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Never mind the indictments and poisonings, Trump just wants to ‘get along’ with Putin

On Wednesday afternoon, President Trump defended his decision to congratulate Russian President Vladimir Putin on “winning” Russia’s recent presidential election — a decision he made against the wishes of his national security advisers, who reportedly provided him with briefing materials in all-capital letters stating “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” ahead of his call with Putin on Tuesday.

“I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also). The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump, who criticized President Obama for calling Hugo Chavez following his reelection in 2012, tweeted. “They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race. Bush tried to get along, but didn’t have the “smarts.” Obama and Clinton tried, but didn’t have the energy or chemistry (remember RESET). PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!”

While Trump remains eager to “get along” with Russia, two recent developments illustrate why other countries are wary of working with Putin.

Last month, special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three companies for well-funded “interference operations targeting the United States.” According to the charges, those people and entities — bankrolled by the Putin regime — were involved in a disinformation campaign featuring the use of stolen emails to denigrate Hillary Clinton and destabilize American democracy.

Trump’s response to the indictments has been to attack Mueller. Meanwhile, his top intelligence officials say not enough is being done to prevent Russian meddling.

Then, on March 4, a former Russian spy and his daughter were poisoned by a military-grade nerve agent in Salisbury, England. Prime Minister Theresa May quickly blamed Russia for the attack — which contaminated a park, injured a first responder, and left the ex-spy and his daughter in critical condition — and a number of Russian diplomats were expelled.

Those developments informed the advice Trump’s advisers gave him to not congratulate Putin. But Trump didn’t heed it.

Not only is Trump out of step with Britain, but he’s also out of step with his own administration. Earlier Wednesday, State Department spokesman Heather Nauert commended American and British officials for not attending a Russian briefing “to hear wild accusations and implausible denials.”

“Russia was responsible for the nerve agent attack,” she added.

And yet Trump has been unwilling to even directly admit that Russia was responsible for the poison attack in the UK, or for meddling in the US election-meddling scheme.

Asked about the poison attack during a brief Q-and-A with reporters last week, Trump went to great lengths to avoid pinning blame on the Putin regime, saying, “we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be” — but only if “we agree” with the facts.

“As soon as we get the facts straight, if we agree with them, we will condemn Russia or whoever it may be,” he said.

Those comments came about a week after Trump downplayed Russian interference during a press conference, saying “it had no impact on our votes whatsoever” and might’ve been the work of other actors.

“Probably there was meddling from other countries, maybe other individuals,” he said, echoing the infamous comment he made during one of the presidential debates about how a “guy sitting on his bed who weighs 400 pounds” may have been responsible for Democratic hacks, not Russia.

During a subsequent interview with Megyn Kelly, Putin used the same talking point to dismiss his regime’s involvement in American election meddling.

One of the only sure things during Trump’s presidency has been his reticence to criticize Putin. Last week, retired U.S. Army general Barry McCaffrey cited Trump’s infatuation with Putin as a reason he reluctantly came to the conclusion that Trump is a national security threat.

“Reluctantly I have concluded that President Trump is a serious threat to US national security,” McCaffrey tweeted. He is refusing to protect vital US interests from active Russian attacks. It is apparent that he is for some unknown reason under the sway of Mr Putin.”

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