|President Trump was peculiarly friendly to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday as the two met for a one-on-one summit in Helsinki.
When they emerged from behind closed doors for a news conference, Trump said basically everything Putin could wish for, says The Fix’s Aaron Blake: With the whole world watching, Trump gave Putin the benefit of the doubt over U.S. intelligence agencies on whether Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election. The meeting also gave Putin the credibility in the West he craves.
|Trump’s performance brought widespread condemnation from Republicans and Democrats back home in America.
What is not clear is why Trump was so obsequious to Putin, so willing to toe Russia’s talking points when even his own spy chief back home is warning of Russia’s danger to U.S. democracy.
Here are four potential theories:
|1. Trump is new to this diplomacy thing: And as such, Trump failed to recognize the validation his mere appearance with Putin on the same stage would give Russia.
But as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pointed out in his blistering criticism of Trump, it seems the president chose to ignore a team of experienced advisers.
Trump’s top intelligence chief, Daniel Coats, said Friday that if he were meeting Putin, he’d be tough about Russia meddling. Trump also chose to ignore the findings of the entire U.S. intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election specifically to help Trump.
|2. He doesn’t want to minimize his election win: It often seems that, to Trump, allowing that Russia tried to influence the outcome of the election is the same as allowing that Russia influenced the outcome of the election. When asked about collusion, Trump spoke at length Monday about how he won the presidency fair and square: “That was a clean campaign. I beat Hillary Clinton easily.”
What Trump misses is that no intelligence community investigation has claimed that Russia actually changed any votes after they were cast. And it’s hard to quantify how much Russia’s social media campaign and hacking of Democrats’ emails changed people’s opinions before they went to the polls.
|3. He wants a good rapport with Putin, because that’s how Trump negotiates: Just like he tends to promote aides he gets along with personally, Trump has made clear he values good relationships with certain world leaders. “If we’re going to solve many of the problems facing our world, then we’re going to have to find ways to cooperate in pursuit of shared interests,” he said Monday.
But Trump’s critics point out that you can build relationships with world leaders while confronting them on specific issues. On Monday, Putin criticized Trump’s decision to get out of the Iran nuclear deal, for example.
Trump and Putin in Helsinki on Monday. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)
|4. Russia has something on Trump: This unproven theory exploded into the mainstream Monday. A U.S. journalist asked Putin whether Russia had compromising information on Trump (Putin dismissed the question). Then, the top two Democrats in Congress said Trump’s performance raises the possibility that Russia has damaging information on Trump.
“A single, ominous question now hangs over the White House,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.). “What could possibly cause President Trump to put the interests of Russia over those of the United States?”
Trump at the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013 with Russian singer Emin Agalarov, left, and Miss Universe 2013 Gabriela Isler. (Irina Bujor/AP)
|Here’s what we do know: The Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman reports that Russia is known to collect information on foreign government officials and business leaders when they come to visit. And Russian officials knew that Trump was in Moscow in 2013. When Trump was running for president, a dossier funded by Democrats alleged that Trump was motivated to help Russia because they videotaped him engaging in embarrassing personal behavior in a Moscow hotel room. Trump denies that unverified allegation.