Wednesday, September 25, 2019

What did Donald Trump do today?

He forgot, in real time, that Ukraine and Russia are fighting a war.

Trump had a brief shared press conference with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky at the U.N. General Assembly meeting. Naturally, virtually every question dealt with the surprisingly damning partial summary of their July 25th phone call that Trump was forced to release today. But when Trump was asked if he would commit to providing the military aid he'd held up in advance of that phone call, he said this to Zelensky:

TRUMP: And I really hope that Russia — because I really believe that President Putin would like to do something.  I really hope that you and President Putin get together and can solve your problem.  That would be a tremendous achievement.  And I know you’re trying to do that.

Russia is occupying Ukrainian territory and the two countries are effectively at war—which is why the much weaker Ukraine is so desperate for military aid and goodwill from the Trump administration. It's entirely possible Trump simply forgot or didn't understand that fact. But Trump has openly supported the Russian side in the past, fighting against sanctions on Russian oligarchs and publicly saying that Russia's invasion of Crimea was acceptable because some of the people living there were ethnic Russians. He's also lobbied hard to let Russia rejoin the G7 summit, after it was expelled for its annexation of Crimea.

Bizarrely, the notes that Trump released today describing their fateful phone call also involve him defending Russia to Zelensky, even as Zelensky is trying to make Trump understand the actual situation between the two countries.

TRUMP: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike ... I guess you have one of your wealthy people. ... The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you're surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.

Trump is referring, apparently in all seriousness, to a fringe conspiracy theory that holds that Russia was framed for the cyberattack on the DNC. (It's still not clear what Ukraine has to do with this, though—that part Trump seems to have imagined himself.)

In other words, he's asking the President of Ukraine to investigate non-existent Ukrainian owners of the American computer security firm Crowdstrike to vindicate Ukraine's enemy Russia, which actually conducted the attack.

Why does this matter?

  • A president who can't keep straight which country is a military ally and which is hostile to the United States is unfit for office.