On Politics: Trump’s defense of Putin rattles Fox pundit, fellow GOP’ers

By Roger DuPuis - [email protected]
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday. - Markus Schreiber | AP photo

Ronald Reagan is turning over in his grave.

On Monday, an American president stood next to his Russian counterpart and threw the American intelligence community under the bus.

Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States, admitted that he accepts Vladimir Putin’s word that there was no Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, even though people whose sworn duty is to keep America safe say that there was.

He wouldn’t come out and say it, so a reporter asked point-blank: Does President Trump believe Putin or his own country’s intelligence services?

Trump deflected, launching into a rambling response about the FBI and the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 missing emails.

“Lame response, to say the least.”

Those aren’t my words. They aren’t the words of “fake news” CNN, the “lying” Washington Post or the “failing” New York Times.

No, that stinging one-liner comes from a tweet by Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume, who panned the president’s “vague and rambling non-answer” on Russian interference.

“Because Trump is unable to see past himself, he sees the Russia meddling investigation as only about him and the collusion claim, and thus calls it a witch hunt,” Hume tweeted. “But the investigations are much more about what Russia did, as the House and Senate reports long since established.”

Putin made it no secret that he was happy with the election outcome, Fox’s Brooke Singman reported, saying, “Isn’t it natural to be sympathetic towards a person who is willing to restore the relationship with our country?”

But, the former KGB agent emphatically added, there is “no evidence” of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

And Trump believes him.

“I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be,” the American president said, calling Putin “extremely strong in his denials today.”

‘Objective intelligence’

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats issued a statement later Monday reaffirming the intelligence community’s position.

“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,” Coats’ statement read.

For the record, Coats is a Republican and a Trump appointee.

If Trump still has doubts about Russian election meddling, he might want to have a chat with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, another of his own appointees.

On Saturday, during a convention of state secretaries of state in Philadelphia, Nelsen said there are no signs that Russia is targeting this year’s midterm elections with the same “scale or scope” it targeted the 2016 presidential election.

Nielsen also said there is no evidence any election results were altered in 2016 as a result of that meddling, but she was clear in her statement that the meddling took place, and that such efforts continue.

U.S. intelligence officials are seeing “persistent Russian efforts using social media, sympathetic spokespeople and other fronts to sow discord and divisiveness amongst the American people, though not necessarily focused on specific politicians or political campaigns,” Neilsen said.

Apparently Trump believes Putin more than people he chose to oversee the security of this nation.

Trust, but verify

As I said, Reagan — who stood toe-to-toe with Soviet leaders boldly and often — must be turning over in his grave.

When he and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty to pare back both countries’ arsenals in December 1987, Reagan stood beside Gorbachev and underscored the importance of strict verification procedures to ensure that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were both complying with the treaty.

“The importance of this treaty transcends numbers,” Reagan said.

“We have listened to the wisdom of an old Russian maxim,” he continued: “Trust, but verify.”

Gorbachev laughed.

“You repeat that at every meeting,” he said, to applause from the White House audience.

Reagan laughed.

“I like it,” the Gipper responded.

The former actor was a jovial man with an understated sense of humor and impeccable timing. He also was an American to the core who could embrace friend or foe with one underlying goal: Ensuring the safety and best interests of the United States.

It is hard to imagine Reagan tolerating election meddling by the Soviets. It is harder still to imagine him publicly accepting Gorbachev’s word for something over the protestations of his own intelligence officials.

It is hard to imagine that congressional leaders would have sat silent if he had.

‘A bad actor’

Trump’s contemporaries were, unsurprisingly, quite vocal Monday, Republicans as well as Democrats.

It’s no surprise that Sen. Bob Casey (D-Scranton) called Trump’s behavior “dangerous and reckless.”

“Instead of holding Vladimir Putin accountable in Helsinki, President Trump embraced him and in doing so diminished America’s standing in the international community and shamed the office of the presidency,” Casey added.

It’s not really surprising that Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of Trump’s 2016 primary challengers, said Trump’s appearance with Putin “was not in America’s best interest.”

“Simply put, President Trump is wrong. Putin’s words should never be given equal weight of our own Director of National Intelligence,” Kasich said.

What Trump should find unsettling — if anything can disturb him at this point — is the criticism levelled by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Lehigh Valley), who expressed support for the intelligence community’s findings.

“Whether it’s protecting the hackers responsible for this crime, committing numerous human rights violations, invading Ukraine, annexing Crimea, supporting the Iranian regime, taking hostile actions in Syria, or threatening peaceful European neighbors, it’s clear that Putin is a bad actor and should be treated as an international pariah,” said Toomey.

Toomey never criticized his president and party leader in his three-paragraph statement excoriating Putin.

In a later tweet, Toomey did say that the president’s “blindness to Putin’s hostile acts against the US and our allies — election meddling included — is very troubling.”

The words of a loyal Republican from our critical swing state, ladies and gentlemen.

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/web1_120860408-1e29bbdab00a4b6ead8ec101afeb0c5c-1.jpgU.S. President Donald Trump, left, listens to Russian President Vladimir Putin during a press conference after their meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, on Monday. Markus Schreiber | AP photo

By Roger DuPuis

[email protected]