President Donald J. Trump says everything is great. It’s the media’s fault. And he offered an apology, of sorts. This is already an intense week that is defining the Trump presidency.
Monday in Finland the president sided with the Russian President Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies, congressional committees, and the Justice Department about Russian interference in the last election. The president said: I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
A day later the president (after several other interviews) responded to critics by saying he used the wrong word, the opposite word in fact. “The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,’” Trump told reporters in the Roosevelt Room. “Sort of a double negative. So you can put that in. And I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”
Then the president offered odd support for U.S. intelligence agencies. “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that meddling took place,” Trump told reporters. Then he said the opposite. “Could have been other people also. There’s a lot of people out there.”
On Twitter the president was back to cheering himself. “The meeting between President Putin and myself was a great success, except in the Fake News Media!”
And among Republicans there was not a sense of great success. Monday after the president’s joint press conference dozens of Republicans, including some of the president’s strongest supporters, called it a disaster.
“President Trump proved not only unable, but unwilling to stand up to Putin. He and Putin seemed to be speaking from the same script as the president made a conscious choice to defend a tyrant against the fair questions of a free press, and to grant Putin an uncontested platform to spew propaganda and lies to the world,” said Arizona Sen. John McCain. ““No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant. Not only did President Trump fail to speak the truth about an adversary; but speaking for America to the world, our president failed to defend all that makes us who we are—a republic of free people dedicated to the cause of liberty at home and abroad. American presidents must be the champions of that cause if it is to succeed. Americans are waiting and hoping for President Trump to embrace that sacred responsibility. One can only hope they are not waiting totally in vain.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said: “President Trump must clarify his statements in Helsinki on our intelligence system and Putin. It is the most serious mistake of his presidency and must be corrected—-immediately.”
Gingrich bought (or at least said he did) the would, would not apology. “President Trump did right thing today in clarifying his comments … his respect for and support of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and the intelligence community. President responded quickly and clearly once he realized he had used wrong language.”
Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Oklahoma, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, blamed the press. He tweeted that it was “extremely unprofessional” for the press to ask the president “a question like that on foreign soil.” Mullin said “Russia does not have America’s best interest at heart, but I am confident that (the president” does.”
However Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, and a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation, had a more nuanced view. Cole said the administration has been tough on Russia in practice, including the build up of the military.
"Clearly, the tone and substance of yesterday’s press conference involving Presidents Trump and Putin are at odds with the administration’s own record of countering Russian misbehavior around the world,” Cole said. “The president should make it clear that Vladimir Putin and the men and women serving in our intelligence agencies are not morally equivalent. Putin’s Russia has invaded two neighboring countries, illegally seized Crimea, cooperated with a brutal dictatorship in Syria, and tried to destabilize democratic regimes around the world. And the Putin regime appears to have been involved in the murder of critics and defectors at home and on foreign soil. Clearly, neither Vladimir Putin nor the regime he heads can be trusted, and their egregious actions must be countered at every turn.”
The Democrats are also taking the administration to task, both for the original press conference, and for the follow up in Washington.
In Kansas, congressional candidate Sharice Davids, Ho Chunk, tweeted: “As the daughter of a single mother who served our country in the military for 20 years, I am disgusted at the clear disregard Pres. Trump showed for his own country by lavishing praise on Putin while demeaning the work and character of our own citizens.”
Debra Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, running for Congress in New Mexico, tweeted that “Tump picks Putin over America. Not even his own party and Justice Department can stomach this blatant disregard of national security.”
In Oklahoma, HoweJason Nichols, a Democrat, who is running against Mullin for Congress called the president’s statement -- and Mullin’s response -- unacceptable. He said perhaps it’s best that Mullin no longer serve on the House Intelligence Committee.
“Americans have simply been asked to take the word of a Russian autocrat over that of the dedicated professionals who serve in at least four different, independent agencies that perform counterintelligence. I do not take Putin’s word for it. Nor will I ever,” Nichols said. “Apparently, neither will the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, which released a report that concurred with the determinations reached by the CIA, FBI, NSA, and others. Apparently, neither have many former officials that were nominated by, and served under, presidents of both parties. The same goes for the House Intelligence Committee that also agrees that there were attempts by Russia to meddle in our elections two years ago.
In his lengthy statement on Facebook, Nichols, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, said: “So, it may be best that Markwayne Mullin doesn’t serve on the House Intelligence Committee given that what he chose to emphasize in a statement about yesterday’s press conference wasn’t whether Putin was warned about future attempts at interfering in our elections, but was that a reporter had the temerity to ask an obvious question of vital importance to the health and sanctity of our democracy.”
However, Nichols added, “what Mr. Mullin gave us instead was criticism of a reporter for simply doing his job and trying to keep the American public informed about the discussions that took place during a bilateral summit. There was no mention of protecting our electoral processes or asking the president to clarify, modify, or retract a statement that was widely interpreted as putting more faith in the word of a despotic strongman than the assessments of our own intelligence agencies and experts.”
Text of President Trump's statement about Russia.
Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports