President Donald Trump gave the go-ahead to announce new Russian election-hacking indictments before his meeting with Vladimir Putin rather than after — in the hopes it would strengthen his hand in the talks, according to accounts from people familiar with the decision.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein went to Trump last week and offered him the choice: before or after the Putin summit on Monday in Helsinki? Trump chose before, ultimately putting the issue into the spotlight just 72 hours before the high-stakes meeting, the people said.
In the end, Trump faced a torrent of bipartisan criticism for suggesting he was leaning toward accepting the Russian president’s denial that his government was behind hacking during the 2016 presidential election, even though Trump had hoped the indictment of 12 Russians on charges of meddling would give him the upper hand, one of the people said.
Even after Trump’s performance in Helsinki, dutiful White House staffers are trying to portray their boss as a cunning deal maker.
But the cunning came from Rosenstein (and Mueller) by showing Trump mock deference in the form of a choice between two unpalatable options: either have the indictments of Russians set the context of the summit, or offer the FBI investigation more evidence of Trump’s ongoing collusion with Russia by postponing the indictments.
Trump opted to multiply his loses by having the indictments frame a display of abject submission before his master.