President Donald Trump is in Japan as this week draws to a close for the G20 summit of world leaders, and if you thought his time there would proceed without a hitch and somehow he would rise to the occasion given him by the presidency of the United States… think again. Taking questions from reporters while sitting next to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump mockingly dismissed the documented threat of Russian interference in U.S. elections. After a reporter asked whether Trump would press Putin to stay out of the U.S. system, he said sure he would and turned to Putin and casually offered with a slight grin:
‘Don’t meddle in the election.’
And that was it.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul shared in response:
‘Trumps admiration and appeasement of Putin is so bizarre. I can’t think of one concrete US interest that has been advanced by Trumps behavior.’
Trump’s consistent disregard of the threat of Russian election interference is starkly at odds with the conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community, which has shared for years at this point that the nation was behind incidents like hacks of key Democratic Party email accounts and concurrent online disinformation campaigns targeting key Democrats. In that light, Special Counsel Robert Mueller issued criminal charges against numerous Russian operatives for crimes covering these hacks, and Trump’s time with Putin this weekend in Japan was the first time the two leaders had met since the release of the final report from Mueller’s probe. Trump doesn’t seem to have cared.
When he spoke to Putin on the phone shortly following Mueller’s report dropping, Trump’s team said he only brought up the issue of Russian meddling in the context of deriding the idea as a “hoax,” thereby completely ignoring a pressing national security issue. That approach contrasts dramatically with that of the Obama administration. When on the job, now former President Barack Obama personally demanded to Putin that the Russian authorities stop their meddling and soon after that, imposed tough sanctions targeting the Kremlin. The Trump administration majorly dragged their feet in getting around to imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions, and they’ve even turned them back in one major case that drew even some Republican condemnation, letting Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska’s companies operate more freely once again.
Besides the flippant treatment of the issue of Russian election interference, Trump and Putin apparently discussed issues including arms control during their time together in Japan. Both countries have said they’re withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the New Start Treaty holding back nuclear weapons production is set to expire in 2021 unless the U.S. and Russia do something in the meantime. Trump says he wants to embark on a “21st century model of arms control,” which means including interests like China in negotiations.
The U.S. and Russia are on opposite sides of the growing crisis surrounding Iran, which the U.S. claims shot down an American drone without provocation as the latest step in their supposed belligerence. Trump has claimed the administration came very close to a retaliatory strike but that he pulled back the plans after learning of the projected death toll of about 150. In that strike’s place, the Trump administration imposed tough sanctions on top levels of Iranian leadership — and Trump again threatened on Twitter to deliver “obliteration” to the Iranians if provoked.
Featured Image via screenshot