America First or Trump First?

I was seeing a U.S. president put Russia first, not America first.

.. What’s the matter with you? I don’t know the definitive answer to that question, but I know that it will be an increasing problem as we enter Phase 3 of the Trump presidency.

.. Phase 1 saw Trump unhinged but bound — bound by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Chief of Staff John Kelly and National Economic Adviser Gary Cohn. In Phase 1 Trump said and did plenty of crazy stuff, but these key aides limited the damage.

.. Phase 2 has seen Trump unhinged and unboundTrump has neutered Kelly, distanced himself from Mattis and sacked Tillerson, McMaster and Cohn. He replaced the last three with men so hungry for their jobs that they were ready to step over the bodies of their predecessors, who, they knew, were pushed out for standing up to Trump on policies and principles

Watching longtime anti-Russia hawks — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton — shucking off everything they’ve said over the years and ignoring Trump’s coddling of Putin and his trashing of the F.B.I. in order to grab jobs they’d long coveted is witnessing careerism, sycophancy and cynicism on an industrial scale.

But that sets up Trump Phase 3: unhinged and unbound and unintended.

.. “What America’s allies in Europe learned from Trump’s recent visit is that the United States, at his direction, is acting more like predator than partner. They are concluding that Trump is not looking for a better deal with the European Union. He’s looking to destroy the European Union. And even though they understand the difference between the president and the government he leads, they know the West may never be the same again.”

.. There is one critical defense line left — that formed by F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.

.. Wray, Coats and Rosenstein all rose to the occasion. They knew Helsinki was a test of their institutions and themselves, and they passed it with flying colors — always putting America first and not Trump first when it really mattered.

.. Wray also let lawmakers and other critics know that their conspiracy theories about the F.B.I. and Justice Department’s Russia investigations were not intimidating him

.. Rosenstein backed up Coats 100 percent, declaring: “As Director Coats made clear, these [Russian] actions are persistent, they are pervasive, and they are meant to undermine America’s democracy on a daily basis, regardless of whether it is election time or not.”

.. Unfortunately, the secretary of homeland security showed no such spine. Asked if the Russians had intervened to favor Trump, Nielsen said with a straight face: “I haven’t seen any evidence that the attempts to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party. I think what we’ve seen on the foreign influence side is they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides.”

.. That was the sound of a senior national security official putting Trump first, not America first. Nielsen proved to be a shameful coward. I sure hope we do not have a homeland security crisis on her watch.

.. Why do they so freely sacrifice their own reputations and their own integrity to defend a man with no integrity, a man who would sell each and every one of them down the river the second he decided it was in his interest? It is inexplicable to me.

At least Stormy Daniels got paid.

 

George Will: This sad, embarrassing wreck of a man

America’s child president had a play date with a KGB alumnus, who surely enjoyed providing day care. It was a useful, because illuminating, event: Now we shall see how many Republicans retain a capacity for embarrassment.

.. Jeane Kirkpatrick .. she explained her disaffection from her party: “They always blame America first.” In Helsinki, the president who bandies the phrase “America First” put himself first, as always, and America last, behind President Vladimir Putin’s regime.

Because the Democrats had just held their convention in San Francisco, Kirkpatrick branded the “blame America first” cohort as “San Francisco Democrats.” Thirty-four years on, how numerous are the “Helsinki Republicans”?

.. He speaks English as though it is a second language that he learned from someone who learned English last week. So, it is usually difficult to sift meanings from Trump’s word salads. But in Helsinki he was, for him, crystal clear about feeling no allegiance to the intelligence institutions that work at his direction and under leaders he chose.

..  consider Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who for years enjoyed derivative gravitas from his association with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Graham tweeted about Helsinki: “Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections.” A “missed opportunity”

.. Contrast Graham’s mush with this on Monday from McCain, still vinegary: “Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Or this from Arizona’s other senator,

Jeff Flake (R): “I never thought I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression.” Blame America only.

.. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and others might believe that they must stay in their positions lest there be no adult supervision of the Oval playpen. This is a serious worry, but so is this: Can those people do their jobs for someone who has neither respect nor loyalty for them?

.. in what evidently went unsaid (such as: You ought to stop disrupting Ukrainedowning civilian airlinersattempting to assassinate people abroad using poisons, and so on, and on).

.. The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too.

.. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians.

A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.

.. Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him. And, yes, he only perfunctorily pretends to have priorities beyond personal aggrandizement. But just as astronomers inferred, from anomalies in the orbits of the planet Uranus, the existence of Neptune before actually seeing it, Mueller might infer, and then find, still-hidden sources of the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.

Trump Shows the World He’s Putin’s Lackey

Maybe the president is exactly as compromised as he looks.

.. No matter how low your expectations for the summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin on Monday, it was hard not to be staggered by the American president’s slavish and toadying performance.
.. Dan Coats, gave a speech about America’s vulnerability to cyberattacks, particularly from Russia. “I’m here to say, the warning lights are blinking red again,” he said, comparing the threat to the one that preceded Sept. 11.
.. Trump sided with the Russian president against American intelligence agencies while spewing lies and conspiracy theories. “He just said it’s not Russia,” he said of Putin’s denials. “I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.” Continuing in a free-associative fugue, he asked, “What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the D.N.C.?” referring to a debunked right-wing claim about a former Democratic I.T. staffer.
.. Perhaps the most sinister part of the news conference was Trump’s seeming openness to a deal in which F.B.I. investigators could question people in Russia in exchange for letting Russians question Putin critics in America.
.. Putin referred specifically to associates of his arch-nemesis Bill Browder, a businessman (and British citizen) who has succeeded in getting seven countries, including the United States, to pass laws punishing Russian oligarchs suspected of corruption. (The Russians who met with members of the Trump campaign at Trump Tower in June 2016 wanted to discuss this law, the Magnitsky Act.)
.. “I’ve known for a long time that Putin has been trying to use every trick in the book to get me arrested in a foreign country and extradited back to Russia,” Browder told me after the news conference. It’s chilling that Trump appeared willing to help Putin with his vendetta.
.. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, described it as “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.” Even some Trump partisans were aghast. Newt Gingrich decried it as the “most serious mistake” of Trump’s presidency.
.. Trump’s behavior on Monday recalled his outburst at Trump Tower after the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, when he insisted there were “very fine people” among the racist demonstrators.
.. everything Trump said was in keeping with things he’d said before. The shocking part was his frankness.
.. it forced, if just for a moment, a collective apprehension of just what a repulsive abomination this presidency is.
.. It’s always been obvious that Trump does not hold Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election, which he publicly encouraged and gleefully benefited from, against Putin.
.. None of us yet know the exact contours of Trump’s relationship with Russia, whether Putin is
  • his handler,
  • his co-conspirator
  • or just his hero.

But it’s clear that Trump is willing to sell out American democracy for personal gain.

.. on July 27, 2016, he publicly called for Russia to find Clinton’s emails, and, thanks to Friday’s indictments, we now know Russia started trying to hack the domain used by her personal office that very day.

.. Trump’s collusion with Russia has always been out in the open, daring us to recognize what’s in front of our faces.

.. Some doubt that Trump is a Russian puppet precisely because his fealty to Putin is so blatant and undisguised.

.. Mariia Butina

.. who worked for the Russian politician and alleged organized crime figure Alexander Torshin, presented herself as a Russian gun rights activist, and spent years cultivating links to the National Rifle Association.

.. She became a fixture in some pro-Trump circles and was reportedly especially close to a conservative operative named Paul Erickson.

.. hosting a birthday costume party that was attended by Trump aides.

“She dressed as Russian Empress Alexandra while Erickson was dressed as Rasputin,”

.. At the party, Butina reportedly boasted that she’d helped the Trump campaign communicate with Russia. If there was a reason to doubt that she was a Russian spy, it was only that one would expect a Russian spy to be subtler.

.. This weekend, Butina was arrested in Washington, and on Monday a criminal complaint against her for acting as a Russian agent was unsealed. She was accused of conspiracy to “exploit personal connections with U.S. persons having influence in American politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.”

.. Sometimes things are exactly as bad as they appear.

Trump Questions Finding of Russia’s 2016 Meddling as He Appears With Putin

HELSINKI—President Donald Trump, standing beside Russian leader Vladimir Putin, questioned the U.S. intelligence conclusion that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election, a move lawmakers of both parties said was a stunning alignment with an adversary.

Mr. Trump said he and the Russian president “spent a great deal of time” discussing the matter during their four hours of talks here on Monday, and said Mr. Putin “was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.”

Asked whom he believed—U.S. intelligence agencies or Mr. Putin—Mr. Trump said Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, “came to me [and] said, they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia.”

“I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be,” he added.

.. Mr. Putin said they discussed the possibility of inviting Mueller investigators to Russia to question the charged officers, but added he would expect the U.S. to offer a reciprocal arrangement. Mr. Trump interjected: “I think that’s an incredible offer.”

.. The U.S. has largely ceased cooperation with Russia on pursuing cybercriminals in recent years, as the line between Kremlin-sponsored espionage and routine cybercrime has increasingly blurred in Russia, according to former U.S. officials. Names of criminal hackers shared by U.S. law enforcement with Moscow would often not be arrested but instead wind up working in close alignment with Russia’s intelligence services, turning the effort to cooperate into a recruitment tool for the Kremlin, those officials said.

.. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who often advises the Trump administration, said the president should “clarify” his remarks about the U.S. intelligence community and Mr. Putin. “It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately,” he said in a tweet.

.. “I can’t remember a similar episode from modern American presidential history where, when standing beside the person who was our most dangerous adversary, the president continually refused to say a negative word on any subject,” said Mr. Burns, who also served as U.S. ambassador to NATO.

Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called Mr. Trump’s posture toward the Russian leader “a breach of his duty to defend our country against its adversaries.”

.. “Our relationship has never been worse than it is now,” Mr. Trump declared. “However, that changed, about four hours ago.” Hours earlier, in a tweet, Mr. Trump blamed the U.S. for the poor state of its relations with Moscow.

The Russian Foreign Ministry’s Twitter account on Monday quoted that tweet and wrote: “We agree.”

Mr. Trump said: “I hold both countries responsible.”

“The United States has been foolish. We’ve all been foolish,” he said. “We have both made some mistakes.”