Trump’s Press Conference Performance Was Mind Boggling
Trump’s public utterings are head-bangingly astounding. Suddenly friends are enemies, enemies are to be admired and facts are disposable.
Days after the U.S. government brought criminal charges against a dozen Russian intelligence officers for hacking into the Democratic National Committee computers, to the detriment of the Hillary Clinton campaign, Trump stands by the autocratic leader of Russian and attacks his own government.
Sen. John McCain, the dying Arizona Republican with the most military and intelligence experience in government, described it as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
A few other key Republicans, but certainly not all, joined in the building chorus, for once joining with Democrats who have been jumping up and down for a week or more since Trump went to Europe for once again finding the absolutely wrong thing to say out loud.
As The Washington Post reported, at the news conference following the first formal one-on-one summit between the two leaders, Trump refused to back the conclusion of U.S. intelligence of Russian interference in the 2016 election and attacked the probe being led by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III as “a disaster for our country.”
It means that the American president, standing on foreign soil, was allying with the object of the all-things-Russia investigation. Forget blame or criminal charges or anything else. Set aside whether “meddling” involving some unnamed U.S. citizens aligns exactly with “collusion” or cooperation. Ask what are we as citizens supposed to conclude about our president.
Wait a minute. It’s all but criminal for a black football player to take a knee in protest during the national anthem, but OK for Trump to stand next to the Russian president and pee all over U.S. intelligence? This is patriotism? This is strategy? This is good for me as a voter? Some critics, including The New York Daily News, were using the words treason and betrayal in headlines.
Even as the press conference talk was still spinning, the Justice Department indicted a Russian woman who tried to broker two secret meetings between Trump and the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Trump condemned the expansive federal investigation of Russian interference as “a disaster for our country” and “a total witch hunt.” He argued the probe, along with “foolish” American policies, had severely impaired relations between the two countries. Then he repeated his multi-pronged attacks on Democrats, as if they were responsible for all-things-Russia.
Unfortunately, it has come down to the reaction of Congressional Republicans to determine just how far outside the batter’s box that this country is allowing its president to roam. Neither criticism in the media nor public opinion nor fact-based investigation by his own government seems relevant to what he says or does. Or acknowledges a half hour later that he said.
So, it matters that Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) reiterated that “there is no question” that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and continues to work against democracy in the United States and around the globe. “The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally. . . There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia.” Ryan is retiring at the end of his term.
Why are Republican leaders like Trey Gowdy (R-S.C), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) working so hard to undercut the Mueller investigation? (Gowdy last night reminded Trump that Russia indeed did interfere with the elections.) Why is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remaining silent? Why are we not to believe the unthinkable, that our president is under some kind of pressure from Putin?
Why are we not going nuts after Trump identified European allies as the “biggest foe” that America faces? When did the balance of trade figures, and manipulated balance of trade figures at that, come to define strategic military alliances?
As the Post observed, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the summit “fabulous” and “better than super,” according to Russian news agencies, while Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was snickering with exuberance as he watched the news conference.
Trump declined an invitation by AP reporter Jonathan Lemire to warn Putin, with the world watching, never again to interfere in a U.S. election. And with Trump looking on, Putin insisted to reporters that “the Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere into internal American affairs.”
To a question of whether Russia had compromising material on the president, Putin offered Trump no comfort, said The New York Times. Instead of simply saying no, he observed that Trump was one of hundreds of American business people who had visited Russia. “Do you think we try to collect compromising material on each and every single one of them,” Putin asked.
On Air Force One, Trump tweeted, “As I said today and many times before, ‘I have GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people.’ However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past—as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!”
Meanwhile, Trump and Putin said they discussed a range of issues—including the civil war in Syria as well as terrorism and nuclear disarmament—but announced no substantive agreements.
Before the summit began, Trump said his own country, rather than Russia, was to blame for the hostilities. Although most U.S. officials fault Russia’s election interference, its alleged use of a nerve agent on British soil and its aggression in Ukraine and Syria, Trump instead faulted “U.S. foolishness and stupidity” in a tweet. The Russian Foreign Ministry’s official Twitter account retweeted it and added, “We agree.”
Reason it is not.