Laugh all you like, but that’s been the gist of the hair-on-fire declarations from the anti-Trump establishment today, as PDT failed to behead Putin on live TV during the Helsinki summit.
Fortunately, there is shelter in the storm; a place where sanity still reigns and sober thinking supersedes reactionary hysterics: RealNewsRevolt.
Let’s go through the important takeaways and get a feel for what’s happening here.
YES, TRUMP SCREWED UP.
Not all the critiques of Trump’s performance are meritless. There were a million better ways he could have handled the question of Russian hacking during the election. He could have remained diplomatic while giving Russian conspiracy theories less cannon fodder. And frankly, his seeming willingness to take Putin at his word — for anything — made his seem naive at best.
Statements such as “I don’t see why Russia would meddle” also make him appear grossly ignorant, as an election without Russian meddling would be more newsworthy than one with it. There were lots of canned political answers he could’ve given, something along the lines of, “There have been actions undertaken in the past of which both countries are very wary, and those actions were discussed. I will protect the American people regardless of what anyone on this stage or in the media says. But today is about moving forward toward peace and cooperation.”
There ya go, all bases covered. Acknowledging shenanigans on both sides, taking a strong stance on security and moving forward. Sure, there would have been hysteria regardless. It’s Trump, after all. The guy could cure cancer and Cryin’ Chuck would rant about all the jobs we’re losing in the pharmaceutical industry. But a more polished response would have fewer GOP station chiefs resigning in protest. The fledgling NeverTrump movement got a shot in the arm today, no other way to put it.
The truth is, it’s easy for me to sit here and type out a perfectly calibrated response to a question in hindsight. Would I have thought of that on the spot? Maybe, maybe not. The point is, Trump isn’t a politician, which is good, but it sometimes has its downside. There are rare occasions when the talent for BS’ing comes in handy and this was one of those times. Unfortunately, this is the type of blunder that will cost PDT some political capital, but it’s nothing we can’t recover from with a solid few weeks.
For all Trump’s strengths, one major weakness of his seems to be the inability to see past his own ego. Whether it’s ordering his press secretary to attack the press about crowd size or attacking low-rated morning cable news hosts on Twitter, he becomes obsessed with any slight that comes his way.
In this instance, I don’t believe he’s too pleased with the “collusion” narrative and as a result has conflated it with everything else going on. He’s going to have to separate Democrat conspiracy theories from everything else Putin-related, or Putin is going to capitalize on that at every turn. It seems to me — and bear in mind that this is only my perception — that Putin used that masterfully today in his own favor. That may not be truth, but that’s how it appeared. And if it looked that way to me, a hardcore Trumper, I’m fairly certain that others got that impression as well.
Perception is reality in politics. PDT has to clean this up. The meeting itself may have been the most productive US/Russian summit of the last century, but as far as the general public is concerned it was a flaming dumpster fire.
To his credit, PDT has already gotten started on the clean-up, as he released a very poignant statement following the summit that could at least make people stop to think:
“I would rather take a political risk in pursuit of peace than to risk peace in pursuit of politics.”
That’s a very good line. The Trump administration would be well-served to follow that narrative. Make people understand that he was doing what he felt was important for the peace of the world. They’ll be more understanding than many Dims and NeverTrumpers would like to think.
It was a bad day. But we can salvage it with good message discipline and, more importantly, a good message. We’ve got the latter; we need PDT to exercise the former. It’s been quite challenging for him in the past. We’ll see how he handles this over the next couple weeks.
A MOST INTERESTING PROPOSAL
Hackin’ Vlad offered a novel idea to advance the Russia investigation during today’s joint news conference.
Putin made a surprise offer to King Bob Mueller. Its goes like this:
The Kremlin, Putin said, would allow King Bob and his team to travel to Russia and be present at the questioning of the 12 Russian military intelligence officers indicted last week for hacking into the computer systems of the DNC and John “My password is literally ‘password'” Podesta’s emails.
In exchange, however, the U.S. would have to permit Russian law enforcement officials to take part in interrogations of people “who have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia.” He singled out one man: William F. Browder.
“Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over 1.5 billion dollars in Russia,” Putin said through a translator. “They never paid any taxes.”
“They sent a huge amount of money, over 400 million, as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton,” he said. “Well, that’s their personal case. It might have been legal, the contribution itself, but the way the money was earned was illegal.”
Wow, $400 million is a lot of dough. So much so that it’s hard to imagine it being passed to a political campaign without getting major attention. So, did Browder’s associates actually send $400 million to the Hillzdawg campaign?
From what I can tell, the ‘associates’ being alluded to here are the Ziff brothers. They came up during the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Don Jr. and others, and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on the Hillary campaign. According to transcripts from Senate Judiciary Committee interviews, Veselnitskaya’s materials described the Ziffs as Democratic donors, although Don Jr. said they gave both to Democrats and Republicans.
Browder became a British citizen and can’t legally contribute to U.S. candidates. But Ziff Brothers Investments through its executives can give freely, and boy have they.
While researching their political contributions, I also wondered if Putin could have been talking about money that went to the Clinton Foundation. In past years, it turns out Browder and Ziff Brothers Investments had given to the Clinton Global Initiative, a project of the Clinton Foundation, but records show the total was not more than $110,000.
In the 2016 election cycle, Ziff Brothers Investments gave $1.7 million. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, nearly two-thirds, or about $1.1 million, went to Democratic committees, and the rest to Republicans.
Federal law puts tighter limits on contributions to individual candidates. The Ziffs mainly put their money into incumbents, and Republicans did better by a margin of about $145,000 to $46,000. Clinton’s camp received $17,700.
Unless Putin had other Browder associates in mind of which I’m unaware, or unless there is evidence here that isn’t readily available via open source (entirely possible), his figure of $400 million going to the Clinton campaign is a massive exaggeration. Between the Clinton campaign and the DNC, the Ziffs gave about $315,000.
The Hillzdawg campaign raised $563 million overall, so Putin’s sum would account for nearly three-fourths of all donations. (PACs affiliated with Clinton’s campaign raised an additional $231 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.)
So as far as Vlad’s claim, there’s no evidence for it, at least not yet. All I’ve been able to find is $17,700 donated to Clinton and another $297,000 to the DNC. I’m sure there will be much more digging by myself and others regarding this issue, so I don’t want to give a definitive answer at this point, but right now all I have to go on is the evidence, and there isn’t any.
SOME BACKGROUND ON BROWDER:
By Putin’s first term in office, Browder, who co-founded Hermitage Capital Management, had risen to become the largest portfolio investor in Russia, with more than $4 billion under management as of 2005. Along the way, he ran afoul of the Kremlin by becoming a fierce critic of weak corporate governing standards.
Putin doesn’t deal well with critics.
In November 2005, Browder was turned back after arriving in Moscow for a business trip, and was later declared a “threat to national security” as a result of his battle against corporate corruption.
Russian authorities then raided his offices, seized Hermitage’s investment companies and used them to fraudulently obtain $230 million in tax rebates. When the firm’s tax lawyer, Sergei L. Magnitsky, investigated the crime, he was arrested by the same officers he had implicated and imprisoned. He died nearly a year later at age 37 after months of torture.
Since then, Browder has devoted much of his life to seeking justice for Magnitsky. His campaigning led Congress to adopt the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act in 2012, which imposed visa sanctions on and froze the assets of those involved in Magnitsky’s detention. The legislation was the first time the U.S. had sanctioned Russia in 35 years; Browder has urged the European Union to adopt similar legislation.
PDT signed an executive order shortly after taking office that was inspired by the Magnitsky Act. In short, it seeks to stop human rights violators from making money in America. Magnitsky was already costing Putin a great deal of money and now he stands to lose even more.
Putin wants both the Magnitsky Act and Browder gone. I don’t believe he’ll get either wish, unless he really did take Trump to the cleaners today in private. But I doubt it.
SO WHAT ACTUALLY CAME OF THE MEETING?
Aaaaaaaaand there’s the rub. No one knows, and those that say they do are lying.
Nuclear nonproliferation, counterterrorism and Syria were among the topics cited. I’ve given my own thoughts on what I believed to be PDT’s primary objective in the meeting, which was to drive a wedge between Putin and his pet terrorists in Iran. My view on that hasn’t changed, as it has a great deal to do with what’s happening on the ground in Syria. The abandonment of Iran by Russia would be a game-changer in the Middle East and beyond, as it would leave Iran virtually friendless during a time they could use all the allies they could get.
If PDT actually got that done, or at least got it started, the press conference faux pas will have been well worth it.
The real business was discussed in private, though, so we won’t know what was discussed for quite a while, if ever. If Trump gets whatever it was he asked for in that meeting, #BelieveMe, you’ll find out what was said immediately afterwards. Absent a clear action in our favor, though, their discussion is likely to remain a mystery. And that’s probably a good thing, at least in the short term.
Let’s be clear here: PDT is not the first president to try to “start over” with Putin. Bush brought him over to his personal homes in both Maine and Texas (but not to accusations of treason, oddly enough) and claimed to have seen Putin’s soul through his eyes. Hillary brought over a cheesy plastic “reset” button that let the Russians know it would be a feeding frenzy for them for the entire time Obama was in office, and it was.
We’ve attempted to work together on terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, the whole shebang. And they’ve worked to undermine us at every turn. Putin views the U.S./ Russia relationship as a zero sum game insofar as anything that benefits the U.S. simply must be bad for Russia and vice versa. Putin a Cold Warrior who views American power as inherently detrimental to the Russian Federation.
You may not see him as your enemy, but I promise he sees you as his.
PDT does offer a fresh set of eyes along with a brand new strategy, though, so I’m holding out hope that things can change. Perhaps small victories will lead to larger ones and we’ll become comfortable enough with one another to work together in meaningful ways.
It must be done from a position of strength, though, or it won’t be done at all.
I’m sure PDT is up to the task, even if many Americans are questioning it right now following that presser.
Everyone needs to calm the hell down.
People who think PDT gave away the store today need to calm the hell down. He didn’t. He didn’t give away anything except a chance at cooperation.
People who think Trump and Putin are super best friends now who are going to fight the globalist cabal from their secret lair also need to calm the hell down. Putin has a long way to go to prove he can be trusted, much less become a steady military ally.
The bottom line here is that no one knows the whole story about what happened today and we won’t know if this summit was a true success or failure until the rubber hits the road in Syria.
I will give you one thing to look for: If Putin increases his support for Iran over this next month, it will be the same old Putin looking to jam his thumb into our eye at every turn. If he takes off in the opposite direction, though, watch out because we’ll actually have something big on our hands.
We should all pray that these two leaders — controllers of 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal — can get along swimmingly. It would mean a great deal to the world and the future for our children.
What a world it would be if our political enemies at home could view the situation through that lens.
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