The day after the White House said Donald Trump would host another meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin – this time at the White House, sometime this fall – a reporter asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday what the United States has to gain from another meeting between the two leaders.
The Republican’s answer was frustratingly vague. “It is incredibly valuable to the people of the United States of America that President Putin and President Trump continue to engage in dialogue to resolve the difficult issues our countries face between each other,” Pompeo said. “I think this makes enormous sense.”
He never got around to saying precisely what the country has to gain from another Trump-Putin meeting, especially on the heels of the fiasco at last week’s summit in Helsinki. Maybe it’s because, Pompeo’s rhetoric notwithstanding, this doesn’t make “enormous sense.” A Washington Post analysis called the president’s approach “baffling.”
Trump’s decision to meet with Putin again is baffling from a PR perspective, but it is even more incomprehensible from a counterintelligence perspective. Trump’s own spy chief, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, didn’t even know Trump had invited Putin. Cameras caught Coats’s very candid reaction Thursday when he found out. He did not seem to approve.
Coats had just told NBC News’s Andrea Mitchell that he did not think Trump should have met privately with Putin in the first place. “If he had asked me how that ought to be conducted, I would have suggested a different way,” he said.
Implicit in that criticism is that a person charged with keeping the country safe thinks what Trump did was unwise. And Trump is going to do it again.
The context to all of this couldn’t be more important. Ahead of last week’s meeting in Finland, the White House struggled to explain why, exactly, Trump was so eager to have these talks.
Indeed, common sense suggested it makes sense to isolate Putin, not reward him. And yet, Trump agreed to bilateral talks in exchange for nothing.
When the two did meet – without aides, at Trump’s request – the Republican ended up endorsing the Russian president denials of responsibility for his attack on our election, siding with Putin over the United States’ intelligence community, blaming the United States’ “foolish” behavior toward our adversary, and praising an offer from the Russian leader in which the Trump administration would turn over Americans for Russian interrogations.
Trump saw all of this as a great success, leading him to extend an invitation to Putin for a White House visit, against the advice of his White House team, and without even giving the nation’s top intelligence official a heads-up.
Asked last week what he achieved during his summit with Putin, Trump gave a long, rambling answer, which ended up pointing to exactly zero achievements.
Maybe the American president, an avid golfer, wants to treat the first meeting as a mulligan?