But … what if Russiagate never ends?
This is probably the cleverest possible way to walk back Trump’s invitation to Putin to visit the White House sometime this fall:
Bolton: The next Trump-Putin meeting "should take place after the Russia witch hunt is over" pic.twitter.com/lCQcnakhjy
— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) July 25, 2018
Last week’s invitation felt like a spur-of-the-moment thing. Dan Coats was famously caught off-guard by it, learning of it on camera during an interview only when Andrea Mitchell told him about it. Maybe Trump made the invite without consulting anyone, possibly in a fit of pique to spite critics of the Helsinki summit. “They think they’re going to make me fight with Putin by calling me weak? Screw ’em. Invite him to the White House!”
The problems with the idea were immediately apparent, though: The last thing the GOP needs this fall, as voters are starting to pay serious attention to the midterms, is another cheery Trump/Putin photo op. And by not immediately accepting the offer, Putin appeared to snub Trump, heightening perceptions that he’s the more powerful partner in this relationship. Rescinding the invitation right away was the White House’s way of clawing some of that power back. If blaming the “Russia witch hunt” for the rescission helps them save face on all sides, so be it.
If you’re glad to see Summit II postponed, don’t thank Bolton or Pompeo. Thank the guys with skin in the game in November:
Statement cites Russia probe but was issued just hours after Ryan and McConnell left the WH. Republicans were not thrilled about a Putin visit close to the midterms. https://t.co/wl3kafCRyZ
— Eli Stokols (@EliStokols) July 25, 2018
Here’s another power move from the administration this afternoon. Crimea’s status is — unofficially — off the table:
Pompeo: "The United States rejects Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and pledges to maintain this policy until Ukraine’s territorial integrity is restored." pic.twitter.com/2xSAkkIo8c
— Jordan Fabian (@Jordanfabian) July 25, 2018
Normally a statement from the Secretary of State would be pretty darned official but every move the administration makes on Russia is ambivalent, for the simple reason that there are effectively two administrations. There’s Trump’s position and there’s the position of the “shadow government,” i.e. the other 99 percent of the executive branch that views Russia the way hawkish Republicans traditionally have. Pompeo’s statement is quintessential “shadow government.”
But at the end of the day, it’s not the shadow government that sets policy. It’s the other one percent.
At best, I’d assume that Trump recognizes Pompeo’s view as merely a solid opening position in negotiations. We absolutely, positively will not recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea … unless, you know, they want to offer us a sweet deal on Syria or help us out with China or whatever. Everything is negotiable; that’s the art of the deal. I would guess that Putin is surprisingly okay with Pompeo’s statement too, not because he prefers the U.S. to hold this position but because he seems to look for fault lines between Trump and his “shadow government” to try to exploit. He floated the idea in Helsinki of letting the FBI interview the 12 indicted GRU agents if Russia can interview Mike McFaul, no doubt knowing that the “shadow government” would barf at the proposal but that Trump would be intrigued by it. Same with his suggestion for holding a referendum in eastern Ukraine to see if the people there might want to join Russia. John Bolton and Mike Pompeo wouldn’t give that three seconds’ thought. Trump would. Crimea is now another issue Putin can press with POTUS, hoping for the same equivocation. Every time Trump sounds intrigued by a Russian idea that mortifies the rest of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, it deepens suspicions about him.
Trolling Trump, Russian Foreign Ministry responds to Pompeo's #Crimea declaration saying Iran deal & Paris climate accord were “also recently…official US policy. And then Trump looked at it and reconsidered,” she said. “We know the value of these ‘fateful declarations." https://t.co/XY77OrZVvC
— Jim Sciutto (@jimsciutto) July 25, 2018
Here’s Trump in 2016, as a candidate, being asked about Ukraine and Crimea.