Opinion: We’re missing something big in the Trump-Putin relationship

Donald Trump’s response to Russian interference in our 2016 election is deeply troubling because based on what we know, it simply makes no sense.  Something else, something unknown, must be in play to explain how he is reacting.

Let me explain:

In the wake of Friday’s classified intelligence briefing, Trump has stepped up his claims that even if Vladimir Putin did try to intervene, it made no difference in the outcome. That part of his argument I understand perfectly. I don’t agree with it, but it at least makes sense. By claiming that he would have won anyway, Trump is merely defending the legitimacy of his victory and his presidency.

That’s perfectly natural, and probably wise. Whether it’s true is another matter entirely.

We will never be able to accurately quantify what impact the Russian leaks had upon the campaign. But we know for a fact that while the campaign was being fought, Trump treated the hacked material as electoral gold. He referenced it constantly, in almost every speech, using it in an effort to drive a wedge between Hillary Clinton and the Bernie Sanders voters. He also repeatedly, obsessively brought up the transcripts of Clinton’s paid speeches, which were also part of the hacked material. He clearly believed that material was very useful to him, to the point that he publicly begged Russia to produce even more.

The same is true of the right-wing media. They may be claiming now that the hacked material played no role in Trump’s victory, but during the campaign itself they were enthusiastic, aggressive purveyors of that very same information. Their actions then, in the heat of battle, speak more powerfully than their disclaimers now.

But again, from Trump’s point of view, making such a claim makes a lot of sense even if it isn’t accurate. Any politician in that kind of situation would make the same argument.

Here’s the part that doesn’t make sense, and that troubles me:

The simplest, most politically effective strategy for dealing with this controversy would be for Trump to continue to claim the hacking did not alter the election’s result, while also strongly condemning Russia and Putin for making the effort to do so. There would be no conflict between those two lines of argument. In fact, they would reinforce each other.

By forcefully condemning Russia’s actions and warning Putin to never take such action again, the president-elect of the United States would be seen as defending the United States, as a president-elect should. By publicly backing President Obama’s decision to oust 35 Russian diplomats as punishment, for example, Trump would put politically useful distance between himself and Putin and ease concerns even among some in his own party about the nature of his relationship with Moscow.

Yet as illustrated by the tweet above — published Saturday morning — he refuses to do so. In fact, I am not aware of a single instance in which Trump has ever criticized Putin for anything, which is remarkable given Putin’s record and Trump’s penchant for insult.

In the declassified version of the intelligence report released Friday, the American spy community may have offered us a hint of its own theory on the question. In laying out its case for why Putin tried to elect Trump, the report notes the following:

“Putin has had many positive experiences working with Western political leaders whose business interests made them more disposed to deal with Russia, such as former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.”

That’s a fascinating, action-packed sentence. Berlusconi and Putin are close friends and have often vacationed and partied together. Secret diplomatic cables released back in 2010 — ironically, through Wikileaks — revealed allegations that “Berlusconi and his cronies are profiting personally and handsomely from many of the energy deals between Italy and Russia.”

According to a leaked cable from the U.S. Embassy in Rome:

All of our interlocutors … report that Berlusconi determines Italy’s policy on Russia single-handedly, neither seeking nor accepting counsel. Virtually all are reluctant to confront the PM even when he is at his worst on Russia….

Distressingly, Berlusconi treats Russia policy as he does his domestic political affairs — tactically and day-to-day. His overwhelming desire is to remain in Putin’s good graces, and he has frequently voiced opinions and declarations that have been passed to him directly by Putin. One such example: in the aftermath of the Georgia crisis, Berlusconi began (and continues) to insist that Georgia was the aggressor and that the (government of Georgia) was responsible for several hundred civilian deaths in South Ossetia.”

Vladimir Putin presents an 80th birthday gift to Silvio Berlusconi. (AP)

Vladimir Putin presents an 80th birthday gift to Silvio Berlusconi. (AP)

Schroeder is also a close friend of Putin, whom he has called “a flawless democrat.” In 2014, Putin threw a lavish 70th birthday party for Schroeder in St. Petersburg.  And when Schroeder lost his 2005 bid for re-election as chancellor, Putin rewarded him by arranging to name him chairman of the board of a pipeline carrying Russian natural gas to Germany.

So, do business concerns explain Trump’s odd behavior? I do not know. I do know that the CIA, FBI and NSA would not cavalierly or accidentally drop such a comparison into a high-profile declassified intelligence report concerning an incoming American president. I also know that Trump has refused to release his tax returns and other data that would make his business dealings at least somewhat transparent.

Most important, I know that by stubbornly refusing to condemn and punish Putin’s intervention, Trump is doing serious and ongoing political damage to himself. And that’s inexplicable, because Rule No. 1 for Trump is that he always looks out for himself first.

Reader Comments 1

1118 comments
chip44
chip44

One must first gain a relationship in order to foster and nurture it.  Political jousting with Putin to satisfy the uninformed electorate doesn't accomplish that.  You and I simply don't have all the pieces of the puzzle.  Let the president concentrate on the side that matters in order to gain results before condemning him on his tactics.  One has to gain the pulpit in order to speak.  The Obama administration had the same desire to "reset" with Russia, but unfortunately never gained traction.      

rimsky
rimsky

 With enormous economic clout and a powerful military and a strongman president, the image that China projects to the outside world is one of strength and confidence.

At home, however, some believe the nation's over-protected young boys are becoming physically and emotionally weak — leaving China facing what is being called a "crisis of masculinity."

So the communist party wants mindless and ruthless robots who will do their bidding.  

Just like the RW nuts in this country.

rimsky
rimsky

 It’s a revelation that’s shaking up Israel’s political and media worlds as intensely as reports of a proposed secret deal between Donald Trump, CNN and Fox News would rock the United States.


In a wide-reaching investigation by Israel Police of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it was revealed Sunday that a tape exists of a conversation in which Netanyahu and media tycoon Arnon Mozes – owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper – appear to be hammering out a deal that would benefit them both.

read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.763704

This is sure turning out to be better than Soap Opera and Godfather movies.

rimsky
rimsky

According to NPR 

Since 2008 economic melt down the automotive industry invested 72% of their budget in the US.  That is for retooling and all.   That created a lot jobs.

During that period new plants were created in Mexico so these car companies can export their products to South American countries.

I guess Obama forgot to twit that little bit information to all of us.

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

@rimsky Just keep putting lipstick on the pig, you are sure to attract somebody. Most likely a celebrity.

rimsky
rimsky

@InTheMiddle2 @rimsky A week ago me and my friends slaughtered pigs we raised.  I am getting the head too.

I might put some lipstick on it see how it looks.  If it is funny I might even post it here.  LOL

Menace
Menace

What I found surprising (well maybe not) was how Trump was more worried about how NBC got a copy of the report rather than the actual contents of the report.

rimsky
rimsky

@Menace Trump and Ryan are working to deflect from what is really going on in DC.  

Those two are about to scam the America.  Ignore what Trump says and keep an eye on the Capitol Hill.

honested
honested

@rimsky @Menace 

Meanwhile, the only ones who really know what is going on and how to run the country are defecting to the private sector.

I hope there is plenty of production capacity for canned beans and peanut butter.

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

@Menace What I find surprising is how the Dems are going nuts because Russia hacked the DNC but are completely quiet about all the hacking China has done into government agencies.

rimsky
rimsky

@BuckeyeGa @InTheMiddle2 @Menace All the Nations know a moderate America is good for the world.

Putin is only concerned about himself and his pocket book.  That makes him dangerous.

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

@Menace @InTheMiddle2 Not saying that hacking isn't a problem. I just don't like the fake outrage. China is far more dangerous than Russia.

honested
honested

Well, only a couple of weeks until a russian spy becomes President.

I certainly hope the means to remove him remain in place for the next 4 years.

ByteMe
ByteMe

@FIGMO2 Old guy on the periphery dies, changes nothing.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@ByteMe @FIGMO2

Rafsanjani on the periphery?

You can't be serious with that statement.

He was on the periphery much like Mesbah Yazdi's on the periphery now.

Both were very active up until Rafsanjani's untimely death. Now only Yazdi is left.

Rafsanjani the moderate reformer, Yazdi the radical hard-liner.

rimsky
rimsky

@ByteMe @FIGMO2 Rafsanjani was a moderate force in the Iranian upper echelon.  He might have something to do with the nuclear deal.  

Now the RW nuts in Iran will have an upper hand. 

gadem
gadem

Jay, the intellectually lazy don't care about business dealings or tax returns unless they are attached to something that includes Clinton. There masters have not told them that conflicts of interest are bad yet. When the crap starts hitting the fan, and the masters may start to tell them that there is a Russia problem, they may care.

LordHelpUs
LordHelpUs

@gadem for simple starters, compare "Whitewater" to Trump U.

Then add about 100 other things worse than Trump U.  The GOP that pushed Whitewater, Monica, Travel gate, etc. will ignore all the dubious dealings of their new cult leader. 

Laugh at them every time they mention principles...or "party of life" or "party of fiscal responsibility" etc...

rimsky
rimsky

@LordHelpUs @gadem NPR today reported about a class action law suit by members of a golf course in Jupitor, FL

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

Please crawl back into your cave, InTheMiddleOfHitlerAndRush.

Eye wonder
Eye wonder

Doesn't the POS human scumfuhrer have better things to do with his time?!?!?!?!?!?

gadem
gadem

@Eye wonder No. He's intellectually lazy. He does as little as possible.

LordHelpUs
LordHelpUs

@Eye wonder "would never do that"

Except for the video showing you "doing that" - The man is degenerate. 

PaulinNH
PaulinNH

@Eye wonder  Meryl Streep over-rated?  Also over-rated - Beethoven, Shakespeare, Scorsese, Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt, Leo Messi..... 

What a thin-skinned whiner.

0.67942590435
0.67942590435

The U.S. will be a lot better when those Hollywood  elite get their butts to Canada.  They won't go to Mexico because they are racists .

jezel
jezel

What   we  WILL    be missing is ?  our wealth and our oil.....some freedoms....

Peachs
Peachs

Trump is the most disliked president since Nixon, in his Watergate days. It is starting to be trendy, to dislike him, which is not why he is disliked, but some need that motivation. 


They are saying you survived Nixon, we can survive anything, so we had to test that theory. Thank God Trump is a very weak president, doesn't have the influence of Nixon, who was a category 5. Trump is more a tropical storm. 


Trump may do more, to open the doors of our churches, for prayer, " that God have mercy on us all", than any Republican, or politician, in history. Maybe, his being president, is a Baptist plot, to bring back religion. If so it is working.

jezel
jezel

@Peachs Peachs....trump and his tribe want the baptist church to run the government. They believe secularist are the greatest threat to civilization. A bigger threat than...radical Muslims....nuclear war.....global warming....and even Hillary's emails.

gadem
gadem

@jezel @Peachs nothing is more dangerous than Hillary's emails. Her emails are pretty dangerous.

Peachs
Peachs

"Russian airstrikes to support Turkey’s offensive against the Islamic State in northern Syria indicate a budding partnership."


Maybe they don't hack Turkey like they do us.