"Haters and Fools" - Trump clarifies his position on Russia

Yesterday, when we talked about Vladimir Putin clearing himself of any involvement in election meddling, there were still questions as to precisely how much President Trump was taking the man at his word. Later in this leg of his Asian tour, stopping in Vietnam, the President seemed to clarify that a bit more. Sort of.


Traveling from Danang to Hanoi, Trump posted a few choice tweets on the subject. One of the ones drawing the most flies involved some fairly blunt language to those who don’t seem to think he’s being tough enough on the Russians.


He also got in some curious shots a Little Rocket Man, basically calling him “short and fat” by insisting that he would never call the diminutive dictator short and fat.


Following some prepared remarks by both Trump and Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang, the press almost immediately asked Trump about the Putin comments. Here’s where he appeared to walk back some of the “I believe Vlad” tone he’d taken the other day. (Reuters)

“As to whether I believe it or not, I’m with our agencies, especially as currently constituted. As currently led, by fine people, I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.”

He was careful to make clear he sided with the intelligence agencies under his own leadership…

“I believe that President Putin really feels, and feels strongly, that he did not meddle in our election,” Trump said, while adding: “What he believes is what he believes.”

The President is still walking a tightrope here and that fact seems to be reflected in some of the differences in tone we’re seeing between his prepared remarks at official appearances and his tweets. With the investigation still absorbing most of the media’s time back home, it looks like Trump realizes that he can’t appear too chummy with the Russians in general and Putin in particular. But he’s clearly interested in thawing relations and ratcheting down the tension at the same time. If I had to guess I’d say that Trump’s tweets are far more reflective of his true feelings and the frustration he’s experiencing in trying to get the whole Russia, Russia, Russia thing behind him while dealing with an extremely complicated foreign policy puzzle.


Equally odd is this apparent shift on North Korea. Reporters at the Hanoi presser also asked him about that tweet I included above regarding Kim Jong-un. The Vietnamese president was asked how he viewed his country’s role in negotiating some sort of agreement with North Korea, but aside from saying they were “watching closely” and were fully prepared to support an agreement which led to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, he was mostly vague. Trump, on the other hand, still seemed combative but offered the possibility (however slight) that he and Kim could someday be “friends” if the Norks climb down from their WMD tree.

It’s tempting to think that perhaps something has been going on behind the scenes and the White House is getting close to a deal with Kim. After all, they haven’t done any nuclear weapons tests since September and the sanctions are having at least some effects on them. But at the same time, I find it hard to believe that Trump would take any offers put on the table by North Korea seriously. And the lack of nuke tests may just mean that Kim has depleted his stockpile and needs to produce more weapons before he can continue. That tunnel collapse might have set them back a bit too.

So far this trip has been mostly positive for Trump and he hasn’t given the press too many nuggets to go after him on. But at the same time, if there was any serious progress taking place I suspect we’d have heard about it by now. Today he’s in the Philippines for the ASEAN summit and was already greeted by President Rodrigo Duterte. CNN wasted no time pointing out how many people have been killed during Duterte’s drug war so far and asking if Trump was planning on taking him to task for that.


Don’t hold your breath. I expect Donald Trump to be the same gracious guest he’s been on the previous stops and mostly stick to the script. Except, of course, for the next tweetstorm.

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