In an unprecedented refusal by a U.S. president to believe his own intelligence agencies over the word of a foreign leader, President Donald Trump declined to endorse the American intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election during the disastrous Helsinki summit.
Trump told reporters he didn’t “see any reason” to believe the Russian government had interfered in the election, because Putin “was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.”
Apart from blaming the law enforcement agents for bringing U.S.–Russian relations to an all-time low, the POTUS also seemingly endorsed a bizarre proposal from President Vladimir Putin.
One of the ideas Putin floated in the 5-hour-long summit was sending Russian government investigators to look into the 12 Russian military officials indicted by special counsel Robert Muller in the most detailed accusation yet that the Kremlin meddled in the election with the eventual aim of trying to boost Republican nominee Trump’s campaign.
Putin basically offered to allow members of Mueller’s investigative team to sit in while Russian law enforcement officers interrogate the indicted Russian officials about an alleged Russian crime.
In exchange, the Russian president reportedly wanted the U.S. to allow Russian operatives into America so they investigate allegations against domestic critics of Putin.
“This kind of effort should be a mutual one,” Putin said during the joint press conference. “Then we would expect that the Americans would reciprocate and they would question officials including the officers of law enforcement and intelligence service of the United States whom we believe are — who have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia, and we have to request the presence of our law enforcement.”
Trump later praised the idea, which he thought was “incredible.”
“What he did is an incredible offer — he offered to have the people work on the case, come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer,” the POTUS said.
However, Putin’s motive might not be as simple as the two leaders are touting it to be.
At one point during the presser, Putin offered an example of the kind of U.S. criminal he was hoping his interrogators could get access to: Bill Browder, an American investor and the leader of an anti-Putin campaign that stemmedfrom the death of his lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, who revealed evidence of wrongdoingby Russian authorities.
For years, Putin has reportedly tried to get his hands on Browder. But seven countries, including the United States under former President Barak Obama, sided with the fund manager and passed a bipartisan billin December 2012.
The “Magnitsky Act” intended to punish Russian officials responsible for the death oflawyer turned anti-corruption whistleblower.
“Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 billion in Russia. They’ve never paid any taxes, neither in Russia or the United States,” Putin claimed in Helsinki. “And yet the money escaped the country. They were transferred to the United States. They sent a huge amount of money — $400 million — as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton. Well, that’s a personal case. It might have been legal, the contribution itself, but the way the money was earned was illegal.”
The Russian president had no evidence that would prove Browder, or any entity connected to him, made a $400 million donation to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
However, there are numerous records of notorious meetings between Russian operatives and members of Trump’s close circle, including the Trump Tower meeting between several Russians, Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner in June 2016.
However, in face of all such harsh realities, Trump still chose to trust Putin more than he trusts his own intelligence agencies.
“I hold both countries responsible,” the commander-in-chief said. “I think the U.S. has been foolish. I think we have all been foolish.”
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