Trump’s private chat with Putin
The White House this week defended a previously undisclosed, lengthy private conversation President Trump held with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit. The president’s chat with Putin took place in Hamburg earlier this month toward the end of a dinner with world leaders. Hours after an earlier meeting in which the two men had discussed, among other things, accusations that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election, the president sought out his Russian counterpart at the banquet. Trump and Putin talked for roughly an hour, relying only on a Kremlin interpreter, foreign officials told Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. Other leaders thought it “weird,” Bremmer said, that a U.S. president tried “to display that he has a better relationship personally with Putin than any of us.” Trump said on Twitter that news reports of a “secret dinner” with Putin were “sick.”
New information emerged about Donald Trump Jr.’s 2016 meeting with Kremlin-linked figures promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Two additional people, it was revealed, were among the eight attendees at the Trump Tower sit-down: Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-born U.S. lobbyist who previously worked for Soviet intelligence, and Ike Kaveladz, who was investigated in 2000 for allegedly laundering Russian money in the U.S. President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then–campaign manager Paul Manafort were also present at the meeting, where Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya allegedly promised dirt on Clinton. Special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian election interference, is now reportedly looking into the meeting.
What the editorials said
Trump has defended Don Jr.’s get-together with the Russians as just “politics,” said The Baltimore Sun. “No, it’s not.” Seeking information from someone purportedly working for a hostile power to influence an election is far from normal—it might even violate a law prohibiting campaigns from soliciting anything of value from a foreign national. Trump’s core supporters may believe this was no big deal. “But the rest of us aren’t fooled.”
Trump’s best strategy now is “radical transparency,” said The Wall Street Journal. The White House’s constant obfuscations, like its initial claim that Don Jr.’s meeting was about adoptions from Russia, have handed opponents enough swords to “arm a Roman legion.” Every Trump family and team member should immediately disclose every email, phone call, and business deal that might remotely relate to the Russian inquiry, including the relevant parts of Trump’s tax returns.
What the columnists said
In pleading for transparency, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, Rupert Murdoch’s Trump-friendly Wall Street Journal fails to consider that Trump and his inner circle may have lied systematically “because they have something to hide.” What if the truth about these contacts “is really bad?’’ Rather than rely on team Trump’s honesty and good will, Republicans who truly want the truth can take concrete steps to get to the bottom of this scandal: House Republicans, for starters, could end their blockade of Democratic efforts to compel the release of Trump’s tax returns.
“The latest nothingburger ablaze on the media grill is that Donald Jr. may have committed treason,” said Stephen Presser in The Washington Times. That “betrays an astonishing lack of understanding of the term.” To meet the constitutional definition of treason, Don Jr. would have to have given “aid and comfort” to an enemy. But the sole reason he held the meeting was to expose possible Clinton wrongdoing. “There is not the slightest suggestion that he was an enemy of his country, or a friend to its enemies.”
Trump’s admiration for Putin calls into question his “motives, judgment, and loyalty,” said Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. Our president rushed to the side of America’s greatest foe at the dinner table not to bolster our nation’s position in the world, but because he loves world leaders who flatter his ego and tell him what he wants to hear, such as Putin’s denial he meddled in the election. That is why it was so dangerous for him to be alone with his wily and manipulative Russian counterpart. Trump is “the dream pawn for foreign espionage operations, not only a ‘useful idiot’ but a desperate one.” ■