The story may sound familiar: the president dismissed the importance of the Russia scandal yesterday, insisting it was nonsense made up by Democrats to justify their defeat.Except in this case, it wasn’t our president making the argument. The Associated Press reported:
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says the allegations of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election are “fiction” invented by the Democrats in order to explain their loss.
In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro, Putin reaffirmed his strong denial of Russian involvement in the hacking of Democratic emails…. He said the claims of Russian meddling are driven by the “desire of those who lost the U.S. elections to improve their standing by accusing Russia of interfering.”
Putin added that the “people who lost the vote hate to acknowledge that they indeed lost because the person who won was closer to the people and had a better understanding of what people wanted.”
For the record, the “people who lost the vote” in the American presidential election were the people on the Republican ticket, which received nearly 3 million fewer votes.
Nevertheless, just hours earlier, Donald Trump was making the same argument via Twitter, insisting that the scandal is “a lame excuse for why the Dems lost the election.”
We also learned yesterday that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), one of Trump’s most enthusiastic congressional allies, spoke at a Republican fundraiser recently and said Democrats are pushing the Russia scandal because they believe “Hillary Clinton would have never lost on her own.”
Oh, good. We’ve reached the stage in the controversy in which Vladimir Putin and Republicans are reading from the same script.
There are a couple of key points to keep in mind in response to a story like this. The first is that the Putin/GOP argument is plainly false. In fact, it can be discredited in just seven words: the FBI’s investigation began in July 2016. The scandal couldn’t have been a response to the election results unless federal investigators had access to a time machine.
The second point, however, is more substantively significant: as regular readers know, Russia wants U.S. officials to raise doubts about the country’s role in attacking the American presidential election last year. Republicans like Trump and Nunes aren’t just echoing the Russian autocrat’s talking points, they’re defending Putin’s scheme by boosting the Kremlin’s propaganda strategy.
A couple of weeks before the election, in a presidential debate, Hillary Clinton said Putin would “rather have a puppet as president of the United States.” Trump quickly responded, “No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet! No, you’re the puppet!”
Seven months later, the exchange still resonates for a reason.