The President of the United States made a fool of himself in his meeting in Helsinki on Monday with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. He disowned his own intelligence agencies, went soft on Putin, and suggested that the United States bore some primary responsibility for the deterioration in relations with a country that has invaded two sovereign states in the last 15 years, hacked major American institutions, and fostered instability in the Middle East by backing the world’s worst human rights violators.
President Trump seems to be under the misimpression that because he knows he didn’t collude with the Russian government during the 2016 election, the Russians are innocent victims of a rabid press and a misguided Mueller investigation. This is dangerous and wrong. The Mueller indictments of 12 Russian citizens for hacking the DCCC, the DNC, and the Hillary Clinton campaign are damning. Yet Trump disavowed his own intelligence apparatus in order to discredit any notions of collusion, and seemed to blame members of his own executive branch for tensions with Russia – all to assuage his own ego.
Putin began the presser by stating that “bilateral relationship is going through a complicated stage,” but that the “Cold War is a thing of the past.” Putin then blasted the United States for withdrawing from the awful Iran deal, and suggested that the Crimea situation wasn’t a result of Russian aggression but instead an internecine Ukrainian struggle. Putin then stated, “I said several times, including during our personal contacts, that the Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs, including election process.” He then suggested a “joint working group on cyber-security.”
Then Trump took the microphone. In jaw-dropping fashion, he explained that all conflict was over, just as it supposedly was with North Korea: “Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed as of about four hours ago. I really believe that.” Trump added that he spent a “great deal of time talking about” the election interference.
Then came the Q&A. And things got extraordinarily ugly.
Trump stated that he held “both countries responsible” for the deterioration in relations. “I think that the United States has been foolish,” Trump stated. “I think we’ve all been foolish. We should’ve had this dialogue a long time ago; a long time, frankly, before I got to office. And I think we’re all to blame.” He then made direct reference to the Mueller probe, stating, “I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. … There was no collusion at all. … That was a clean campaign. I beat Hillary Clinton easily.” Trump continued, “There was no collusion. I didn’t know the president. There was nobody to collude with. There was no collusion with the campaign.”
Putin then jumped in to back up Trump: “As to who is to be believed and to who’s not to be believed, you can trust no one if you take this. … Can you name a single fact that would definitely prove the collusion? This is utter nonsense, just like the president recently mentioned.” Putin then said that he was sympathetic to Trump during the campaign, adding, “Isn’t it natural to be sympathetic toward a person who is willing to restore the relationship with our country, who wants to work with us?”
Then Putin launched into an attack on the Mueller probe itself.
Trump responded, “My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be. But I really do want to see the server. But I have, uh, I have confidence in both parties.” He then added, “So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today, and what he did is an incredible offer.”
It was not an incredible offer. It was a ploy. Putin offered merely to allow American investigators to watch interrogations with people in Russia – so long as Trump offered the Russians something similar with regard to anti-Putin activists like Bill Browder. This was Trump being played fulsomely.
Putin joined in Trump’s critique of the Mueller probe, stating, “the final conclusion in this kind of dispute can only be delivered by a trial, by the court, not by the executive, by the law enforcement.”
Putin did acknowledge that Trump and he remained at odds over the issue of Crimea. And then he didn’t quite answer if he had compromising material on Trump: “Yeah, I did hear those rumors that we allegedly collected compromising material on Mr. Trump when he was visiting Moscow. … I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow. I treat President Trump with utmost respect, but back then when he was a private individual, a businessman, nobody informed me that he was in Moscow … just disregard these issues and don’t think about this anymore again.”
Trump then added, “It would have been out long ago. And if anybody watched Peter Strzok testify over the last couple of days – and I was in Brussels watching it – it was a disgrace to the FBI, it was a disgrace to our country, and you would say that was a total witch hunt.”
Now, none of this may mean anything. The most obvious explanation for this behavior isn’t Trump being in Putin’s pocket, but Trump’s continual anger at the collusion investigation, and his willingness to believe that Russia wasn’t involved in the election in order to brush off allegations regarding that collusion. It’s also true that Trump’s administration doesn’t follow his lead on policy – he says a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff.
Regardless, Trump’s the president, and no president should behave this way – and undermining your own intelligence agencies while believing the word of a former KGB agent who murders political dissidents is ugly stuff.