At their summit in Helsinki, Donald Trump chooses Russian leader Vladimir Putin over US agencies and American foreign policy.
In the press conference after their two-hour, one-on-one meeting, Trump did not name a single action for which Putin should be held accountable. Instead, Trump chose the Russian President over US intelligence services when asked about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US election.
Trump jumped in when Putin was asked about the interference, boasting about his win in the Electoral College and insisting, ” There was no collusion. I didn’t know the President.” (Trump brought the Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow in 2013, hoping to meet Putin, but the Russian leader sent a message that he was unable to see him.)
With Putin pressing, “Could you name a single fact that definitively prove that collusion?”, a reporter turned to Trump,
“President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. Who do you believe?”
Trump’s immediate reaction was to attack the FBI, with a tale of a Democratic National Committee server — the hacking of which led to last Friday’s indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers — and a “Pakistani gentleman”.
He said, “[US inteligence services] said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.”
Then Trump made his choice:
“I have great confidence in my intelligence people but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
Trump embraced Putin’s proposal that, rather than the extradition of the 12 Russians indicted on Friday, US agencies could visit Moscow and watch them being questioned by Putin’s officials.
The Kremlin has used the same tactic with both the chemical attacks of the Russian-backed Assad regime in Syria and the March nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter in the UK. Moscow has suggested that, even though it is a chief suspect in carrying out or abetting the assaults, it should be able to assess and pass judgement on the evidence.
Trump did not raise the use of nerve agent in the UK, and his references to Syria did not mention the Assad regime or Russia’s role in attacks which have killed 100,000s of people and displaced millions.
Nor did Trump raise Russia’s annexation of Crimea — it was Putin who covered him by citing Trump’s supposed position that the act was illegal — or its role in the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine four years ago today.
Instead, he hailed Vladimir Putin as his partner: “Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed, as of about four hours ago.”
And he closed by returning to his condemnation of his agencies, betraying his overriding concern about his legitimacy and the Trump-Russia investigation as he commented about evidence that he has been compromised by Moscow:
“If they [US agencies] had it, it would have been out long ago and if anybody watched [FBI agent] Peter Strzok testify over the last couple of days and I was in Brussels watching it, it was a disgrace to the FBI, it was a disgrace to our country. And you would say that was a total witch hunt.”