Helsinki Summit – A Disaster and a bigly clean up job
Donald Trump, after approximately 24 hours of furious reactions to his abominable actions in Helsinki, relented to administration political advisors and agreed to stage what amounted to a transparently insincere damage control dog and pony show. What caused the firestorm to begin with? Let’s put those on the table first, so we can examine the validity of Trump’s gainsaying of his behavior on foreign soil.
Trump’s statements at the post private meeting press conference were standard word salads riddled with fiction and factual inaccuracies. One of the first of them, was Trump’s comment about the state of American – Russian relations, telling the audience that, “Our relationship has never been worse than it is now.”
Perhaps because Trump doesn’t read and because history is not one of his strong suits, he evidently has never heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962. Trump proclaimed that his visit with Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, swept all the tensions away, saying that the existing status changed beginning with the one on one meeting, involving conversations that we have no means of verifying the content of.
Next, was an appetizer for the many contradictions that would be served throughout the presser. Trump stated:
Both Russia and the United States have suffered horrific terrorist attacks and we have agreed to maintain open communication between our security agencies to protect our citizens from this global menace. Last year, we told Russia about a planned attack in St. Petersburg and they were able to stop it cold. They found them. They stopped them. There was no doubt about it.
That incident did actually happen, but pay close attention to his crediting of “security agencies” in averting a tragedy. “Security agencies” are synonymous with intelligence bureaus – the same intelligence bureaus that Trump has serially trashed, referring to them as the “deep state” and instruments of a “witch hunt” for the 19 months he’s been in office. One, if they weren’t familiar with Trump’s paradoxical talking points, might be amazed that he praises these agencies in one breath and discredits them in the next.
And the next moment appeared as soon as the O&A session commenced.
Reporter (Jeff Mason – Reuters): “Thank you. Mr. President, you tweeted this morning that it’s U.S. foolishness, stupidity, and the Mueller probe that is responsible for the decline in U.S. relations with Russia. Do you hold Russia at all accountable or anything in particular? And if so, what would you what would you consider them that they are responsible for?”
Trump: “Yes I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago, a long time frankly before I got to office. And I think we’re all to blame. I think that the United States now has stepped forward, along with Russia, and we’re getting together and we have a chance to do some great things, whether it’s nuclear proliferation in terms of stopping, have to do it, ultimately that’s probably the most important thing that we can be working on. But I do feel that we have both made some mistakes. I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it’s kept us apart, it’s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it.”
No explanation of who the ‘everybody’ in “everybody knows it”, is, but that is standard nebulous verbiage that Trump is seldom called on to confirm. Trump having falsely attributed responsibility to the United States for the problems facing both countries and calling his own country, ‘foolish’ – caught the attention of lawmakers in America, as well as national leaders among our allies, the moment they escaped Trump’s lips.
Despite the seeming impossibility that Trump’s statements could not be more disreputable, they were. But prior to that, was more mindless, incoherent rambling:
There was no collusion with the campaign and every time you hear all of these you know 12 and 14 – stuff that has nothing to do and frankly they admit – these are not people involved in the campaign. But to the average reader out there, they’re saying well maybe that does. It doesn’t. And even the people involved, some perhaps told mis-stories or in one case the FBI said there was no lie. There was no lie. Somebody else said there was. We ran a brilliant campaign and that’s why I’m president. Thank you.
Then, a bombshell emerged. We next hear from Vladimir Putin.
Reporter: Did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
Putin: Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S. Russia relationship back to normal.
That is the Russian President – plainly and spontaneously both admitting and confirming that he personally authorized a counter intelligence operation involving officials of his government to interfere with our elections. There it is – that is it. There can be nothing more clear, more smoking gun. It was Putin’s first opportunity, perhaps intentional and perhaps not, to contradict his own claims that Russia played no role in subverting our election.
You might be interested to know that the White House has edited out of the audio they have posted on their website – the part of the question asking Putin if he directed his officials to help Trump. A bit further on in the proceedings, emerged what the focus of Trump’s ostensible corrective statements on Tuesday, centered on.
My people came to me, Dan Coates (sic), came to me and some others they said they think it’s Russia. 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. But I really do want to see the server but I have, I have confidence in both parties.
Remarkable – and it would prove to be, is the paradox of Trump saying he has “confidence in both parties”. That is a logical impossibility. Neither Trump, or anyone else for that matter, can possibly have confidence in both parties.
The collective sum of the American intelligence community’s knowledge of Russia’s information warfare campaign, together with the indictments released by the Justice department and what Special Counsel Robert Mueller has uncovered to date, precludes any version of the events from Putin and his government.
Remaining on the bill of fare, was another notable question and equally amusing pants on fire assertion of facts not in evidence – this time, a coordinated effort from Putin and Trump.
Putin: And now to the compromising material. Yeah, I did heard these rumors that we allegedly collected compromising material on Mr. Trump when he was visiting Moscow. Now, our distinguished colleague, let me tell you this. When President Trump was at Moscow back then I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow. I treat President Trump with utmost respect. But back then, when he was a private individual, a businessman, nobody informed me that he was in Moscow.
Trump: And I have to say if they had it (compromising information), it would have been out long ago and if anybody watched Peter Strzok testify over the last couple of days and I was in Brussels watching it, it was a disgrace to the FBI, it was a disgrace to our country. And you would say that was a total witch hunt.
These answers were virtually fact checked in real time. What was uncovered was that contrary to Putin’s statement that “I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow”, Putin most certainly knew Trump was in Moscow. How is this established? Fairly simply, really. Trump told the CPAC conference in 2014 that Putin had delivered to him a “beautiful present with a beautiful note” while Trump was in Moscow hosting the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. Trump on another occasion, boasted to the National Press Club that he “spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer”.
During the election however, Trump, true to form, sensing that admissions of contacts with Putin were matters to prompt suspicion, reverted to a stock denial of the event.
Which brings us to Wednesday, where a script was prepared for Trump, but who could expect that Trump would play the music precisely as written for him without some improvisation? Don’t get me wrong, I am quite fond of Jazz, but when Trump attempts it, he stinks up the room.
“Let me begin by saying that, once again, the full faith and support for America’s intelligence agencies, I have a full faith in our intelligence agencies. Let me be totally clear in saying that — and I’ve said this many times, I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also.”
“Let me be totally clear,” is a second cousin, in the lexicon of liar signifiers, to “believe me”. “Let me be clear” (similar to “let me be totally frank”) is part of a species of unwitting or inadvertent phrases that we are told by behaviorists, that liars and con artists employ as a verbal slight of hand, as a lead in to a falsehood. Another one Trump seems to like to use is where he begins a sentence with “And just so you know” – after which he will insert the lie or fiction and wrap the crap sandwich with, “that much I can tell you.”
But I digress. The fact is, that what Trump has said “many times” is that the intelligence community is conspiring to pursue a “witch hunt” and has on countless occasions, contradicted the agencies that compose that community as to their assessment that Russia interfered with the election. As a matter of fact, his use of the term, “witch hunt” has cropped up in his laments against the FBI and his own Justice department, over 50 times at this point.
Trump has been trashing the federal law enforcement professionals and national security operatives for the entire run of his presidency. He has never previously expressed “full faith in our intelligence agencies”. Such distortions, used to have shock value, but they scarcely raise an eyebrow at this point. Trump continued:
“I actually went out and reviewed a clip of an answer that I gave and I realize that there is need for some clarification. It should have been obvious, I thought it would be obvious, but I would like to clarify just in case. In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word would instead of wouldn’t. The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t’ or ‘why it wouldn’t be Russia.’”
“So just to repeat it, I said the word would instead of wouldn’t and the sentence should have been — and I thought I would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video. The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”
Of course you have heard the audio on that by now – perhaps numerous times. It’s scarcely of any value pointing out that the above subterfuge is a clumsy, transparent, contrivance – made obvious when placed against the context of Trump’s comments at the press conference. It’s something you would only believe if you were volunteering to be subjected to a deception.
The political response in Washington to all this, is engaging, and even amusing, when you take the body politic in whole and then begin dissecting it according to its sundry components.
There are essentially five groups represented – or conspicuous by their absence, Democrats, dissenting Republicans, Republicans deathly afraid of not only their own shadows, but of Trump voters, current and former national security / foreign policy professionals and American allies in the European sphere.
We’ll begin in that order and feature one or two select public comments from each category. First, the Democrats. “In the entire history of our country, Americans have never seen a president of the United States support an American adversary the way President Trump has supported President Putin,” said Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Schumer continued, “For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous and weak. The president is putting himself over our country.”
Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), not only described Trump’s actions as “outrageous”, but called on fellow lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to take measures to address the threat of Russia’s information and cyber warfare activities. “This challenge and threat will not go away,” Warner said. “I think there are times in the Senate when people have to step up and say what side you’re on. This is one of those times.”
An assortment of responses were also rapidly unboxed by Republican lawmakers. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who is retiring, told reporters that Trump’s comments were “deeply disappointing” and made the U.S. look like a “pushover.” “I get the feeling … sometimes the president cares more about how a leader treats him personally than forcefully getting out there and pushing against things that we know have harmed our nation. I thought that’s what we all experienced today.”
“This is bizarre and flat-out wrong,” Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse said in a statement. “The United States is not to blame. America wants a good relationship with the Russian people but Vladimir Putin and his thugs are responsible for Soviet-style aggression. When the President plays the moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.”
Oklahoma GOP Congressman Will Hurd , a former CIA official, told CNN that he had “seen Russian intelligence manipulate many people in my career. I never thought the U.S. president would be one of them.”
Former Massachusetts Governor and 2012 GOP Presidential nominee, Mitt Romney – now running for the U.S. Senate in Utah, stated “President Trump’s decision to side with Putin over American intelligence agencies is disgraceful and detrimental to our democratic principles.”
Arizona Senator John McCain’s reaction to Trump’s conduct has had more marquee placement in media reports, issuing a lengthy statement, including this – which summed up his thoughts, “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
McCain’s fellow Arizona Senator, Jeff Flake, echoed the senior Senator, saying, “I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful.“ Wyoming Congresswoman, Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said she was, “deeply troubled by President Trump’s defense of Putin against the intelligence agencies of the U.S. “
Popular conservative voice and former member of Congress, Joe Walsh (not to be confused with the Eagles’ guitarist), says that Trump’s behavior on foreign soil, was a final straw:
Those were a sampling of GOP lawmakers and political figures that stepped forward with responses. Perhaps more significant is the majority of Republicans in Congress that are either participating in Trump’s damage control operation or are maintaining total silence on the matter.
Notably conspicuous by his absence is Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who is in the middle of a tight re-election campaign. Other than Cruz, when approached by CNN White House correspondent Manu Raju, answering that “I think it is a mistake apologizing for Vladimir Putin”, there was no other reaction, either on his Facebook or Twitter feed.
National Compass asked the media officer of the recent winner of a special election in Arizona’s 8th Congressional District, Debbie Lesko, where she stood on Trump’s performance in Helsinki. Heather Smith has not responded with a statement and speaking to a staffer in her local office, I was told that Lesko was still “discussing what her position will be”. This seems to be representative, as GOP lawmakers are living in constant fear of Trump’s voting core – even going so far in primaries as to engage in embarrassing foodfights among themselves as to which Republican is more fiercely devoted to Trump.
Next, national security officials were swift to respond and far from equivocal. Former CIA Director John O. Brennan tweeted, “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to [and] exceeds the threshold of “high crimes [and] misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous.”
Former Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, noted that “President Trump failed America today.”
Ousted FBI Director, James Comey tweeted:
Steve Hall, who ran the CIA’s Russian office told NPR’s host of “All Things Considered” – Mary Louise Kelly, that:
You know, Mary Louise, it’s – you know I guess the first thing that came into my mind was, good Lord, how could this be happening? It’s – you know, devastating were some of the words that – not to be overly dramatic about it, but it’s just – I think all of us were asking ourselves, or at least I was asking myself, what is going to come of this when he – when the president emerges from this extended one-on-one meeting with Vladimir Putin, who for the majority of my career has been, you know, the main adversary? What is going to come out of it? And there were a lot of theories about, OK, it’s going to be, you know, at least do no harm, Mr. President, you know, whatever. And this was so far off and so far – just so bad that I was really astounded and speechless.
Former Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Twitter, “We now know – it’s not America first, it’s Donald Trump first. The president is on his own team or Putin’s team but not America’s team. Devastating press conference.”
Interviewed on MSNBC, Sherman said, “It’s time for Americans to be out on the streets and to speak up about the democracy that we hold dear, the values we hold dear, and what we expect of the president of the United States.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, told National Public Radio’s Mary Louise Kelly
“I think it’s a setback. I think we’re worse off today than we were yesterday. And I hope we don’t have too many more summits, (laughter) to be honest. I’m not sure what tangible benefit they are for the United States of America.”
Trump’s own Director Of National Intelligence (DNI) Dan Coats, contradicted the president by issuing a statement that reiterated the intelligence community’s view that Russia did interfere in the 2016 campaign:
“The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the President and policymakers. We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”
Damian Collins, a member of the British House of Commons remarked, “I think to do as President Trump did today is effectively to say to countries that are victims of this – you’re on your own.” Collins’ comment is in context with the United Kingdom’s intelligence services having recently reported findings that Russia has also been proven to have interfered with their elections , including the “Brexit” campaign on Britain’s separation from the European Union.
The situation in the Baltic, is tense. So much so that Ojars Kalnins, a member of the Latvian parliament, said his government has launched an initiative to promote bi-lingual education in the Russian language render their citizens less vulnerable to Russian information warfare.
We’ll throw in a wild card – the Wall Street Journal, called the president’s conduct in Helsinki, “a personal and national embarrassment”