Trump Calls Putin To Exchange High-Fives Over End Of Mueller Probe
President Trump's obsequious effort to please Russian President Vladimir Putin continues.
The White House revealed yesterday that President Trump had a 90-minute phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin during which the primary topic of conversation was apparently the Russia investigation:
President Trump telephoned President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia on Friday for what both men described as a lengthy, positive conversation, in which they dismissed two years of investigations into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 presidential campaign as a “Russian Hoax” and a mountain that “ended up being a mouse.”
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office after his first exchange with Mr. Putin since the release of the report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, which asserted that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” Mr. Trump said he did not broach the threat of Russian interference in future elections with Mr. Putin.
Instead, the two leaders pledged to embark on a new era of cooperation on issues from North Korea to Venezuela, where Mr. Trump said the Russian leader “is not looking at all to get involved, other than he’d like to see something positive happen.”
The timing of the call, two weeks after the release of the Mueller report, suggested a president eager to lift the cloud of the investigation from his dealings with Moscow and return to the policy of warmer relations with Russia that he once promised as a candidate. But it illustrated yet again the deep disconnect between Mr. Trump’s personal treatment of Mr. Putin and his administration’s more hard-edge relations with the Russian government.
Mr. Trump’s dismissal of Russian election interference runs counter to the assessments of the nation’s intelligence agencies, as well as Mr. Mueller’s report, while his characterization of Mr. Putin’s role in Venezuela contradicts the views of his own top advisers. They accuse Russia of propping up the Venezuelan president, Nicolás Maduro, in defiance of an American-led pressure campaign to force him from power.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, to warn him that his country’s intervention in Venezuela was “destabilizing” for that country and for the United States-Russia relationship. Other officials portray Venezuela as a Cold War-like proxy battle between Washington and Moscow.
“This is our hemisphere — it’s not where the Russians ought to be interfering,” the national security adviser, John R. Bolton, said on Wednesday. “This is a mistake on their part. It’s not going to lead to an improvement in relations.”
But to judge by both what Mr. Trump said about the call and a statement issued by the Kremlin, he and Mr. Putin disagreed on little. They pledged to deliver humanitarian aid to Venezuela. They vowed to boost trade between the United States and Russia. And they talked about a potential three-way deal on nuclear arms that could include China.
The agreement would be a successor to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a 1987 pact from which Mr. Trump announced he would withdraw the United States, largely because of evidence that Russia was cheating on it. On Friday, Mr. Trump said nothing about Russian violations, putting the emphasis on cooperation to “get rid of some of the tremendous firepower that we have right now.”
Mr. Trump first mentioned that he “had a long and very good conversation” with Mr. Putin in a tweet, in which he also said that the subjects discussed included “even the ‘Russian Hoax.'” When the subject of the Mueller report and Russia’s role in the election came up during the call, Mr. Trump later explained, Mr. Putin “actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and ended up being a mouse. But he knew that because he knew there was no collusion whatsoever.”
A White House official later clarified that it was not a video call; Mr. Trump meant to say that Mr. Putin had “laughed, chuckled” rather than smiled.
Mr. Putin has long denied that Russia interfered in the election, though he has been frank that he was rooting for Mr. Trump to win in 2016. Standing next to Mr. Trump in Helsinki, Finland, last July, he said, “Yes I did, yes I did, because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.”
The summary of the call released by the Kremlin said the “two heads of state expressed satisfaction with the businesslike and constructive nature of the conversation.” But the statement also revealed a few potential fissures. On Venezuela, it condemned “outside interference in the country’s internal affairs” and added that “attempts to change the government in Caracas by force undermine prospects for a political settlement of the crisis.
This isn’t the first time that Trump has taken Putin’s side in discussions regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. The most infamous example, of course, came last year at his summit meeting with Putin in Helsinki during which the President said that he believed Putin’s claim that Russia did not interfere in the election. This came despite the fact that Trump’s own intelligence chiefs have made clear that there is overwhelming evidence that Russia did, in fact, interfere in the election and that they intended to do so in both the 2018 midterm elections and the upcoming 2020 Presidential election. Additionally, contrary to the President’s characterization of the Mueller investigation as a hoax, it is worth noting that this investigation resulted in the indictment of more than a dozen Russians in March of last year and the indictment of a dozen Russian intelligence officials that was handed down just days before the President’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Additionally, while the Mueller report did not find direct evidence of collusion between Trump campaign officials and Russians, there are plenty of unanswered questions regarding contact between people close to Trump and Russian officials during the campaign. This includes the contact that foreign policy adviser George Papadapolous had with Russian officials before, during, and after his time on the campaign, the contacts that campaign officials like Paul Manafort had with people linked to Putin, the contacts that Roger Stone had with Wikileaks and Julian Assange, and of course the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between a lawyer with links to the Kremlin and three top campaign officials, including the President’s son. Despite all of this, Trump and his cohorts continue to refer to the allegations of Russian interference as a “hoax” and the President continues to accept the word of a former KGB agent over that of his own law enforcement and intelligence officials. One is left wondering why this is the case.
Trump is being similarly obsequious to Putin on the issue of Russian interference in the ongoing situation in Venezuela. For several days now, there have been reports that Russia, along with Cuba, is providing some type of support for the Maduro regime. Just days ago, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a public warning to Russia to say out of the situation in that country, making reference to long-standing U.S. policy about foreign interference in the Western Hemisphere that goes back to the adoption of the Monroe Doctrine. Despite this, Trump appears to be rejecting the information coming from his own advisers and siding with Putin, who of course is denying that his nation is involved in Venezuela at all.
This isn’t the only example of the President siding with a dictator over his advisers, of course. He’s done much the same thing in his acceptance of the flimsy excuses offered by the Saudis regarding the death of Jamal Khashoggi and the overwhelming evidence that this happened on the orders of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In the case of Russia, though, the obsequiousness appears to rise to an entirely new level, almost as if Trump is eager to please Putin for some reason.
I’ll leave it to the ready to figure out why.