What’s Putin got on Trump that has him quivering like a frightened rabbit?
My Salon column this morning:
I wrote yesterday in advance of the big summit in Helsinki that this was going to be the the big finale of his Chaos Tour, with pyrotechnics and explosions and Trump and Putin smashing up their guitars and setting them on fire. And was it ever. It may have been the most astonishing political press conference ever witnessed.
I think everyone expected it to be strange. But this was downright surreal. After meeting privately for two hours the two men faced the press and Trump essentially pledged his fealty to Vladimir Putin. He blamed America for the bad relationship with Russia, relived the glory of his election, attacked Hillary Clinton and Peter Strzok, babbled incoherently about “servers” and Pakistanis and once again he questioned whether Russia was truly involved in the election hacking. He was thrilled that Putin had offered an absurd reciprocal arrangement whereby Mueller’s team could come to Moscow and interview Russian spies in exchange for Russian intelligence agents being read in to American spying capabilities.
When asked if he would denounce Putin for 2016 and warn him to never do it again he ranted unintelligibly about why nobody can find “the server” and then this popped out:
My people came to me, Dan Coates came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. 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.
It’s hard to believe an American president would say such a thing standing next to the man his entire government knows ordered the interference in the election and say that but he did. He said this too:
twitter-tweet”>Standing beside Putin, Trump calls Mueller probe “a disaster for our country.” pic.twitter.com/NVtEk7GYFi
— Matt Shuham (@mattshuham) July 16, 2018
Putin meanwhile smiled like a cheshire cat as he denied the charges. And when asked if he had the “kompromat” on Trump that was mentioned in the Steele dossier, he didn’t exactly deny it:
When President Trump was at Moscow back then, I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow. I treat President Trump with utmost respect, but back then when he was a private individual, a businessman, nobody informed me that he was in Moscow.
He could have come right out and admitted that he’d done it, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as convincing. Trump grinned and nodded robotically at Putin’s every word looking for all the world like … a puppet.
The reaction from the press and the political establishment has been explosive.
twitter-tweet”>“You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president at a summit in front of a Russian leader certainly than I’ve ever seen.” – Anderson Cooper on Trump-Putin summit pic.twitter.com/xHbmAZl0y3
— Keith Boykin (@keithboykin) July 16, 2018
— The Last Word (@TheLastWord) July 17, 2018
twitter-tweet”>‘Shameful,’ ‘treasonous,’ ‘disgraceful’: Trump slammed from all sides for news conference with Putin https://t.co/lIGqT74V9z pic.twitter.com/Hy3NunTCld
— The Last Word (@TheLastWord) July 16, 2018
— Hardball (@hardball
Even Sen, Mitch McConnell R-KY, was compelled to speak out after thinking about it for a few hours:
The Russians are not our friends. I’ve said that repeatedly, I say it again today. And I have complete confidence in our intelligence community and the findings that they have announced.”
Democrats all denounced it, needless to say, many coming right out and saying that Putin must have something on Trump. Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer D-NY demanded that the national security team that accompanies Trump to Helsinki testify before congress immediately.
twitter-tweet”>In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Pres. Trump reiterates that Putin strongly denied collusion and brushes off the idea that Russia has compromising information on him: “They have no information on Trump…if they had it, it would have been out” https://t.co/nbqpXGikxC pic.twitter.com/yimpHdYhQ0
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 17, 2018
Putin spoke with the much more formidable Chris Wallace. This will give you a flavor of how it went:
Wallace to Putin: “Why is it that so many of the people that oppose Vladimir Putin end up dead or close to it?”
Putin: “Haven’t presidents been killed in the United States? Have you forgotten about — well, has Kennedy been killed in Russia or in the United States? Or Mr. King?”
— Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) July 16, 2018
Wallace tried to give Putin a copy of the indictments against the 12 Russian intelligence officers and he wouldn’t take it. I’m sure Trump was terribly embarrassed that his good friend was so ill treated had a word with Hannity about it later.
It’s likely that the Republican establishment will soon fall back into their comfortable posture that Trump is just being Trump and those tax cuts make it all worthwhile but there’s a slim possibility that this event will shift the dynamic simply because nobody’s ever seen any president behave like this before.
Certainly there are things they could do. As James Fallows wrote in the Atlantic:
Those who could do something are the 51 Republican senators and 236 Republican representatives who have the power to hold hearings, issue subpoenas, pass resolutions of censure, guarantee the integrity of Robert Mueller’s investigation, condemn the past Russian election interference, shore up protections against the next assault, and in general defend their country rather than the damaged and defective man who is now its president.
Trump just spent days treating the leaders of the NATO countries as if they’re his personal servants. He couldn’t be bothered to learn the protocol to behave properly around the 92 year old Queen of England. He bullies everyone in his own party and the opposition. He calls the press “the enemy of the people.” But with Vladimir Putin he turns into a bashful schoolboy, fawning and obeisant.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said out loud what most people who watched that spectacle were thinking:
A single, ominous question now hangs over the White House: What could possibly cause President Trump to put the interests of Russia over those of the United States? Millions of Americans will continue to wonder. The only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.”
In fact, in the Sean Hannity interview he sounded downright frightened:
I thought President Putin was very, very strong. I think we’re doing really well with Russia as of today. I thought we were doing horribly before today. I mean, horribly, dangerously,I think it was great today, but I think it was really bad five hours ago. I think we really had a potential problem.
It’s possible that Trump is trying to pass this off as another example of him “solving” a crisis that doesn’t exist. But when you think about it, it sounds for all the world as if Putin threatened Trump in that 2 hour private meeting and Trump did exactly what he was told to do in that press conference. If Putin does have something on him it’s got him scared to death.