Everyone else in the administration has changed their story on Russia at some point. Why can’t the president?
He tweeted the following on Sunday morning, a matter of hours after WaPo reported that Russian hackers have penetrated U.S. nuclear companies’ business networks:
Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017
Then, last night
The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't-but a ceasefire can,& did!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 10, 2017
Why mention the chitchat about a joint cyber effort in the first place if it’s a palpably insane idea that “can’t” happen? All that would do, and did do, is expose the president to ridicule from the entirety of Twitter, including members of his own party:
Partnering with Putin on a "Cyber Security Unit" is akin to partnering with Assad on a "Chemical Weapons Unit". 2/3
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) July 9, 2017
This obviously should not happen–& obviously will not happen. Why the President of the United States would tweet it is inexplicably bizarre https://t.co/Y3YvnzRaku
— Ben Sasse (@BenSasse) July 10, 2017
Even pro-Trump Wikileaks, seemingly amazed that Trump would float such a preposterous idea, couldn’t resist goofing on it:
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) July 9, 2017
In Trump’s semi-defense, he reportedly pressed Putin on campaign hacking for 40 minutes during their meeting with their exchange growing “heated” at times. On the other hand, that account comes from a senior White House official who spoke to Rex Tillerson, the only other American official in the room besides Trump. If Trump had gone easy on Putin, there’s no chance Tillerson would reveal it. That was the point of limiting the meeting to just the two leaders, their top diplomats, and interpreters: If an unfavorable leak came from the American side, Trump would know exactly whom to blame. Even assuming Tillerson’s account of what happened is true, his own press conference afterward hinted strongly that this was the last word on the matter. Whether Trump believed Putin’s denials or not, the two countries are “moving forward.” The joint cybersecurity force was part of that. For about 12 hours.
Tillerson has another reason besides covering his own rear to broadcast that Trump was tough on hacking when he met with Putin. The weaker the White House looks on Russia, the greater the chance that House Republicans will pass sanctions that tie Trump’s hands diplomatically:
In meetings in secure rooms, administration officials are quietly making the case to Republican members that the sanctions bill they rushed through the Senate on a 97-2 vote needs waivers to give Trump the flexibility to negotiate with Putin…
Behind-the-scenes: Paul Ryan and House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ed Royce want the bill passed fast, and in its tough current form. Both men are Russia hawks, and unlikely to insert waivers into the legislation just to make the White House happy. They will, however, take seriously the concerns of a range of U.S. companies, from Exxon to Boeing, who believe the current bill disadvantages American businesses…
Administration officials are acutely aware of the political pickle this puts them in. “He can’t veto Russia sanctions,” one told me. “Are you f—ing kidding me? Your first veto of the administration is to protect Russia?”
Even if he had the stones to veto the bill, the 97-2 margin in the Senate and likely heavily bipartisan margin in the House means Congress might override the veto, not only locking the U.S. into an anti-Russia posture but humiliating the president in the process. He’d sign the bill purely for the sake of avoiding that scenario, I assume. I can’t quite believe, though, that Ryan would make him choke on this, whether or not he’s a Russia hawk. The Speaker’s been very compliant with the White House so far. Why would he risk Trump’s wrath by letting a bill come to the floor that would blow up his grand plans for Russian detente?
By the way, if you’re still unconvinced that Trump had every intention of following through on this cockamamie joint cybersecurity effort with Putin until the world started making fun of him for it, consider the reaction of his own top advisors. Nikki Haley was asked about the idea yesterday and said, “From a cyber standpoint, we need to get together with Russia. We need to tell them what we think should happen, shouldn’t happen, and if we talk to them about it, hopefully, we can cut this out and get them to stop.” Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin was even more enthusiastic, calling it a “very significant accomplishment.” Under the bus they go.
— ABC News (@ABC) July 9, 2017