President Donald Trump would like you to believe that Russia, which targeted the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016 and whose president, Vladimir Putin, said just last week that he wanted Trump to win, are interfering in American politics to boost … Democrats.
I’m very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming Election. Based on the fact that no President has been tougher on Russia than me, they will be pushing very hard for the Democrats. They definitely don’t want Trump!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2018
Trump is also “very concerned” about Russian meddling, despite, also last week, telling a reporter he doesn’t think Russia is still targeting the US and publicly doubting Russian interference on multiple occasions.
The president has faced mounting criticism over his handling of relations with Russia in the wake of his disastrous performance at a press conference with Putin in Helsinki, Finland, last week. After a one-on-one meeting with Putin, whose contents remain unknown to US officials, Trump failed to publicly denounce the Russian leader for his country’s efforts to interfere in US politics in 2016 and beyond and said he wasn’t so sure about the intelligence community’s consensus that Russia was and is meddling.
The White House’s cleanup efforts have largely centered on one strategy, which is, basically, gaslighting.
Trump claimed he misspoke at the Helsinki press conference and that when he told reporters, “I don’t see any reason why it would be [Russia]” who meddled in the 2016 election, he meant to say he didn’t see why it wouldn’t have been Russia. And when he told a reporter later in the week, “No,” when asked if Russia was still targeting the US, the White House claimed he was just saying he didn’t want to answer questions.
On Tuesday, Trump was at it again with another counter-reality tweet, this time claiming that Russians are interfering — but that they’re doing it to boost Democrats because Russia is so afraid of him.
Putin isn’t exactly quaking in his boots over Trump
Trump’s administration has imposed sanctions on Russia, and special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted multiple Russians for their involvement in the 2016 election interference campaign, including just ahead of the Helsinki summit.
But as for Trump’s assertion that “no President has been tougher on Russia than me,” that’s not really the case.
Trump has on multiple occasions insisted he wants a good relationship with Putin and publicly seems to like and admire him. Ahead of the summit last week, Trump predicted the pair would have an “extraordinary relationship,” and after it, he’s boasted that he “got along very well” with Putin, blaming any criticism on the “Corrupt Media.” Trump has already invited Putin to the White House for another meeting this fall.
When you hear the Fake News talking negatively about my meeting with President Putin, and all that I gave up, remember, I gave up NOTHING, we merely talked about future benefits for both countries. Also, we got along very well, which is a good thing, except for the Corrupt Media!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 23, 2018
Russia has been left to do a lot of the talking post-summit. Because there were no note-takers in the two leaders’ private meeting and the Trump administration made little effort to communicate with other officials what happened, Russia has been able to paint the picture of what agreements were made.
Putin said in an interview with Fox News that aired last week that Russia is prepared to extend a nuclear arms reduction treaty with the US, but the US hasn’t provided much in the way of details. There was also briefly buzz that the US would let the Russians interrogate Americans, including former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, though the White House has since ruled that out. Russia has also said Putin and Trump made a new deal on Syrian refugees.
The Treasury Department is also considering lifting sanctions on the Russian aluminum producer Rusal. Trump’s performance at the recent NATO summit and alienation of the European Union are broadly beneficial to Russia.
Russia interfered to help Trump and hurt Democrats
Trump’s Tuesday tweet that he’s “very concerned” about Russian interference in US politics suggests, at least in this instance, that he believes the US intelligence community’s assessment of Russian meddling. But it undercuts the conclusion the intelligence community has drawn about Russia’s intentions.
Russia didn’t meddle to elect Democrats — it’s been trying to stop them from being elected. At least that’s what happened in 2016. The Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee released an official statement earlier this year agreeing with the assessment of America’s top spies that Russia tried to sway the 2016 election in favor of Trump.
“Our staff concluded that the [intelligence community’s] conclusions were accurate and on point,” Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said in a joint statement with the panel’s chair, Republican Sen. Richard Burr. “The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.”
There’s already evidence that Russians have tried to interfere in the midterms. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said earlier this month that the “warning signs are there” for cyberattacks from Russia and other foreign governments. And a Microsoft executive at the Aspen Security Forum said in a panel last week that the company had detected phishing attacks targeting three US congressional candidates. He didn’t say which party they were from.