President Trump is so incompetent that he can’t even execute traitorous treason without screwing it up. For someone under suspicion of being Putin’s kompromat-ridden pawn since the beginning of his presidential campaign, Trump has covered his tracks as poorly as he has managed his bankruptcy-laden business empire and as inadequately as he has governed the nation.
The obviousness of this opinion is underlined by today’s report in The Washington Post detailing the “extraordinary lengths” Trump has taken to hide the details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
It’s inconceivable that no one would find anything suspicious about the actions that The Washington Post reports that the president has taken, including seizing “the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials,” according to the current and former U.S. officials who spoke to the newspaper.
The actions described above took place in Hamburg, Germany last year at a meeting with Putin and then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and was only discovered when “a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson,” The Post writes.
This incident fits a pattern of conspicuous stealth on the part of the president as he has sought to keep even the most senior members of his administration from knowing the details of his private talks with one of our nation’s primary adversaries.
According to the Post:
“As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.”
The only imaginable response to this news is a resounding “WTF?!?!?” as Trump has abandoned the past practices of presidents who led without a cloud of borscht hanging over their heads, each of whom have had copious notes taken by senior aides during their interactions with any senior foreign leader.
Strobe Talbott is a former deputy secretary of state who joined President Bill Clinton and then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in over a dozen meetings in the 1990s. Currently working at the Brookings Institution, he characterized Trump’s evasiveness in his interactions with Putin as “not only unusual by historical standards, it is outrageous.”
“It handicaps the U.S. government — the experts and advisers and Cabinet officers who are there to serve [the president] — and it certainly gives Putin much more scope to manipulate Trump,” Talbott told The Post.
The White House responded to The Washington Post story by taking credit for the sanctions imposed at the insistence of Congress after Russian agents tried to poison an exiled former Russian intelligence agent in London last year and claiming that Rex Tillerson “gave a fulsome readout of the meeting immediately afterward to other U.S. officials in a private setting, as well as a readout to the press.”
People close to the president say that Trump believes that having others around him during these meetings hurts his ability to establish a rapport with the Kremlin leader, and the embarrassing leaks that have occurred so frequently during his presidency have made him particularly wary of sharing information.
“Over time it got harder and harder, I think, because of a sense from Trump himself that the leaks of the call transcripts were harmful to him,” said a former administration official, referring to the prior practice of sharing memos about his discussions with foreign leaders with the National Security Council.
A later closed-door meeting that Trump held with Putin in Helsinki last summer has drawn the attention of newly empowered Democrats in the House of Representatives and now Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is committed to forming an investigative subcommittee tasked with obtaining State Department records of Trump’s meetings with Putin.
“It’s been several months since Helsinki and we still don’t know what went on in that meeting,” Engel said. “It’s appalling. It just makes you want to scratch your head.”
While head scratching may not be everyone’s initial reaction to the long pattern of suspicious behavior, the adage of “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” indicates that Trump has done a piss poor job of sweeping the forest floor when it comes to his interactions with Russia.
Between his support for lifting sanctions on Russsian oligarchs and his leaking of national security secrets to Russian diplomats, Trump’s actions indicate that we may be in the middle of a major conflagration with this particular president in the White House.
How odd it is that right-wing conspiracy theorists will believe malicious fantasies about Hillary Clinton and child sex-trafficking rings based in Washington DC pizza parlors, but when faced with the most suspicious and inexplicable behavior imaginable from a President of the United States already compromised by dubious real estate transactions and laundered Russian mob money, they yell “Fake News,” stick their fingers in their ears and scream “nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah” until the cognitive dissonance goes away.
The rest of the country, on the other hand, needs to insist that Trump wear a personal body cam during any meeting he attends from now on to ensure that there’s a record of everything he says or does that could sell America down the river.
Any other option would leave us where we are now, with only Trump’s word (and Kremlin intelligence reports) to rely on to know what was discussed between the two leaders — and Trump’s words aren’t worth the rubles that they’re printed on.
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Original reporting by Greg Miller at The Washington Post.