There’s no better evidence of how uncomfortable Friday’s indictments were for the White House than the fact that this nonsense is the best a brilliant guy like Bolton can do to spin them.

I’m sure the president will be very stern indeed in confronting Putin about these troubling allegations. He admitted this morning in a different interview that it hadn’t occurred to him to even ask Putin to extradite the 12 GRU officials whom Mueller indicted. All of this is check-the-box stuff for him. Per Axios:

President Trump no longer doubts the basic intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election — he just seems incapable of taking it seriously, and tells staff that is simply what nations do, several sources close to Trump tell me.

Between the lines: There is no evidence that could ever change Trump’s mind, the sources said…

To the extent that Trump does confront Putin over meddling at tomorrow’s summit in Finland with Vladimir Putin — and the president has publicly promised to — it’s not with any genuine seriousness or enthusiasm, the sources say.

It’ll be purely for domestic/media consumption. Trump has signaled as much in the sarcastic way he’s talked about this with the press.

Picture Trump dismissing Russian meddling as “simply what nations do” if he had lost the election and evidence came out that Moscow had interfered to try to aid Hillary. We’d be getting new “the system is rigged” tweets to this day. Along with loads of “it’s simply what nations do” defenses from liberals, natch.

Contra Bolton, Friday’s indictments obviously weaken Trump’s hand in Helsinki. The public’s just been given the most detailed evidence yet that the Russian government tried to damage his opponent in 2016; good luck selling Americans on some grand bargain with Putin under those circumstances, when they’ve just been reminded that he was aligned with your presidential effort. Pressure was already on Trump per his overhyped reputation as a master negotiator not to get rolled in talks with Russia. After the indictments, any meaningful U.S. concession, even in the context of a “good” deal, will be attacked as a payoff for Moscow for helping Trump two years ago. And of course, because of Trump’s weird, suspicious habit of never criticizing Putin, anything sanguine he says about Russia this week after the summit will clang against the reality of what Mueller described in Friday’s filing. Essentially, to not sound weak in light of the indictments, he’ll have to sound uncharacteristically un-Trumpy.

Bolton’s on firmer ground here:

It’s impossible to believe Putin didn’t know. With Russia expecting Clinton to win, any sabotage operation aimed at her campaign would have involved potentially major blowback for Putin and Moscow once she was sworn in. It’s absurd to think that Russian intelligence would freelance with stakes as high as that instead of seeking the top guy’s authorization. Interestingly, Bolton notes in the clip that when he met with Putin a few weeks ago, the tsar told him that whether or not Russians were involved in campaign hacking, the Russian state wasn’t — now directly contradicted by Mueller’s filing. Will Trump raise that? Will Bolton, assuming he’s involved in any meetings with Putin?

One more soundbite for you, this time from our ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman:

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Huntsman said that he had “very little doubt” that Moscow was working to interfere in the 2018 races, adding that Washington had put Russia “on notice” for the alleged efforts.

“We have an election coming up in November and if there is meddling in the election this November like we saw in 2016, we’re not going to have much of a relationship left,” Huntsman said.

Is that true? A really brazen attempt to interfere might backfire on Russia by making Trump look like a chump who’s unable or unwilling to keep foreign hands out of our elections. But what about something that’s more plausibly deniable, and what if it benefits Republicans? A recurring explanation for Trump’s indifference to 2016 meddling (noted again today by Axios) is that it bugs him to think his glorious victory was somehow the handiwork of anyone but him and his own genius. He views the Russiagate hype as an attempt to steal credit. The same dynamic would be at work this fall if Russia pulls something while Trump is out on the trail campaigning hard for Republicans. If the GOP benefits from interference, we’ll once again have a case of the media questioning the legitimacy of a Trump-backed political victory, one that’ll benefit him by keeping Congress (or at least the Senate) in Republican hands. Why would that damage our relationship with Russia? Is there a single example of Trump getting genuinely indignant about someone’s behavior when he benefited from it? His mind doesn’t work that way.

Two more (amusing) short clips of Bolton for you below in lieu of an exit question. Jon Karl tries pressing him in both about just how far Trump might be willing to go on concessions. Recognizing Russian sovereignty over Crimea? Suspending U.S. military exercises? Bolton just … won’t rule anything out. Even he’s not sure what Trump might be willing to give up. In the second clip, Karl asks him point blank whether Putin should be trusted, to which Bolton feebly replies that he’s merely the national security advisor, not the national-security decision-maker. In other words, “No, but I just work here, buddy.” Real vote of confidence there in your boss’s approach, John.