Trump's blame-America performance alarming


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Fresh off his "success" in Helsinki helping Vladimir Putin avoid accountability for a host of international crimes, including the attack on our elections in 2016, President Donald Trump now says he plans to invite the Russian leader to the White House this fall.

Trump is already planning a Trump-Putin II summit while top officials in his own government, including Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, are still scrambling to find out what went on Monday at Trump-Putin I. Coats and other top U.S. officials charged with protecting our country from bad actors like Putin are in the dark about what deals Trump made with Russia. That’s because Trump barred them from his meeting with America’s chief adversary, fearing they’d leak what was discussed.

It’s troubling enough that a U.S. president doesn’t want his top security advisers or the American people to know what he’s doing in their name with a foreign leader, particularly one accused of a documented attack on our country. But there’s even more reason to be alarmed if what went on between Trump and Putin was half as bad as what was said during their public press conference afterward.

By now most Americans have seen video clips of what’s widely described as the most disgraceful performance ever by a president on a world stage. During that 45 minutes, President Trump displayed breath-taking empathy for one of the world’s most ruthless dictators.

In response to a reporter’s question about what he holds Russia responsible for in causing the soured relations with the U.S., Trump couldn’t come up with a single thing. Instead of mentioning Russia’s attack on the U.S. election, Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, Putin’s crackdown on democracy in his own country and his poison-killings of Russian dissidents, Trump chose instead to blame his own country. Echoing his infamous post-Charlottesville “both sides” rhetoric, where he drew a false moral equivalency between racists and those who fight racism, Trump said “both countries had acted foolishly” and “are to blame” for the strained U.S.-Russia relationship. Putin himself couldn’t have said it better.

Trump then proceeded to blame what he really feels is the source of the tension: the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and the possible collusion by the Trump campaign in that interference. Trump labeled the probe a “disaster” and called it “ridiculous,” ignoring the fact that just three days before, Mueller indicted 12 Russian military officials by name, charging them with stealing and releasing emails from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign with the explicit intent to damage her presidential bid and help Trump’s.

Asked by another reporter whom he believed — U.S. intelligence officials who claim unequivocally that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, or Putin who denies it — Trump indicated he trusts Putin. Again resorting to his “both sides” rhetoric, Trump said, “I have great confidence in my intelligence people but President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in this denial today.” Trump also said he didn’t “see why it would be” Russia that interfered in the U.S. election.

Under pressure from Republican supporters who recognized the disaster Trump created by siding with Putin, the president was forced to read a statement when he got back home that claimed he misspoke. Trump claimed what he really meant to say was, he didn’t “see why it wouldn’t be” Russia that interfered in the election. No one believes Trump misspoke, however. Particularly not when Trump went to undermine his own correction by claiming, off script, that “others” were also involved in interfering with the election.

There was one silver lining to this very dark cloud. Trump, who has tried to discredit the Mueller probe, may actually have strengthened it through his private meeting with Putin and his performance at the press conference. With so many questions now swirling about the Trump-Putin relationship in the wake of Helsinki, more Americans today are less likely to believe the president when he claims the Mueller probe is nothing but a “witch hunt.”

The Mueller probe also seemed to get an assist from Putin himself. During the press conference, the Russian leader, thinking he was helping Trump in one of his diatribes against the Mueller probe, lectured a reporter on how the American justice system is supposed to work. Putin said, “Do you believe that your own country is a democratic state? If it is, the only way the final conclusion in this kind of dispute can be delivered is by trial, by the court, not by the executive, not by the law enforcement....”

Those are words Trump and his Republican allies in Congress should heed. Putin is right: It will be our courts, not the president or the Congress, who will decide whether the Trump campaign helped the Russians attack our election in 2016. It will be 12 people in a jury box who’ll provide “the final conclusion in this kind of dispute.”