He had five possible ways to spin the “congratulations” news. He chose the worst of the five.

He could have ducked the subject of what he said to Putin entirely by insisting that the real story here is the leak. And he’d be sort of right about that.

He could have cried “FAKE NEWS!” and claimed that the papers have it all wrong. He didn’t congratulate Putin. He did reprimand him over the Skripal poisoning. The Fake News Media is so obsessed with its narrative that Trump is in the tank for Russia that it refuses to report when Trump confronts him! Even if all of that was a lie, vanishingly few people would be in a position to know. But no, here he is admitting that he really did congratulate Putin. So … why are they the “Fake News Media”? They got it right.

He could have said that he was briefed by phone before his call to Putin, not via written materials, and no one on the call advised him not to congratulate him. In fact, one White House source did claim that to Fox News.

Trump can’t really use that spin, though, as it implies that he would have followed orders from his staff and refused to congratulate Putin if only he’d been told to do so. That would make him look weak and easily led. Better to reaffirm his interest in good relations with, uhh, the guy who interfered in the last U.S. presidential campaign than claim that the subject of congratulating Putin never came up.

Lastly, he could have pointed out the various ways in which he really has been confrontational with Russia. New sanctions. Antitank missiles for Ukraine. Solidarity with the UK over the Skripal matter. And coming soon: Tearing up the nuclear deal with Moscow’s friends in Iran. That is, he could have used the news over the “congratulations” thing to counterprogram the narrative that he’s endlessly doing Putin’s bidding. Instead he played into it by not only pining again for better relations with Russia but blaming his two predecessors, Bush and Obama, rather than Putin for the adversarial U.S./Russian relationship of the past 15 years. Bananas. If “Little Rocket Man” could stand some insults from the presidential Twitter account and still be willing to make, Putin can stand it too.

Exit question: Has the time come to put the phone away?