President Trump should not ever suggest that he trusts the conclusions of former KGB agent/current Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies.
It’s not just a mistake. It’s not mainly an opportunity for Democrats to attack him, as some Trump supporters suggest. What’s more, it’s not time to be reciting Barack Obama’s sins, many as they are. And it’s not the time to talk about Trump’s actual policies, which have been rather tough on Russia.
What Trump did by suggesting that Putin might be right and that the Russians may not be guilty of interfering in the election needs to be seen for what it is independently of other issues. It is simply egregious. If Obama did it, conservatives would be all over him.
I understand there are reasons for it. But there is no excuse for it.
The reasons start with Trump’s obsession, which is understandable, with efforts to discredit his election. He fears that admitting to Russian interference is an opening for people to say that his election was not legitimate and that the Russians put him in office and without their help, Hillary Clinton would have won. I get that concern.
But what happened is what happened. Even House Republican acknowledge Russian involvement. This does not mean there was collusion with the Trump campaign. And it does not even mean that Russia was trying to get Trump elected, as opposed to mostly seeking to sow discord and undermine our democracy.
I also understand that Trump is trying to improve relations with Russia, and that he had just sat with Putin for hours during which the Russian president apparently made a passionate case that Russia did not interfere with the election. So to say otherwise would be calling Putin a liar while standing right next to him, something that not only is difficult to do on a personal level but that Trump may fear would damage whatever progress he had just made with Putin.
But Trump could have figured out a way to finesse this. Because there are certain principles that must not be violated. You do not credit a foreign power, particularly while overseas, while diminishing patriotic Americans. Even if some of them are enthusiastic participants in the deep state, it’s still our state.
Trump doesn’t backtrack, doesn’t apologize, and doesn’t give in. It’s part of his strength. But true strength, while tough to bend, is not inflexible. The president should recant what he said and apologize for it.
It won’t help him with his enemies. But it’s the right thing to do, and it will strengthen him by showing he can take responsibility for his errors.