Friday, March 3, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He subtly distanced himself from underlings caught up in the latest Russia news.

In the last 48 hours, five members of Trump's administration and campaign have admitted to meetings with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak that they had previously denied or kept secret. The timing of the meetings is damning: they suggest that Trump's senior aides (including his son-in-law and trusted advisor, Jared Kushner) were engaged in some kind of negotiations with the Putin regime, especially around the Republican convention in July.

That time period is significant because shortly afterwards Trump and Putin essentially traded favors: Trump used his influence as the nominee to insist that the GOP weaken its stance on the Russian occupation of the Ukraine, and Russia began to leak politically damaging e-mails stolen from the Democratic National Committee--precisely what Trump had asked Russia to do on live TV on July 27.

Trump's strategy on the Russia scandal has been to call it a conspiracy of "Nazi"-like elements within the American intelligence community, or a smear campaign by Democrats angry at the election result. Trump has yet to really acknowledge the unanimous consensus of US intelligence agencies that Russia actively sought to get him elected. But today, when asked what he knew about his staff's actions, a spokesperson pointedly refused to say more than that Trump "knew" that Trump himself had had no contact with Russia about the election. 

So what?

  • If a president's senior aides trade favors with a hostile foreign power to get him elected, it almost doesn't matter whether he formally knows about it or not.