Consider the strategic and historical magnitude of what “President” Donald Trump said last week: He said that he believed the intelligence conclusions of a nation hostile to this country — Russia — over the intelligence conclusions drawn by American agencies.
It is a striking declaration, a betrayal of American trust and interests that is almost treasonous in its own right.
On Saturday aboard Air Force One, en route to Hanoi, Vietnam, Trump said of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s assault on our elections:
“He just — every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe — I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ I think he’s very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth.”
Trump went on to call the fact that Russia interfered in our election an “artificial Democratic hit job” that would cause people to die in Syria because Putin’s hurt feelings about being called on his crimes would prevent him from making a deal to end the bloody conflict in that country. And he called former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former C.I.A. Director John O. Brennan and former F.B.I. Director James Comey “political hacks.”
Trump was grasping at straws and throwing all of them into the air. Believe Putin. Care about his feelings. Blame domestic enemies. Undercut the investigation. Use helpless Syrians as a shield.
It was gross and classic Trumpian deflection: Look everywhere but at the truth.
That won’t work this time.
This kind of turn-the-other-cheek diplomacy depends on American submission and an eventual Russian awakening to the moral failing of their assault, neither of which is going to happen. It depends on Putin having a heart and a guiding sense of morality, both of which are in question.
John McCain rightly issued a blistering rebuke of Trump, writing in a statement:
“There’s nothing ‘America First’ about taking the word of a K.G.B. colonel over that of the American intelligence community. There’s no ‘principled realism’ in cooperating with Russia to prop up the murderous Assad regime, which remains the greatest obstacle to a political solution that would bring an end to the bloodshed in Syria. Vladimir Putin does not have America’s interests at heart. To believe otherwise is not only naïve but also places our national security at risk.”
The truth here is that we are seeing in real time how the president’s personal paranoia impedes our national policy and our national interests. The uncomfortable fact here is that Trump is pursuing his own interest, not American interests. And, on the question of Russia attacking our elections, Trump and Putin’s interest align against the facts and against America.
That alone is beyond inexcusable. Trump is betraying this country by trying to curry favor with his new comrade.
They both have an interest in casting doubt on whether Russia attacked our elections. Putin wants to be seen as innocent and Trump wants to be seen as legitimate, and neither is completely true.
Let’s say this again, as a clear declaration: Russia attacked our elections. They stole emails that were published and broadcast ad nauseam. They created and distributed propaganda on social media designed to exacerbate our divisions, content that was seen by nearly half the country.
We may never know precisely how all the Russian efforts influenced our elections — which of these might have influenced the vote of individuals or conversely turned other voters off of the process altogether so that they just stayed home — but saying that it had no effect defies logic and is indeed laughable.
We don’t know if the Russian election meddling was dispositive, but we know that it was disruptive.
Clapper and Brennan shot back at Trump on CNN on Sunday morning, claiming that the president was being played. Clapper said: “The threat posed by Russia, as John just said, is manifest and obvious. To try to paint it in any other way is, I think, astounding, and in fact, poses a peril to this country.”
On Sunday, Trump tried, pathetically, to take back the slap in the face he had delivered to this country and its intelligence agencies, saying of Putin: “I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election. As to whether I believe it or not, I am with our agencies, especially as currently constituted with the leadership.”
Again, like Neo dodging bullets in “The Matrix,” Trump bends over backward to dodge making this simple, factual statement: Russia attacked our elections when he was elected, and they must pay for their crime so that this never happens again.
Trump won’t acknowledge the crime because Trump was the beneficiary of the crime. Trump won’t insult Russia because it may well be that he was installed by Russia. Trump is as much a Russian project as an American president.
This means that he is compromised, in capacity and function, and that means that Trump’s fear of dishonor places the rest of us in danger of future attacks and exploitation. Trump is Putin’s dupe.
<CHARLES M. BLOW