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Donald Trump Continues His Efforts To Undermine The Russia Investigation

Trump Russia

While he was in Vietnam for the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, President Trump had a private meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and made clear afterward that he believed Putin’s denials that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 Presidential election:

DANANG, Vietnam — President Trump said on Saturday that he believed President Vladimir V. Putin was sincere in his denials of interference in the 2016 presidential elections, calling questions about Moscow’s meddling a politically motivated “hit job” that was hindering cooperation with Russia on life-or-death issues.

Speaking after meeting privately with Mr. Putin on the sideline of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Danang, Vietnam, Mr. Trump said that he had again asked whether Russia had meddled in the contest, but that the continued focus on the issue was insulting to Mr. Putin.

Mr. Trump said it was time to move past the issue so that the United States and Russia could cooperate on confronting the nuclear threat from North Korea, solving the Syrian civil war and working together on Ukraine.

“He said he didn’t meddle — I asked him again,” Mr. Trump told reporters traveling with him aboard Air Force One as he flew to Hanoi for more meetings. “You can only ask so many times. I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election. He did not do what they are saying he did.”

Mr. Trump did not answer a direct question about whether he believed Mr. Putin’s denials, but his account of the conversation indicated he was far more inclined to accept the Russian president’s assertions than those of his own intelligence agencies, which have concluded that Mr. Putin directed an elaborate effort to interfere in the vote. The C.I.A., the National Security Agency, the F.B.I. and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all determined that Russia meddled in the election.

“Every time he sees me he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Putin. “I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”

Trump also talked about the meeting on Twitter yesterday:

Trump later walked back the comments to some degree, claiming that he did not dispute the conclusion reached by every American intelligence agency that Russia did indeed take steps to intervene and interfere with the election process and that it has done the same thing with regard to the electoral process in Europe and elsewhere around the world. However, it’s clear from Trump’s comments to reporters and his tweets that, once again, his meeting with Putin did not include any kind of rebuke against the Russian leader for what his country obviously did and attempted to do in 2016, that he continues to resist saying anything bad about Putin either in public or in private while at the same time attacking long-standing American allies in Europe and elsewhere quite openly and often to their faces. Additionally, it reinforces the fact that the Administration has long fallen back on the idea that the entire Russia investigation is an example of so-called “fake news” and that there is no reason for either special counsel Robert Mueller or the Intelligence committees in either the House or the Senate to continue their investigation of the reports of Russian interference and allegations of collusion or coordination between people tied to the Trump campaign. We’ve seen this phenomenon manifest itself several times since Trump became President, not only in his Twitter feed but also in public comments and in actions such as when he asked F.B.I. Director James Comey if he could end the investigation of former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and later when he fired Comey abruptly just days after he had testified about the investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign before a Senate committee. As we know now, Trump later openly admitted that he took that later action specifically because of the Russia investigation.

Firing Comey, of course, didn’t end the Russia investigation and arguably only enhanced it since it led directly to the appointment of former F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to head the investigation. In theory, of course, Trump could seek to fire Mueller, but at this point, even he seems to realize that doing so would only enhance the investigation and raise even more questions about potential obstruction of justice. Nonetheless, it’s clear that the Russia investigation is clearly bothering Trump and those around him, and there can really only be a few explanations for that.

At the very least, one can explain the pushback as being motivated by a sense of unease by Trump regarding how people perceive his own legitimacy as President. Notwithstanding his claims to the contrary, Trump’s election was a relative anomaly in American in history in that he is one of only five people who became Presidents without having won a majority of the popular vote and that, of those five, his gap in the popular vote is the largest in American history. As I’ve noted before, a shift of roughly 70,000 votes in three states would have led to Hillary Clinton narrowly winning the Electoral College vote. Additionally, Trump entered office with the lowest approval rating of any elected President since World War Two, and his numbers continue to languish in negative territory with no sign of changing in the foreseeable future. Admitting that the Russians sought to influence the election in his favor, which is clearly the case, would be to admit that he probably didn’t become President in his own right. Someone with Donald Trump’s super-inflated ego is never going to admit that.

The other, more sinister, possibility that explains how Trump and his Administration is acting, of course, is that they have something to hide regarding the campaigns contacts with Russia during the primary and the General Election. While there has yet to be any direct evidence of this, of course, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence on the record that makes it seem like there could be something to these charges. This includes, for example, the guilty plea entered by Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos to charges of lying to the F.B.I. regarding his meetings with Russian officials while working with the campaign. In the wake of that plea, we also learned new details about the contact that campaign officials such as Carter Page reportedly had with Russians while they were working on the campaign. Perhaps closest to Trump himself, though, were the revelations about the meeting that took place at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and a lawyer with ties to the Russian government. With regard to that last matter, the Russian lawyer recently stated in an interview that Trump Jr. offered a quid pro quo in exchange for damaging information about Clinton. While both Trump Jr. and the White House initially claimed the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the state of the law regarding American adoptions of Russian orphans and the sanctions imposed by the so-called Magnisky Act, it quickly became clear that this was not the case. We soon learned, for example, that the President himself participated in drafting a statement that made this claim on the way home from a trip to Europe on Air Force One. That statement quickly proved to be untrue after Trump Jr. released a string of emails between himself and other campaign officials regarding the meeting. Those emails made it clear that the purported purpose of the meeting was based on the claim that the Kremlin-linked lawyer could deliver allegedly damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Based on this, Trump’s rhetoric and the foot-dragging we’ve seen from the Administration on making information public takes on a far more sinister tone.

Whatever the explanation, though, the biggest take away from the President’s remarks this weekend is that he seems to take Putin at his word despite all the available evidence to the contrary, and that he’s willing to throw his own intelligence agencies under the bus to achieve whatever goal it is he has in mind here. Even taking all of this in its most innocent light, it’s shameful behavior on the part of an American President and a display of weakness before an obvious adversary that can only serve to lead Putin to believe that he can continue to manipulate Trump and to undermine free elections around the world, with impunity. For a man who openly accused his predecessor of acting to undermine the country on numerous occasions over the years, it’s outrageous and hypocritical. In other words, it’s typical Donald Trump.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. teve tory says:

    He behaves as if they’ve got dirt on him.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  2. Terrye Cravens says:

    So much for America First..this is more like Putin First. I smell a rat.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  3. MarkedMan says:

    Trump is, of course, a profoundly stupid man. His most recent demonstration of this was his belittling and mocking the US intelligence agencies. I wouldn’t be surprised to see recordings or photographs emerge.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  4. michael reynolds says:

    From the start Trump’s behavior has been entirely consistent with a consciousness of guilt. He knows he’s guilty. Republicans know he’s guilty. His apologists here know he’s guilty. Everyone knows in their heart that he’s guilty.

    The first question is whether corruption and treason are acceptable to the Nazis and Evangelicals of his base. Spoiler alert: they’ll be fine with corruption and treason.

    The second question is whether there are enough of us still living in reality to push this gangster out of the White House.

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  5. Not the IT Dept. says:

    John Schindler had a recent column and says there is at least one real tape of Trump but also plenty of phony ones (some well done, some badly done) that the Kremlin is also distributing throughout the world’s security forces. He thinks the resultant confusion if one or more goes live is just the kind of chaos they like to spread. He hasn’t seen the real tape but apparently it shows Trump with underage girls.

    Yeah, I think that would be the kind of thing that would make him very deferential to Putin.

    http://observer.com/2017/11/spy-circles-suspect-kremlin-is-behind-dozens-of-fake-trump-sex-tapes/

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  6. Gustopher says:

    To be fair to Trump, if you were guilty as hell, you would do the same thing…

    You would probably be better at it, or hire people who would be better at it, and follow their advice, but you would still try to shut down or discredit the investigation. Maybe get a lackey to confess to provably wrong things, then claim he was pressured by prosecutors in a witch hunt, and muddy the waters.

    But, if you were guilty as hell, and a fvcking moron, you would do exactly what Trump is doing.

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  7. Kylopod says:

    @Terrye Cravens:

    So much for America First..this is more like Putin First. I smell a rat.

    The term “America First” emerged in the 1930s and 1940s, where it became primarily the name of organizations that were essentially pro-Hitler. So this sort of thing has precedent. I don’t know if Orwell ever commented on it, but it was essentially an Orwellian phrase in which supporting American interests was a cover for giving free reign to dangerous foreign powers.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  8. teve tory says:

    Trump is world’s worst negotiator. Bring a band, a carpet and he’ll give you anything you want. He is a patsy.

    -jennifer rubin

    I wonder what that makes his supporters? Patsy Patsies?

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  9. Kylopod says:

    I see my link didn’t work, because of a typo. Here is the actual link:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/America_First_Committee

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. Mikey says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    He hasn’t seen the real tape but apparently it shows Trump with underage girls.

    Well, if we’ve learned anything the past week, it’s that such a tape, if it exists, will make no difference at all to Trump’s supporters.

    I could be wrong, though–it might increase his support with them.

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  11. CSK says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    I ave no trouble believing that there’s a sex tape involving Trump and underage girls floating around somewhere. He drooled over Paris Hilton when she was all of 12, and he’s on the record as wanting to bang his oldest daughter–or “piece of ass,” as he jovially permit Howard Stern to describe her.

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  12. teve tory says:

    @Mikey:

    Conservaderps 2016: Trans people are going to molest your teen daughters in the bathroom!

    Conservaderps 2017: Roy Moore only touched ONE 14 year old girl! The others were at least 16!

    ReplyReply

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 20 Thumb down 0

  13. teve tory says:

    stupid people with shitty values.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  14. de stijl says:

    @teve tory:

    He behaves as if they’ve got dirt on him.

    “They” being the Russians and, likely, Mueller.

    Trump is dancing on the edge. He’s effing effed seven times ’til Sunday, but he’s trying to skate.

    Been said a billion times, but when Trump is cornered and vulnerable he attacks hard both as a defense and as a deflection.

    He is learning that Page Six is in the NY Post not WaPo or the NY Times.

    What “worked” as a counter-punch / deflection with Rosie O’Donnell in the aughts before he was the most powerful person on the planet, won’t work when you are President of the effing United States and every journalist in the world is focused on you (and your past.)

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    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  15. de stijl says:

    The likelihood that someone of Trump’s id, age, “wealth”, psychology, self-image, and demeanor not being on video with an underage girl approaches zero.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. Kylopod says:

    @de stijl:

    before he was the most powerful person on the planet

    To quote Game of Thrones:

    TYRION: You just sent the most powerful man in Westeros to bed without his supper.
    TYWIN: You’re a fool if you think he’s the most powerful man in Westeros.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  17. teve tory says:

    eater.com is reporting that trump asked the white house chef to make him a mcdonald’s quarter pounder with extra ketchup and no pickles.

    He’s got the white house executive chef at his disposal, and he wants a mcdonald’s quarter pounder with extra ketchup and no pickles.

    He is not fit to be president.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  18. de stijl says:

    @Kylopod:

    Winter-time is nigh. Long nights, short days; generally brisk or worse. Definitely approaching though, time-wise. Better bring a coat; it’s gonna get cold.

    …or …

    Of things that could be known, you have a small grasp on what could be known or something, Jon “Kyopod” Snow!

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. de stijl says:

    @de stijl:

    When you play the game of thrones you win, or you… uhmmm … or you learn valuable experience and stuff about … ah …what not to do in that situation … or something?

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. de stijl says:

    BTW Trump = Joffrey.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Teve tory says:

    If I were president, my White House Chef would be Kenji lopez-alt.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  22. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Teve tory: Now you see, I don’t get Serious Eats at all. I guess it takes all kinds.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. An Interested Party says:

    @Not the IT Dept.: I wonder which Western intelligence agency possesses that real Trump tape…

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  24. JohnMcC says:

    @An Interested Party: Oh damn, here I am in this discussion….
    I saw in (I think) thedailybeast-dot-com that there are many Trump sex tapes making their way through the various “intelligence communities” and that many (at least) are fakes prepared by the Russians to use when they are finished with our President.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  25. Teve tory says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker: kenji is pretty awesome in my book. But other tastes may vary. Would you rather have kenji or McDonald’s?

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. Not the IT Dept. says:

    @An Interested Party:

    I’m thinking Germany or the British; Schindler wouldn’t have taken the word of any but a long-time ally.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    The second question is whether there are enough of us still living in reality to push this gangster out of the White House.

    You owe real gangsters an apology.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  28. abdel says:

    I hope that trump can do some thing with putin during his visit to asia, because it’s difficult to deal with russia and china as well.

    ReplyReply

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  29. Franklin says:

    Obama tried also, but he had zero chemistry with Putin.

    This line kills me.

    ReplyReply

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  30. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Given the skeletons in Dumb Donnie’s closet, I’m not sure denigrating our Intelligence Community is a wise course of action. Kind of like walking past a cop on the street and calling him a dumb-fvck. What could go wrong?

    Try to imagine, for a minute, that Obama had gone overseas and talked down our Intelligence Community and tongue-kissed Putin and Duterte? Just imagine the shit-storm that would have ignited.

    ReplyReply

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  31. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Teve tory: I just don’t do that sort of cuisine at all. Doesn’t interest me. I’m not a smash burger guy and am most likely to choose Burger King–especially if I can go at a time when they’re cooking patties live.

    ReplyReply

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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