A notable if somewhat lame response to the atrocious Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin press conference, in which Trump essentially took Putin’s side over that of the US intelligence community. It’s one thing for Trump to follow the same feckless path as George Bush and Barack Obama when it comes to misreading Putin; it’s an entirely different level of failure and fecklessness to trust Putin more than your own handpicked director of national intelligence. Just last week, DNI Dan Coats warned that the lights are “blinking red” on another Russian attack on election infrastructure:
The nation’s top intelligence officer said on Friday that the persistent danger of Russian cyberattacks today was akin to the warnings the United States had of stepped-up terror threats ahead of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
That note of alarm sounded by Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, came on the same day that 12 Russian agents were indicted on charges of hacking the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Mr. Coats said those indictments illustrated Moscow’s continuing strategy to undermine the United States’ democracy and erode its institutions.
“The warning lights are blinking red again,” Mr. Coats said as he cautioned of cyberthreats. “Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.”
Rather than rely on that, Trump decided to stick with his “witch hunt” theory and Putin:
So let me just say that we have two thoughts: You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months, and I’ve been tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying? …I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have — I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC? Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails? 33,000 emails gone, just gone.
I agree with Allahpundit; Coats might want to resign after this very public vote of no confidence, and he probably should. For now, though, Coats sounds as if he’s staying put, but not without offering his own rebuttal, weak as it might be:
JUST IN: DNI Dan Coats: "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." pic.twitter.com/97hJ5fReGz
— ABC News (@ABC) July 16, 2018
It goes without saying that the Russian operation and the FBI investigations are two very different issues. One can agree that the Hillary Clinton investigation was botched and that the FBI should have gotten access to the DNC server, without ignoring the volume of evidence that Russia had a significant and hostile operation in place against the US during the election. We literally have multiple independent investigations reaching that conclusion — Senate and House probes, the CIA and FBI, and now the special counsel investigation too. Ben Shapiro noted this as well:
With that said, only Trump is the president – and his behavior today was self-serving and utterly grotesque.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) July 16, 2018
It doesn’t mean Trump’s victory wasn’t legitimate. It does however mean that Russia is a significant opponent, not just a competitor, and that it’s incumbent on the president to recognize the threat. For some reason, Trump’s ego won’t allow him to distinguish any of that, instead insisting that his legitimacy rests on all of it being false. And so we have this effluviant moment on the world stage, in which Trump embraces Putin just days after ripping Angela Merkel for supposedly being in Vlad’s thrall. Embarrassing doesn’t begin to cover it. It’s an apology tour on Trumpian steroids.
Needless to say, this presser is getting bad reviews across the board. Those reviews range from the sardonic to the screeching. Here’s Lindsey Graham setting the mark for the former, poking fun at Putin’s gift to Trump:
Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.
This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves. (1/3)
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 16, 2018
Finally, if it were me, I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House.
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 16, 2018
On the other end of the spectrum, former CIA director John Brennan called Trump’s response “nothing short of treasonous”:
Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of “high crimes & misdemeanors.” It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???
— John O. Brennan (@JohnBrennan) July 16, 2018
The reality of this disgrace lands somewhere in the middle, but Coats’ predecessor James Clapper might have come closest to the truth of it in one of the more ironic developments today. Trump has a problem with direct personal confrontation, Clapper believes, despite his “You’re Fired!” persona on reality TV, perhaps most especially with people at or near his own level:
“You know, like everyone else, I’m struggling with some way to capture or describe what we just witnessed. It is truly unbelievable,” he told CNN Monday. “On the world stage in front of the entire globe, the President of the United States essentially capitulated and seems intimidated by Vladimir Putin. So it was amazing and very, very disturbing.”
“He just is very reticent about direct personal confrontation,” he continued. “So just as he did in the UK with Theresa May, bad mouth her in an interview, but yet when faced with a personal confrontation, a personal engagement, he won’t do it. It’s even worse when it’s our arch adversary, Russia, and his opposite person, Vladimir Putin. … While he likes to project the image of being a tough guy, he really isn’t.”
This fits with his passive-aggressive social media attacks on Cabinet officials such as Jeff Sessions, pushing them to resign rather than just fire them. Rather than confront Putin and his denials, Trump chose the easy way out and blamed everyone else for the mess. But that still doesn’t explain why he couldn’t at least have been as tough on Putin in public as he was with the EU leader with whom we share military alliances.
The good news for Trump is that not everyone thought his performance today was awful. The bad news is that the same guy who laughed at the “reset button” is still laughing today. Good job, everyone. Quite the own-goal we scored today.
Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says the talks between Russian President Putin and President Trump were "magnificent," Russian media reports https://t.co/6rdsc41ksY pic.twitter.com/3c9UYDhOys
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) July 16, 2018