President Donald Trump’s remarks at the Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin resulted in immense bipartisan backlash — and Trump has been trying to walk back from his statement ever since.
In a statement that shocked Americans, Trump sided with Putin’s explanation that Russian did not meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election over his own intelligence agencies.
However, Trump’s confusion regarding Russia’s meddling in the elections is quite surprising.
According to the New York Times, Russian meddling is not news to the POTUS. In fact, two weeks before his inauguration, Trump was briefed by top U.S. officials — who showed him highly classified documents — that Russia indeed meddled in the elections. This was later corroborated by the U.S. intelligence community.
So, the question remains: Did Trump actually misspeak at the summit or did he deliberately try to shift blame when he allegedly knew of Russian meddling for over a year?
The first explanation makes little sense.
Trump’s attempt at walking back from his statement make no sense in the context of the statement he made. He later walked back — from his walk back too. When asked if Russia was still targeting the U.S., Trump seemed to abruptly deny the allegations, again contradicting his own people. The White House later said the he was answering to another question.
According to the Times, not only was Trump informed of the Russian interference, he was shown evidence including texts and emails from Russian military officers and information garnered from a top-secret source close to Putin. The source described how the Kremlin decided to launch cyber-attacks and its campaign of misinformation during the elections.
Trump even looked “grudgingly convinced” of the evidence at the time, said several people present at the meeting, according to the Times.
But Trump’s actions after that meeting have been directed at casting doubts over those very findings. His performance at the Helsinki summit is a prime example of that.
According to one of Trump’s closest aides, the POTUS fears that by agreeing with the Russian meddling, Trump would cast doubt on the legitimacy of the elections and consequently, his presidency. However, what Trump seemingly fails to understand is that Russian meddling and colluding with Russia are not synonymous to each other.
Trump has come after the Russian investigation too. Countless times, Trump’s tweets have been filled with shots aimed at special counsel Robert Mueller and the Russian investigation, which the POTUS regularly touts as “a witch hunt.” He even blamed Russia and U.S.’ failing relations on the investigation.
During the Jan. 6, 2017 meeting though, Trump was briefed by John O. Brennan, then C.I.A. director; James R. Clapper Jr., former director of national intelligence; and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency and the commander of United States Cyber Command.
Apart from the evidence, which included stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee’s servers, many human sources personally confirmed of Putin’s role in the meddling. Trump and his aides were shown other evidences of Russian meddling. The briefing could not have been clearer.
However, Trump’s statement later that day spread the blame to “Russia, China and other countries, outside groups and countries.”
Later, Brennan was made to reaffirm Congress where the attacks happened from. “I was convinced in the summer that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election,” he said in a testimony in May 2017. “And they were very aggressive.”
And the Helsinki summit is not the first time Trump has agreed with Putin on the topic Russian interference.
After the two leaders’ first meeting in July 2017, Trump allegedly told a New York Times reporter that Putin has made a “strong case” that Russian government hackers were “so good,” they would have never been caught; hence Russia could not have been involved.
Even Trump’s explanation that he misspoke at the summit looked to shift blame from Russia, “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”
The U.S. officials during the January 2017 briefing still stand firm on the intelligence agencies findings.
Thumbnail/ Banner Credits: REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger