Monday, July 16, 2018

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What did Donald Trump do today?

He got called "disgusting," a Russian "asset," and a "traitor"--by Republicans.

The reaction from Democratic politicians to what happened in Helsinki today is easily imagined, so a small sample of the reaction from prominent conservatives and Republican politicians may be more instructive.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ): "I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful."

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): In a lengthy statement, McCain called Trump's appearance at the press conference "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." McCain said that Trump's words were not a gaffe or mistake, but rather "the deliberate choices of a president who seems determined to realize his delusions of a warm relationship with Putin’s regime without any regard for the true nature of his rule."

In summary, McCain wrote, "No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant."

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY): "As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I am deeply troubled by President Trump’s defense of Putin against the intelligence agencies of the U.S. & his suggestion of moral equivalence between the U.S. and Russia. Russia poses a grave threat to our national security."

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE): Sasse said that Trump's claim that the United States was responsible for the Russian attack on the election was "bizarre and flat-out wrong." He added, "The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the President plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs."

Former Gov. Christie Whitman (R-NJ): Whitman, who was the administrator of the EPA during the George W. Bush administration, tweeted: "Mr #President, you should be ashamed. To deny your own country and government in favor of a foriegn leader whose country has, for decades, tried to undermine the #UnitedStates is irrational and dangerous. Please step down, you are not fit to lead this great #nation. #TrumpPutin"

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC): "[This was a] missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections. This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves."

Michael Steele, former RNC Chair: In a tweet, Steele quoted Trump rejecting US intelligence officials in favor of Putin's version, and then added, "That's how a press conference sounds when an Asset stands next to his Handler."

Former senator and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R-NE): Appearing on CNN, Hagel audibly hesitated to use the word "treasonous," but added, "This was not a golf outing. This was not a real estate transactional kind of arrangement. ...Engagement must be connected to a strategic interest, a strategic purpose. I don't know what that strategic purpose was. I am now convinced we didn't have one. ...It's a sad day for America."

Meghan McCain, conservative columnist: "I’m horrified - and have never been more proud of the fact that Putin hates my father so much he personally sanctioned him on Russia’s enemies list."

Gov. John Kasich (R-OH): Appearing on Hardball, Kasich said it was "unbelievable" and that today was "a sad day for the country."

Conservative columnist Ben Shapiro: "So that was a disgrace. With that said, the real question is how seriously Putin takes Trump's verbiage. My guess: not very. This is the chief benefit of a White House that often runs independent of the president."

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI): In a tweet, Amash became one of several Republican members of Congress to approach the question of whether Trump had been compromised by Russia: "A person can be in favor of improving relations with Russia, in favor of meeting with Putin, and still think something is not right here." In a follow-up response to a constituent's question, Amash added, "Our main concern should be the president’s bizarre behavior with respect to Putin. We’ll have to see what Mueller finds, if anything."

Abby Huntsman, Fox & Friends host: The conservative television personality is also the daughter of Jon Huntsman, the Trump-appointed U.S. Ambassador to Russia. She wrote on Twitter, "No negotiation is worth throwing your own people and country under the bus."

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA, member of the House Judiciary Committee): "We've seen time and again that Russia will stop at nothing to interfere with and undermine our system of government. Just days ago, DOJ announced more Russian nationals have been charged w/ attempting to interfere with the 2016 election. This is not a country that can be trusted. U.S. intelligence agencies have confirmed Russia’s actions, and the evidence is plentiful. Today’s summit in Helsinki was an opportunity to forcefully address this growing threat directly with President Putin. I am dismayed that we did not see that."

Tom Nichols, conservative author and government professor at the US Naval War College: Nichols' first reaction came in the form of a tweet: "Putin is completely in command of this situation. He’s basically told Trump to go piss up a rope about the GRU guys. ('You want investigations? Sure. I’ll look into it. Give me Bill Browder.') Trump, meanwhile, is babbling 'no collusion.'"

He later expanded his remarks in an editorial in USA Today
By the end of this circus, Trump was practically mewling, begging for Putin’s approval, saying that Putin’s denials were “extremely powerful and strong,” almost in a kind of strangely erotic tone of admiration
The very last thing the president of the United States did at a summit with the Russian president was to attack an FBI agent. His last words, just before "thank you," were "witch hunt" Putin could not have scripted it better.
Dan Coats, the current Director of National Intelligence: Coats, a Trump appointee and former Republican senator from Indiana, released a pointed statement that he did not clear with the White House political office in advance. Responding to Trump's open disregard for what he and other intelligence professionals had told Trump, he wrote, "The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the President and policymakers. We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."

Rep. Don Bacon (R-NE): "Unfortunately, the President’s statements undermine the power of the actions we’ve taken. His words must match these tough actions. The Mueller indictments make clear that Russia’s military and intelligence services sought to undermine the confidence of our elections by sowing discord in our partisan environment."

Rick Wilson, Republican political strategist: In an article for The Daily Beast titled "Trump and Putin: Two Bullshit Artists Enter Helsinki, One Comes Out Victorious," Wilson wrote:
By the end of the press conference, even Putin looked slightly embarrassed. He wanted Trump to go down in the third round like a bought-off boxer, but Trump kept laying it on thicker and thicker, swooning over the Russian leader, making winky-googly eyes, and repeating the worst tropes of Russia’s propaganda machine. Trump didn’t just roll over. He rolled over, stuck out his tongue, and begged Vladimir Putin to slap on a choke collar and rub his belly. An American president has never before abased himself like this before a foreign leader, and the horrified eyes of every American outside the Trump cult watched in horror. 
Even Putin couldn’t have expected the meeting to turn out like this, with the American president capitulating passionately, obviously—and yes, it’s time to use the word—treasonously.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI): "There is no question that Russia interfered in our election and continues attempts to undermine democracy here and around the world. That is not just the finding of the American intelligence community but also the House Committee on Intelligence. The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia, which remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals. The United States must be focused on holding Russia accountable and putting an end to its vile attacks on democracy."

Conservative commentator Joe Walsh: "Look, I'm no big deal, but today is the final straw for me. I will never support Trump again. If that makes me a NeverTrumper, so be it. I am a tea party conservative, that will never change. But Trump was a traitor to this country today. That must not be accepted." Walsh later emphasized: "Trump was a traitor today. I cannot & will not support a traitor. No decent American should." 

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN): "I felt like that everyone who’s dealt with Putin understands fully that the best way to deal with him is through strength, and I felt like the President’s comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover, and I was disappointed in that. When he had the opportunity to defend our intelligence agencies, who work for him, I was very disappointed and saddened with the equivalency he gave between them and what Putin was saying... Again, Putin only understands strength, and I did not think this was a good moment for our country.  There's no question that Putin interfered in the elections. ...They definitely interfered in our elections. That's not debatable, and again, I just don’t know what it is about the President that he continues to deny that that occurred. I get the feeling, and I’ve seen it first-hand actually, sometimes the President cares more about how a leader treats him personally than forcefully getting out there and pushing against things that we know have harmed our nation, and I thought that’s what we all experienced today."

Neil Cavuto (Fox News host) and Tom Dupree (former Deputy Attorney General under President George W. Bush):
DUPREE: I mean, it’s all well and good for the president to talk about the Strzok and server and Hillary Clinton and all of that. But this wasn’t the time and the place. This was the time and place for the president to look Putin squarely in the eye and said, ‘You will be punished for what you did in 2016, and don’t ever think about doing that again.’ 
CAVUTO: But he didn’t. And what’s what made it disgusting. That’s what made his performance disgusting. I’m sorry. It’s just the only way I feel. It’s not a right or left thing to me. It’s just wrong. U.S. president foreign soil talking to our biggest enemy or adversary or competitor, I don’t know how we define them these days, is essentially letting the guy get away with this. Not even offering a mild, a mild criticism. That sets us back a lot.
Brit Hume, Fox News host: "Trump, finally asked whom he believes on Russia interference, gives a vague and rambling non-answer, with renewed complaints about Hillary’s server. Says he trusts US intel but made clear he takes Putin’s denials seriously. Lame response, to say the least."

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA): "President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately."

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME): "The Russians were relentless in their efforts to meddle in the 2016 elections, and their efforts are ongoing. The President’s statements today in Helsinki demonstrate his continued refusal to accept the unanimous conclusions of U.S. intelligence leaders and the bipartisan findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee. This position is untenable and at odds with the forceful response this moment demands. Given that we are in an election year, the need to act now to prevent malicious attempts to influence our democracy is urgent."

Douglas Schoen, Fox News analyst: In a piece headlined "Putin Eats Trump's Lunch in Helsinki," Schoen wrote,
When asked if he would hold Russia accountable for any of its past actions, Trump deflected and deferred. President Trump’s unwillingness to stand up to Russia on this issue only serves to weaken the Western alliance and encourage further Russian incursions into the territory of sovereign nations now that Putin knows Trump will give him a pass. 
...For a sitting U.S. president to say publicly that he believes a foreign leader over his own intelligence team is shocking and admonishable. At a time when our democracy faces grave threats, it is deeply troubling that the president would side with the very country who attacked us
Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC): Gowdy's response focused on the fact that Trump apparently believes any acknowledgement of Russian crimes will hurt the legitimacy of his election: "I am confident former CIA Director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, DNI Dan Coats, Ambassador Nikki Haley, FBI Director Chris Wray, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others will be able to communicate to the President it is possible to conclude Russia interfered with our election in 2016 without delegitimizing his electoral success."

Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY): "Russia has a track record of meddling in elections - not only ours in 2016, but around the world. I support the Mueller investigation in getting to the apolitical truth."

John McLaughlin, former acting CIA Director under George W. Bush: Appearing on MSNBC, McLaughlin said, "America has been attacked and the President sides with the enemy. It's about that simple."

His own administration and senior staff, immediately before the meeting: The Washington Post reported tonight that Trump's own briefers and advisors tried to turn Trump away from a pro-Putin stance by inundating him in evidence of Russia's crimes.
Administration officials had hoped that maybe, just maybe, Monday’s summit between President Trump and Russian President Vladmir Putin would end differently — without a freewheeling 46-minute news conference in which Trump attacked his own FBI on foreign soil and warmly praised archrival Russia. 
Ahead of the meeting, staffers provided Trump with some 100 pages of briefing materials aimed at laying out a tough posture toward Putin, but the president ignored most of it, according one person familiar with the discussions, who requested anonymity to disclose internal deliberations. Trump’s remarks were “very much counter to the plan,” the person said. 
“Everyone around Trump” was urging him to take a firm stance with Putin, according to a second person familiar with the preparations. In advance of Monday’s meeting, the second person said, advisers covered everything from Russia’s annexation of Crimea to its meddling in the U.S. elections, but Trump “made a game-time decision” to handle the summit his way.
On the other hand, Russian government officials were ecstatic with the day's events.


  • A president who needs dozens or hundreds of his own party's members to remind him who is an enemy of the United States probably can't do the job of protecting and defending the United States.
  • It doesn't really matter whether a president is compromised by a hostile foreign power or just acts exactly like it.