Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Trump now accepts US intelligence on Russian hacking? Oh, come on.

Before we get to the meat of this post - the disastrous display of Donnie courting treason at Helsinki - let’s pause for a listen to Christina Aguilera doing Something’s got a hold on me. As you listen, imagine slightly different lyrics.

Let me tell you now
Russia’s got a hold on me, yeah (oh, it must be Vlad)
Oh oh Russia’s got a hold on me right now, child (Oh, it must be Vlad)

That’s the only hypothesis that seems (to me) to make sense of our president’s bromance with Putin and his attacks on our democracy and our institutions. (You can take the referent in that highlighted phrase as either Trump or Putin.)

Onward …

Trump says he accepts U.S. intelligence on Russian interference in 2016 election but denies collusion reports the Washington Post.

After getting hammered in the media over his performance in Helsinki bordering on (insert T word here), Trump tried, stumblingly, bumblingly, dishonestly to rewrite history.

President Trump on Tuesday grudgingly sought to inch back his warm remarks about Russia and its leader during a summit in Helsinki a day earlier, saying he had misspoken when he appeared to accept President Vladi­mir Putin’s denials that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Initially crossing his arms in front of him, and reading haltingly from prepared remarks, the president said he accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia sought to influence the election — but added that it “could be other people also,” an assertion not backed by evidence.

The strained effort at damage control came more than 24 hours after his rhetorical embrace of Putin at a joint news conference set off a global uproar, including shouts of treason from some Democrats and demands from many Republicans that he mop up the mess. Many of his usual defenders had gone dark in the wake of the summit, and neither Trump nor his aides acknowledged any error until the president took to the cameras Tuesday afternoon.

Trump sought to minimize the impact of Russia’s efforts to interfere in domestic U.S. politics while repeating his frequent denials of cooperation between his campaign and Moscow. And he did not address the broader context of his remarks in Helsinki, which included praise for Putin, attacks on the FBI, and declarations that both Russia and the United States were equally to blame for sour relations.

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said Tuesday, flanked at the White House by Republican members of Congress who were preparing for a meeting on tax policy. “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all, and people have seen that, and they’ve seen that strongly.”

The scene carried echoes of past moments of political crisis for Trump, including his comments last year that “both sides” were to blame for a deadly white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Then, as now, Trump backtracked with apparent reluctance after a period of public outcry.

Trump had also tweeted before the news conference Monday that the United States had been “foolish” and “stupid” in its approach to Russia, and then said during the news conference that “we’re all to blame” for tensions.

What a difference a day makes

Trump’s explanation Tuesday hinged heavily on a single word that he sought to revise 24 hours later.

At the Helsinki news conference, during a disjointed soliloquy about a Democratic National Committee computer server, Trump referred to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and the findings of Russian interference in the election: “With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats 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.”

Then at the White House on Tuesday, Trump asserted that he had misspoken by saying “would” instead of “wouldn’t.”

“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative,” Trump told reporters. “So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself. I have on numerous occasions noted our intelligence findings that Russians attempted to interfere in our elections.”

Let’s pause for an educational break - or maybe not. I was going to write a small essay about why changing one word makes little difference to the overall explanatory coherence of Trump’s remarks. There are just too many other pieces of verbal evidence, publicly available, that as a whole are consistent with the hypothesis that Putin has something big on Trump.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) says the same thing in simpler terms: Trump tries and fails to clean up his Putin summit mess.

Though the president tends to live in a bubble, Donald Trump realized at some level that his press conference in Helsinki on Monday was a disaster. Yesterday, he tried – and failed – to put things right.

First, while reading from a typed script that had been prepared for him, the president made the case that he misspoke while questioning U.S. intelligence while standing alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin. NBC News reported:

“I thought that I made myself very clear, but having just reviewed the transcript…I realized that there is a need for some clarification,” Trump said Tuesday at the White House. “The sentence should have been…’I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia’.”

At the Monday press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump said about election meddling in 2016: “(Putin) just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Contextually, this is impossible to believe, since Trump clearly made the case on Monday that he accepts Putin’s denials at face value. Indeed, the president’s attempts at a clarification were based on the idea that the only problem with his press-conference comments was a single word.

But that’s absurd. At the same event, Trump added, “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.” Are we to believe the American president misspoke then, too? Perhaps there was another missing “not” that was supposed to be in that sentence?

Making matters slightly worse, I’ve seen some suggestions that Trump also said yesterday that he now accepts U.S. intelligence on Russia’s intelligence operation targeting our elections. That’s not quite what happened. What he actually said was, “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also.”

That’s not an endorsement of the intelligence community’s findings. By adding “could be other people also,” Trump made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t fully accept his own administration’s conclusions.

And in that way Trump continues to play the role of Putin’s Puppet. The relevant constitutional phrase is “aid and comfort” offered to an enemy of the United States.

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