[guest post by Dana]
In the wake of having been pilloried from all sides after his joint press conference with President Putin, President Trump
felt the need was pressured by Republicans to backpedal clarify his statements regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 election. This after he told Sean Hannity in an interview last night that, “I thought that President Putin was very, very strong.” In his clarification today, President Trump expressed his support of the U.S. intelligence community. But of course, he didn’t just leave it at that:
“I thought that I made myself very clear, but having just reviewed the transcript…I realized that there is a need for some clarification,” Trump said Tuesday at the White House. “The sentence should have been…’I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia’.”
“I have felt very strongly that while Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying…that I accept our American intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” the president said.
But, Trump added, “Could be other people also, there’s a lot of people out there.”
During his Tuesday remarks, Trump also said that his administration took the threat of continued Russian interference seriously and vowed to move aggressively to “repel” any efforts by Moscow to interfere in future U.S. elections. “We’re doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018,” he said.
Responses to President Trump’s statements yesterday were sharp – and insightful – to say the least:
President Trump and Russian president-for-life Vladimir Putin’s news conference in Helsinki on Monday was the lowest point in the history of the American presidency. Standing next to a dictatorial leader accused by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement of attacking the foundations of American democracy, Trump often appeared confused and incoherent — and those were his best moments at the podium. The rest of the time he spent praising the KGB dictator to his left and attacking the institutions he swore an oath to defend. It was a Russia First performance, from beginning to end.
For Putin, the summit was a great success before it even started. Without the recurrent legitimacy of the ballot box — I assume no one still believes that Russia’s elections are real — dictators crave ways to demonstrate their credibility and to pass off their own interests and power as those of the nation. The tried and true methods are war, hosting sporting spectacles and appearing with important foreign leaders, especially democratically elected ones. Putin has managed a hat trick with his invasion of Ukraine still ongoing, the World Cup that ended in Moscow on Sunday and an imposing performance in Helsinki next to a feeble and cowed American president.
Other than Putin wanting it badly, there was no purpose behind this spectacle in Helsinki. Putin’s wish list is transparent: legitimacy as the ruler of Russia and stature on the global stage; Russia as power broker in Ukraine, Syria and Iran; weakening the United States’ commitment to its Group of Seven allies, NATO and the European Union; lowered Western defenses against his attacks; and Trump’s help in all these things. Putin also wants the United States to end sanctions and recognize his annexation of Crimea, but he senses that that would be too much to ask right now, and that they could be taken out of Trump’s hands if he pushes too far. In contrast, there is nothing the United States needs from Putin other than to stop the hostile acts that he uses to achieve his ends. He must be stopped, not negotiated with.
Despite the long list of Putin’s suspected atrocities, including the downing of Flight MH17 over Ukraine and aiding Bashar al-Assad’s massacres in Syria, Trump eagerly applied the Kremlin’s patented technique of moral equivalence, saying, “I hold both countries responsible” and that “we’re all to blame” for poor Russian America relations. To this I can only cite Polish writer Stanisław Jerzy Lec: Just when you think you’ve reached the bottom, someone knocks from below.