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What caused Trump to side with the enemy?

The headline on the column that appeared in this space on Feb. 8 asked, “What does Putin have on Trump?” Not a bad question, as things turned out.

After Helsinki, we should amend the question to read, “What does Putin have on Trump that caused the president of the United States to side with the enemy?”

I asked the original question after Trump delivered a State of the Union address that virtually omitted “all things Russian,” even CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s announcement just before the speech that he had “every expectation” Russia will attempt to influence the 2018 elections, just as it did in 2016.

The column also recalled Trump’s time as a building and beauty pageant impresario in Russia and his well-known social activities — see the Access Hollywood tape — that could have made him vulnerable to Russia’s practice of blackmailing foreigners. (In Helsinki, Putin denied he knew Trump back in those days but Trump has frequently boasted of their long association. It’s so hard to decide which of these paragons to doubt.)

We also looked at Trump’s repeated excuses for Putin’s habit of killing adversaries, which, up to that time, was his most dismaying defense of friend Vladimir.  

Those unanswered questions about Trump and Putin now pale, given what transpired just before and during the Helsinki Summit, also known as Trump’s still mostly secret meeting with Putin.  

The usually pro-Trump Wall Street Journal editorial board called it all a “week of indulging what amounts to the Trump First Doctrine.” The anti-Trump conservative George Will concurred, writing, “The president who bandies the phrase ‘America First,’ put himself first, as always, and America last, behind President Vladimir Putin’s regime.”  Even some Fox News commentators used words like “disgusting” to describe the president’s conduct.

Much of the denunciation was inspired by Trump’s agreement with Putin’s “powerful” denial that his government intervened in the election that made Trump president. Trump’s siding with Putin was one of what The Washington Post editorially described as “a series of statements that could have been scripted by Moscow.”  

Incredibly and unbelievably, it took Trump and his staff an entire day to improvise an impressively unconvincing alibi. It was all a misunderstanding, said Trump, an accident caused by a slip of the tongue. He said he had meant to say he didn’t see any reason why it “wouldn’t be Russia” involved in election hacking, when he inadvertently said he didn’t see why it “would be” Russia. Sort of a double negative thing.

This prompted some Tweeters to joke it was as if Bill Clinton had amended, “I did not have sex with that woman” to “I did not not have sex with that woman.”

By the end of last week, Trump had succeeded in muddying the waters again by inviting Putin to Washington before the next election, making it difficult not to conclude Putin has something on Trump and that something has Trump unhinged.

The likelihood of Putin’s possession of dirt — financial or personal — is now being widely speculated, even among Trump apologists. True, his base is standing more or less firm in support of its hero, but his dance with the dictator in Helsinki has caused thoughtful Americans of both parties to suspect the president is being blackmailed and to hope the Mueller investigation will uncover the details. On Friday, we learned Mueller has a tape of an embarrassing conversation about a sex scandal payoff between Trump and his former fixer, Michael Cohen.  

In the days just before Helsinki, we also witnessed Trump’s bullying of NATO allies, especially with his insulting claim that Germany had become totally controlled by Russia because of a Russian oil pipeline.  Then he ridiculed the British prime minister in an interview with a London tabloid owned by his usually reliable ally, Rupert Murdoch of Fox News. After Trump tried to repudiate his quoted remarks as fake news, the paper produced tapes. It appears Trump does get secretly taped with some frequency.

There’s even a good amount of audio and videotape that has Trump siding with Putin on Russia’s election hacking for quite some time. Last November, in a conversation with reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Hanoi, Trump seemed to get a bit concerned about offending Vladimir with all this talk about hacking:

“He just — every time he sees me — he says, ‘I didn’t do that.’ And I believe — I really believe that when he tells me that he means it. I think he’s very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth.”

Safe to say, Putin is no longer insulted.

 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.