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Who to Believe After Trump’s Meeting With Putin

He had many times complimented Vladimir Putin, calling him a "true leader", and had dismissed the conclusions of the entire U.S. intelligence community that it was the Russians who had hacked into last year's election. So there was
intense focus on whether he would challenge the Russian leader in their first face-to-face encounter.

He did, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Not really, said Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister. The circumstances leading to this meeting puts us in the awkward position of believing Lavrov.

We'll get to that, but first comes recognition that, if you think the U.S. should improve its relations with Russia, if your view is the realpolitik that Russia is a major country that poses threats to Europe and planetary existential danger should conflict arise, a country led by a ruthless and corrupt autocrat who opponents have tendency to die (the going count is 40) but whose cooperation would be useful in Syria and against North Korea, that it's better to deal with Putin than pick a fight, then the meeting went well.

Trump had predicted that the two would get along well, and the "body language" confirmed that, with Putin very "deferential and polite" according to a Russian-speaking American. The tangible outcome of the meeting, the rest being words, was a ceasefire for southwest Syria long in the works by Tillerson and Lavrov in an effort to carve out a safe zone.

Trump claimed sanctions were not discussed with Putin, that Ukranian and Syrian problem{s must be solved first. It is difficult to imagine that across two hours Vladimir Putin did not bring up the economy-constricting sanctions that are his primary problem with the West. And of course Trump lied; sanctions were discussed. Tillerson let that slip.

Spoken of vaguely after the meeting, the president tweeted on arriving home that "Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking…will be guarded". Trump's knowledge of cyber tech — he has twice claimed the only way to identify a hacker is to catch him in the act — extends no further than the tweet you just read. What he imagines a cyber security unit to be and how it would be impenetrable need some explaining. Putin must have been joyful. Anything conducted jointly would for the Russians, savvy as they are about cyber espionage, be a backdoor into our electoral processes, our military, our power grid, our nuclear arsenal. The notion of joint cyber security with the Russians brought howls from his own party. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said, “It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close.” Trump pretended he didn't really mean it: "The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't".

Which brings us to Russian interference in our election. The two had "a very robust and lengthy exchange on the subject", Tillerson reported. "The president pressed President Putin on more than one occasion regarding Russian involvement". Putin "vehemently denied" any meddling on the part of his government. Trump accepted that. The theme quickly shifted to moving on, that it's "too important to not find a way to move forward", said Tillerson.

He was the only American official in the room other than Trump during the two-and-a-half hour meeting. Unusually, no national security adviser and no note takers. That made possible the president and the secretary reporting the meeting as they chose. So we need look to what Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had to say:

President Trump said that the campaign is already taking on a rather strange and bizarre character because during the many months that these accusations have been aired there hasn't been a single fact. President Trump has said he's heard clear declarations from Mr. Putin that…the Russian leadership and Russian government has not interfered in the election and he accepts the things that Mr. Putin has said".

Of course, it is possible to accept what the other party says without concurring. But mere acceptance is not what happened, said a reporter on the PBS NewsHour. From Hamburg. the program had lined up Ryan Chilcote, calling him a special correspondent, who said he has spoken Russian for 28 years and had gone through the Russian's entire recap of the meeting with six other native speakers. Lavrov quoted Trump as the one who asserted in the meeting that he hadn't heard a single fact in the months of allegations of Russian meddling in the elections. While Lavrov wasn't quite clear what "fact" was lacking, we have it from Chilcote that Trump agreed with Putin's claim that there was no Russian interference.

One thinks back to Tillerson's exact wording. He has said, "The president opened the meeting with president Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election". The American people, not Donald Trump.

Back in the U.S. Trump tweeted:

Which opinion was that? The next day, Reince Priebus had to fabricate an opinion. On Fox News Sunday, asked by Chris Wallace, "Is that true? Did the president say what Lavrov says he said?" Priebus answered, "No that's not true. The president absolutely did not believe the denial of President Putin". So now we're told that Trump knows the Russians did it, which he has never acknowledged, except for now accusing Putin. Priebus wasn't in the meeting. He was simply told what to say, which contradicts everything the president has ever said. We instead have the more persuasive Chilcote translation of Trump bonding with Putin that neither had seen any evidence of Russian meddling.

The opinion Mr. Trump had to be referring to in his tweet would be what he expressed in Poland the day before he met with Putin. For months he has dismissed the conclusions of the intelligence community that the Russians had done the hacking. He was still at it in this exchange in Poland with MSNBC's Hallie Jackson.:

Jackson: Will you once and for all, yes or no, definitively say that Russia interfered in the 2016 election?

Trump: Well I think it was Russia and I think it could have been other people and other countries but I won't be specific. I think a lot of people, it could've been a lot of people interfered. Nobody really knows, nobody really know for sure.

Jackson: ...Your intelligence agencies have been far more specific. They say it was Russia. Why won't you agree with them and say it was.?

Trump: Let me just start off by saying, I heard it was 17 agencies. I said boy that's a lot. Do we even have that many intelligence agencies, right? Let's check it. And we did some very heavy research. It turned out to be three or four. It wasn't 17, and many of your compatriots had to change their reporting and they had to apologize and they had to correct. Now, with that being said, mistakes have been made. I agree. I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and or countries and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows.

Heavy researched? Easily Googled. There are 17 agencies because they specialize — energy, world economies, military, etc. The 17 saw the evidence from those that deal with Russia, espionage, cyber (CIA, FBI, NSA) and agreed with the assessment. Trump still doesn't know how this works and wants his base to think it is all a conspiracy.

So that's really the net of it. Having said it was Russia only once in order to say Obama "did nothing about it", Trump reverted, just before the meeting with Putin, to his longtime fuzz that "it was probably other people and or countries" and "nobody really knows". And in the meeting the translators say he sided with Russia that there was no evidence of Russian interference, while disparaging and disbelieving the American intelligence agencies that say with certainty that Russia tried to sway the election.

The president finds intolerable anything he views as trying to delegitimize his election. He dismissed Hillary Clinton's three million vote lead claiming that he "won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally". He is obsessed with the intelligence agencies' assessment that not only did the Russians tamper with our elections — in 21 states per congressional testimony by Homeland Security — but that they sought to undermine Clinton and help Trump win. No less than his own Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the House Intelligence Committee of his obsession with the Russian probe. Trump's narcissism insists that he only wins outright. He seems to have blocked from his mind any other possibility, which requires him to think Russia did not intervene and he went to Putin to seek agreement.

At Fox, there was expectedly a different take. Tucker Carlson brought in lifelong Russophile Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies at New York and Princeton universities, who came to this conclusion:

This will be astonishing to be said, I know, but I think maybe today we witnessed President Trump emerging as an American statesman".

2 Comments for “Who to Believe After Trump’s Meeting With Putin”

  1. ” There are 17 agencies . . .” Focus, guys! There’s 17 agencies, but only FOUR had an opinion. How is it that the media are so retarded about this stupid issue? I think it’s time to move on – or to get a life.

    • john doyle

      READ, GUY! There are 17 agencies because they specialize — energy, world economies, military, etc. The 17 SAW THE EVIDENCE FROM THOSE THAT DEAL WITH RUSSIA, ESPIONAGE, CYBER (CIA, FBI, NSA) AND AGREED WITH THE ASSESMENT. Foreign powers influencing our elections is not what I’d call a “stupid issue” as it could severely effect what type of life “you get” in this country in the near future.. The fact that Donnie thinks “it’s time to move on” makes people like me and the “retarded Media” think we should stay right here and look at this REAL closely.

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