It was press conference as national nightmare, summed up succinctly by the BBC on its home page minutes later with this headline: “Trump Sides With Russia Against FBI.”
And though Monday’s joint Trump-Putin post-summit appearance in Helsinki was a news conference — with some admirably tough questions from two experienced wire-service reporters — it also was a moment in which no media interpretation was really necessary.
Everything was right out there in the open. Believe your eyes and ears.
As my Washington Post colleague Mark Berman put it on Twitter: “I’m really struck by what a huge story it would be if it emerged that Trump was privately questioning the intel assessment re: Russian meddling and suggesting he buys Russia’s denial. Instead, he says it out loud, on TV, while standing next to Putin.”
Almost superfluous in the moment, the news media’s job became crucially important in the immediate aftermath.
What happened on that stage needs to be made undeniably clear to every American citizen who isn’t hopelessly lost in denial. (And clearly, many are.)
That job will fall, in part at least, to the American press, which will find itself in the uncomfortable position of calling a spade a spade, with none of the usual recourse to false equivalence or “both sides with equal weight” coverage.
CNN’s Anderson Cooper led the way with his immediate — and memorable — live assessment: “You have been watching perhaps one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president . . . .”
And others followed suit. [Continue reading…]
The reasons for Trump’s striking behavior—whether he was bribed or blackmailed or something else—remain to be ascertained. That he has publicly refused to defend his country’s independent electoral process—and did so jointly with the foreign dictator who perverted that process—is video-recorded fact.
And it’s a fact that has to be seen in the larger context of his actions in office: denouncing the EU as a “foe,” threatening to break up NATO, wrecking the U.S.-led world trading system, intervening in both U.K. and German politics in support of extremist and pro-Russian forces, and his continued refusal to act to protect the integrity of U.S. voting systems—it adds up to a political indictment whether or not it quite qualifies as a criminal one.
America is a very legalistic society, in which public discussion often deteriorates into lawyers arguing whether any statutes have been violated. But confronting the country in the wake of Helsinki is this question: Can it afford to wait to ascertain why Trump has subordinated himself to Putin after the president has so abjectly demonstrated that he has subordinated himself? Robert Mueller is leading a legal process. The United States faces a national-security emergency.
This is the aspect of the encounter with Putin that may haunt Trump long after the arguments over its substantive meaning — in terms of U.S.–Russia relations, U.S.–E.U. relations, and the investigations into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion with the Trump campaign — have either faded or given way to horrifying new revelations. In the brightest international spotlight side by side with the foreign leader he has most admired for his toughness, Donald Trump looked weak and submissive, incapable of expressing any sort of righteous indignation at even the most blatant bad behavior by Russia. His soon-to-be-infamous suggestion that he thought Putin might be more credible than U.S. intelligence agencies on the subject of Russia’s election interference is obviously disturbing in itself. But delivered in Putin’s own presence it came across as the act of a toady or at least someone who is extremely conflict-averse — which is exactly 180 degrees away from the persona Trump has worked so hard to present.