Reason Roundup

Compromised, Proud, or Diplomatic? Trump's Performance With Putin Gets Wildly Mixed Reviews: Reason Roundup


Kremlin Pool/ZUMA Press/Newscom

"I don't see any reason why it would be" Russia who hacked the Hillary Clinton campaign and Democratic Party's emails during the 2016 election, President Donald Trump told reporters yesterday following his private talk with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland. That, of course, is not what U.S. law enforcement and intelligence leaders say. So, to many people, Trump's comments are yet more proof that he's a puppet of Putin. "Compromised," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) this morning on MSNBC. Treason!, howled many, including former CIA Director John Brennan.

There's a simpler explanation, one rooted in less sinister circumstances, if not necessarily less sinister an outcome. We can even say it without speculating about Trump's particular sort of damaged psyche in clinical terms. Put simply, Trump is too damn proud to react to Russia in anything like what we might think of as a normal way. To concede that Russia interfered in any way in the election, even all on its own, challenges the meritocratic or populist spin on Trump's win. Trump thinks, or wants to think, or wants us to think that he did this all on his own.

And then the even simpler explanation, the one being pushed by Trump's tried and true cheerleaders: Trump was just trying to keep things going smoothly with Russia, and lashing out at Putin while he's right there on stage next to him would be counterproductive.

My inclination is to the erratic pride explanation here, with some of the peacemaking instinct his fans are postulating. There is some wisdom to not insulting tempestuous enemies with large nuclear arsenals directly to their face.

But Slate's Ben Mathis-Lilley called Trump's full answer "an astounding word salad of debunked conspiracy theories," and this is also a very fair assessment. Here's the full exchange between Trump and an Associated Press reporter:

AP: Just now president Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded Russia did. My first question for you, sir, is who do you believe? My second question is would you now with the whole world watching tell president Putin—would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?

TRUMP: So let me just say we have two thoughts. We have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven't they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I've been wondering that. I've been asking that for months and months and tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server, and what is the server saying? With that being said, all I can do is ask the question, my people came to me, [director of national intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, and some others, they 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, but I really do want to see the server, but I have—I have confidence in both parties. I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don't think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC. Where are those servers? They're missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton's e-mails? 33,000 emails gone, just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn't be gone so easily. I think it's a disgrace we can't get Hillary Clinton's 33,000 emails. So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did, is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that's an incredible offer. OK? Thank you.

Fox News contributor Byron York called Trump's comments "appalling" but suggested that they were connected to Trump's feeling that "if he gives an inch on the what-Russia-did-part" of this story, "his adversaries will take a mile on the get-Trump part. That's consistent with how Trump approaches other problems."

The Republican senators from Arizona weren't quite so forgiving. "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," tweeted Jeff Flake. "This is shameful." John McCain called it "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory….No prior president has ever based himself more abjectly before a tyrant."

Their responses are comparatively restrained.

For a few more Reason-able takes (beating you to the bad pun this time!), see Robby Soave ("disappointment with Trump's behavior is well-justified….He could have signaled a desire to work toward more peaceful relations without coming across like a dupe"…but treason?) and Peter Suderman writing here yesterday.

Protesters who gathered in front of the White House last night, calling it #OccupyLafayettePark, promised they would be back tonight.

Erin Scott/ZUMA Press/Newscom


Los Angeles Times order "not plausibly lawful." More from Ken "Popehat" White on the story mentioned here yesterday about a federal court judge, John F. Walter, ordering the Los Angeles Times to pull a factual story about a shady detective. The judge "also ordered the Times to appear in Court this Wednesday to argue whether the temporary order should be made into a permanent injunction," White notes.

In other words, based on an emergency request from the defendant, with no prior opportunity to be heard, a federal judge ordered a major newspaper (1) not to write about the details of a federal plea agreement it had obtained lawfully, (2) not to write anything that "relies on, or is derived in any way" from the plea agreement, an incredibly broad and vague term that is extraordinarily chilling to speech about the case, (3) to take down any story it's already published, and (4) told the paper they can see the order, but not the application stating the legal and factual grounds for the order.

White concludes that "Judge Walter's order is not plausibly lawful" and is "patently unconstitutional, and the sort of order that is only issued when a judge deliberately defies First Amendment law or is asleep at the switch." He explains why in detail here.