Trump's sorry and troubling performance in Helsinki

President Trump on Monday gave comfort to an enemy of the United States.

In his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and subsequent news conference, Trump not only failed to condemn Russia’s criminal interference in the 2016 presidential election, but he criticized the efforts of the U.S. intelligence community to root it out.

“I think that the, the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it's kept us apart, it's kept us separated,” said the U.S. president in response to a reporter’s question.

So, in President Trump’s opinion, it is not Russia’s efforts to create havoc in a U.S. presidential election by hacking into Democratic Party computers and stealing information, or distributing it in a manner to undermine one of the candidates, or creating false narratives on social media that are to blame for driving a deeper wedge between the two countries.

No, the “disaster” for our nation that is keeping us apart from Russia is the investigation of the Russian meddling.

It is mind-boggling that a U.S. president would take this stance in a meeting with the Russian president. And it is deeply troubling. This is the point where Republican leaders must set political considerations aside for the good of the country and say this is not acceptable. They must defend the U.S. intelligence services and tell the president he is wrong.

Instead of condemning Russia’s behavior, Trump chose to play domestic politics, again suggesting that the story of Russian interference was a product of “Democrats who want to do nothing but resist and obstruct” and who seek to provide "a reason why (they) lost an election.”

It was unprecedented behavior by an American president. Meeting with a foreign leader, an adversary, no less, and belittling an American political party. Republican, Democrat, independent or members of minor parties, all are Americans with a shared interest that our elections be free from outsider interference.

What proof did Trump provide as to why, in contradiction to all the evidence presented to his administration detailing the Russian interference efforts, he remains unconvinced?

It is Putin’s assurances.

“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 said.

“I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be,” he continued.

Here are a few reasons. In helping elect Trump, Putin would be backing a leader with no political or foreign policy experience and so potentially more easily manipulated. He would be blocking an adversary, Hillary Clinton, who was no friend of the Putin regime. He would be backing a U.S. president who could weaken NATO, to Russia’s advantage. And Putin would be sowing doubts about the American political process and creating deeper divisions in the U.S. electorate.

And that’s without venturing down the conspiracy hole that suggests Putin has the dirt on Trump. The U.S. president’s performance in Helsinki fed that narrative.

Trump’s unwillingness to accept the evidence that Russia worked to undermine the Democratic candidate and assist the Trump candidacy is either rooted in the U.S. president’s knowledge that his campaign did conspire with the Russians or in Trump’s inability to accept that interference played a factor in his victory. And perhaps both.

“We won that race. And it's a shame that there can even be a little bit of a cloud over it,” Trump said at his post-summit press conference with Putin, putting his ego ahead of national security.

As for Trump’s statement — “There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it.” — not so fast.

In handing down an indictment against 12 Russian operatives last week, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III alleges they conspired to interfere in the U.S. election “with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury.”

Trump should await learning of the “persons unknown” before making his claim of no collusion.

The growth of social media, the inability of people to know what was true and what was not, the distrust of Clinton because of her foolish and reckless use of a private computer server while secretary of state, left the U.S. particularly vulnerable to the Russian meddling.

Rather than improve the situation by forthrightly confronting the Russian interference and backing both credible intelligence and news reporting, Trump has made things worse. He has undermined his own intelligence services and added to distrust in reporting with his blanket “fake media” statements.

Putin must be pleased.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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