign's foreign advisory panel. He just plead guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russia. Trump's response to this has been to paint Papadopoulos as a low-level volunteer in the campaign, despite speaking highly of him last year.

This then brings you to the "Trump Card," as Oliver calls it. "In all three cases, Trump’s pushback has basically been: I don’t know anything about the people I should have known those things about. And that is his signature move—he’s playing the ‘Trump Card.’ What I mean by that is, he’s using his own incompetence as a defense,” Oliver said. But wait, there's more to it:

The worrying thing here is, it may work for Trump. Because think of what the counterargument may have to be: This is a meticulous man who made strategic decisions fully aware of the consequences of his actions. That can be a tough case to make, but we cannot accept the "Trump Card" as his defense here, because if we do, just think about what we would actually be saying there. We would be saying: Look, this guy is too dumb to really understand what he’s doing, so I guess we have no choice but to let him keep being president. Please, let’s not do that.

Because if the United States does let Trump carry on, Oliver has a prediction. "Statues of [Trump] will inevitably be one day erected and later taken down amid a storm of controversy."