WASHINGTON — Have you heard the one about the lawbreaker who got pardoned by President Trump?
It's so funny it's criminal.
As The Washington Post's Nick Miroff and Josh Dawsey report, Trump has told his subordinates to seize private land and disregard environmental rules as they build a border wall, offering to pardon them for breaking the law. The White House response? Trump is joking.
Hahahahahahaha. My sides are totally splitting.
That was almost as funny as the time when - stop me if you've heard this one - Trump told Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton's emails. "He was joking," the White House said.
So deadpan was Trump's humor then that the Russians didn't get the joke; they began acting on Trump's request within hours, special counsel Robert Mueller found. Now that's funny.
And who can forget the hilarious time when Trump told law enforcement officers that they should feel free to rough up the people they arrest?
"He was making a joke," the White House said.
The incorrigible cutup! Even the head of the Drug Enforcement Administration was fooled by the president's wickedly subtle humor. He issued a statement warning agents not to follow the president's advice.
Trump's emergence as a comedic genius is a recent development. Back during the campaign, Trump said he didn't joke around: "Mexico is going to pay for the wall - believe me," he said. "Politicians think we're joking. We don't joke. This is a movement, and movements don't joke."
That made sense, because here's the funny thing: Trump isn't very funny. His humor is cutting and coarse, rarely lighthearted. His unsmiling supporters took him "seriously but not literally."
But apparently we shouldn't take him seriously, either - because he and his aides have recast a series of ominous statements as jokes that the rest of us just didn't get:
n Asking then-FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
n Telling a campaign crowd to take a loyalty pledge to him.
n Threatening to fire then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.
n Saying "I love WikiLeaks" when it released stolen Democratic emails.
n Thanking Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats.
Trump is so dry that even he has difficulty determining when he's joking. When he says his White House runs well, it's said "jokingly, but meaning it." His claim that former President Barack Obama founded the Islamic State is "sarcastic but not that sarcastic."
Trump's "joking," therefore, is less ha-ha funny than his funny little way of blunting the damage when he says something particularly outrageous or is caught in a lie.
Now comes Axios' report that Trump has asked aides about the efficacy of dropping nuclear bombs on hurricanes. This one has the virtue of actually sounding like a joke.
So far, Trump denies it, but with such frequent, frantic and doth-protest-too-much denials ("The media in our Country is totally out of control!" he tweeted Tuesday night) that the report is almost certainly true.
In public and in private, Trump has long raised questions about the point of stockpiling nuclear weapons if you never use them. The real question is why he didn't come out with a hurricane-nuking plan earlier. It fits perfectly with his strategic thinking in its thorough lack of regard for consequences or collateral damage.
Trump isn't fooling anyone, so he might as well take ownership of the nukes-you-can-use position. There are many ways to get more bang for the buck from our nuclear arsenal. All it takes is some out-of-the-silo thinking by the commander in chief.
After dropping one in the eye of Hurricane Dorian, he could use another one to deforest the Amazon, thereby eliminating the threat of future forest fires. A string of nuclear explosions along the southern border would prove a more effective deterrent than a wall. Nuclear fallout would swiftly eliminate the alleged bedbug infestation at Trump's Doral club in Florida. Nuking Greenland would likely bring down the purchase price.
There's hardly a problem Trump couldn't eliminate with a controlled nuclear detonation. He could nuke his tax returns, nuke the Fed, nuke Obamacare, nuke the federal debt, nuke 40 pounds of body fat, nuke rare steaks, nuke opioid stockpiles, nuke measles outbreaks, nuke Democratic precincts and nuke the leech with three jaws and 59 teeth just discovered in Washington.
In the unlikely event anything were to go awry, Trump has a well-tested excuse for pressing the button: I was just joking.
Dana Milbank is a syndicated columnist. You can follow him on Twitter, @Milbank.