Perhaps the most incredible thing about Donald Trump’s long anticipated meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin is that the president of the United States went into it deliberately unprepared, according to a top White House official.
Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser who was himself shut out, said there was “no specific agenda – it’s really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about,” Anne Applebaum reported in The Washington Post.
One possibly explanation for the secrecy – and for the fact Trump did not include even a note taker (I’ll bet Putin has a recording of the whole thing) – is to avoid having an official record of the meeting. That way, no non-Russian could challenge Trump’s self-congratulatory version of what happened. He refused to speak to reporters afterward, leaving that to sycophantic aides and some tweets, while Putin and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, were more accessible (and to many, more credible).
Lavrov said Trump bought Putin’s denial of election meddling. It took two days for White House chief of staff Reince Priebus to tell Fox News Sunday that Trump “absolutely did not believe the denial of President Putin.”
Trump obviously didn’t have the guts to say that to Putin’s face.
Deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump raised the election meddling issue. “He heard Putin’s denial.... He heard his answer and he moved” on to other issues, she said.
Trump has refused to accept the unanimous agreement of all US intelligence agencies that the Russians had meddled – not because he doesn’t believe it, but because he fears it is true. The president didn’t say we know you did it and here’s the proof, but instead asked, “Did you do it?” to which Putin, of course, responded no.
Had Trump been serious, he could and should have gone into the meeting with an overwhelming sheath of evidence; instead, he made fools of his own intelligence agencies and moved on to other issues. Even more amazingly, he said the US would join with Russia – almost universally believed to have hacked last year’s election here – in a joint program on cybersecurity.
That is “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Caroline), told NBC’s Meet the Press.
President Trump, he added, “is literally the only person I know of who doesn’t believe Russia attacked our election in 2016.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) said that “partnering with Putin on a ‘cyber security unit’ is akin to partnering with [Syrian President Bashar] Assad on a ‘chemical weapons unit.’” The criticism must have been too much for Trump, who reversed course in a matter of hours and tweeted that he rejected the proposal.
The president’s reputation for veracity continues to seek new depths. When he is not contradicting his own staff, he is contradicting himself. The president tweeted, “Sanctions were not discussed at my meeting with President Putin”; a day later, spokeswoman Sanders said they were.
Trump’s spokespersons can’t be trusted for very good reasons. Their favorite answer is “I don’t know, I’ll get back to you on that,” and they almost never do. What’s more, Trump consistently undercuts them.
“As a very active president with lots of things happening,” he tweeted back in May, “it is not possible for my surrogates to stand at podium with perfect accuracy!” Another problem is intentional lies. Some aides have privately boasted of feeding false information to journalists just so they can discredit the reporting as fake news or ridicule them for inaccuracies.
The latest episode in the Trump scandals centers on revelations about an email to Don Jr. saying: “The Crown prosecutor of Russia... offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”
Don Jr. replied: “I love it.”
That was more than 13 months ago, in June 2016, yet the president said he only learned of it only this week.
Hard to believe.
Four days after Don Jr. got that email, his father announced he would be making a “major speech” that would be “very informative and very, very interesting” regarding the Clintons. Two days after that, Don Jr., his brother-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort met with the Russian emissary at Trump Tower. Five days later, the computers of the Democratic National Committee were hacked, and within a few weeks, WikiLeaks released 22,000 DNC emails.
The email sent to Don Jr. was sent by a Russian business associate of the president. It could turn out to be the proverbial smoking gun in the investigations into Russian campaign meddling.
You’d think an American president would want a full investigation of these charges and to have steps taken to make sure those responsible are punished and it will never happen again. But since he was the beneficiary, the president is in a deep state of denial.
It very likely goes to the reasons he refuses to keep his campaign promise to publish his tax returns. He is suspected of having considerable business dealings with Russian banks, oligarchs and possibly even the Putin government. Then there’s the dossier compiled by a former British intelligence official alleging Russian intelligence influence over Trump, including “seamy and contested claims of sexual misconduct and a longtime Kremlin conspiracy to get Trump elected,” as reported by Politico.
The bottom line of Trump’s attempts to bury the Russia investigation – after all, that’s why he fired FBI director James Comey – is because it could challenge the legitimacy of his election.
Trump was as surprised as anyone that he won – which might help explain why he was so unprepared for the job. Even though Hillary Clinton quickly conceded defeat and Barack Obama acknowledged his victory, Trump still can’t resist venting his malice toward them as if he needs to discredit them in order to legitimize his election.
The US president sees every mention of Russia as a challenge to his claim to the presidency. Releasing his tax records, forcefully pursuing genuine cybersecurity and acknowledging the Russian intrusion could help clear any doubts about his legitimacy – or, if his obstinacy is part of a cover-up, destroy it.