The optics around Donald Trump’s high profile summit in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin didn’t need to get any worse, but they did anyway on Friday when the Department of Justice indicted 12 Russian operatives for interfering in the 2016 election.
The timing of Rod Rosenstein’s announcement was interesting. The embattled Deputy Attorney General stepped to the podium just as Trump was busy taking walking lessons from Queen Elizabeth, a juxtaposition that underscored the surreal character of the current state of geopolitics.
The indictments are the latest evidence to support the near unanimous conclusion that the Kremlin sought to, at the very least, undermine the Hillary Clinton campaign. Use of the term “near” there is an allusion to Trump’s demonstrable unwillingness to concur with the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, an assessment that is accepted as virtually irrefutable by America’s law enforcement community and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
What remains unclear is whether Trump’s reluctance to endorse that assessment stems from actual collusion with a hostile foreign power or simply from his worry that admitting Moscow was “in the meddle” of things (so to speak), somehow delegitimizes his presidency.
Whatever the case, Trump is facing enormous pressure to raise the issue with Putin on Monday and in an interview with CBS’s Jeff Glor, the President responded as follows when asked whether he would demand the extradition of the accused:
Well, I might. I hadn’t thought of that. But I certainly, I’ll be asking about it. But again, this was during the Obama administration. They were doing whatever it was during the Obama administration.
That is a characteristically bizarre answer. How is it that the President “hadn’t thought of that”? It seems like that would be one of the first things he’d think of in this scenario. Additionally, the incessant references to the Obama administration are a rather transparent attempt to deflect and it is by no means clear why it’s relevant when the interference happened for the purposes of acknowledging that interference.
In the same interview, Trump actually blames the victim which, in this case, is the DNC:
I think the DNC should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked… I heard they were trying to hack the Republicans too, but, and this may be wrong, but they had much stronger defenses.
Right. “They had much stronger defenses.” Either that, or they didn’t need to hack the Republicans because when they had questions, they could just ask Julian Assange to DM Don Jr. on Twitter.
Asked what his goal for the summit with Putin is, the President told Glor he would “let him know after the meeting”, seemingly oblivious to the meaning of the word “goal” (“goal” isn’t a retrospective term).
Trump, holding court at his Turnberry Resort in Scotland and donning the white variant of his signature “USA” trucker hat series, went on to explain why he “believes in meetings” and why, generally speaking, “meetings” are a “good thing”. Here’s a clip:
Feel free to draw your own conclusions about whether this meeting is in fact “a really good thing” in light of recent events.