To understand the latest on the Trump administration and Russia, let's start with a language lesson. Not Russian: English. The word of the day is "fulsome."
Some people use "fulsome" as a five dollar way of saying "really, really full." Every once in a while, you'll hear a politician promising "a fulsome inquiry," unaware of how the word is designed not to bolster sincerity, but to undercut it.
As the character of Inigo Montoya puts it in the movie The Princess Bride: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
The word's been misused so often that some dictionaries accept "fulsome" as a pretentious way of saying "full." But an earlier and still best use of the word is very much the opposite. It's not a pretentious word; it's a word for pricking the pretentious. It's not a form of praise, but rather a criticism. And it's not a synonym for "full," but rather a synonym for "full of it."
A "fulsome explanation" does not mean a really, really full explanation. It means something deceptive. And fulsome praise is not a whole lot of praise. It's a criticism, delivered as ironic, insincere and over-the-top praise.
For example, if we were to say that the Trump administration and family, thanks to their boundless honesty about their dealings with the Kremlin and its friends, have proven time and again that they are above reproach – well, that would be fulsome praise.
And on this issue, the Trump administration deserves to be praised, fulsomely. Just look at the events of the last few days.
It was recently revealed that Donald Trump Jr. met during the election campaign with a well-connected Russian lawyer. The President's son was asked about this, one of a number of suspicious meetings between the Trump camp and Vladimir Putin's regime and supporters. Junior initially said the meeting was no big deal; his Russian interlocutor wanted to talk about adoption policy.
On Monday, however, he said that, come to think of it, he met the Russian lawyer because it had been suggested she had information that could hurt the Hillary Clinton campaign.
But Mr. Trump says his interlocutor had nothing to offer, so the conversation was short and unproductive. Oh, and dad was never told about the meeting, which was said to be so unimportant that the two most important people in the Trump campaign at that time, campaign manager Paul Manafort and First-Son-in-Law Jared Kushner, were present.
It's as if the administration is trying to convince Americans that, when it comes to its relationship to Russia, it has something to hide. And if at first you don't succeed in persuading people that you're hiding something, well, try and try again.
Look at Mr. Trump's meeting last week with Mr. Putin. To understand why it provoked such concern, consider the following phrase: "Nixon goes to China."
When President Richard Nixon began secretly talking to and eventually meeting directly with the communist Chinese leadership in the early 1970s, he had a long history as a rock-ribbed anti-communist. That insulated him against criticism that, in opening a relationship with Beijing, he was selling out American interests and values. It made it look like he had changed his mind and his behaviour for the sake of the national interest. Someone under suspicion of being sympathetic to Beijing would never have been able to do what he did.
Unfortunately, Trump Meets Moscow is nothing like Nixon Goes to China. The two are antonyms. The widespread fear is that Mr. Trump is in Mr. Putin's thrall, intellectually or financially – and yet he keeps providing evidence for that perception. Mr. Trump must demonstrate that he's above reproach in his dealings with Moscow. Instead, this was another example of him doing the opposite.
The meeting between the two national leaders was as secretive as could be: There were only four other people in the room, namely two translators, the Russian Foreign Minister and the U.S. Secretary of State. There was no public agenda for discussion, and almost nothing of what was discussed was released to the public.
And on the issue of Russian hacking of the U.S. election, on Sunday Mr. Trump tweeted this: "Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded."
Democrats and Republicans alike were incredulous; it was like sitting down with the guy who burgled your house and asking if he could help with setting up your home alarm system.
Within hours, Mr. Trump tweeted that he hadn't really meant that earlier tweet. So the Trump administration goes.
When someone admits that the stories they told last week, yesterday and this morning were lies, while absolutely swearing that the tale they're telling right now isn't, it tends to raise the suspicion that their explanations, and their sincerity, may be more fulsome than full.