The Washington Post published an extraordinary piece of reporting on Friday, documenting the Obama administration’s challenges responding to the Russian attack on the American election last year. Apparently, someone summarized the lengthy piece for Donald Trump, who responded to the reporting in a rather amazing way during one of his many Fox News interviews.
The president also had a pair of tweets on the subject over the weekend, arguing the Obama administration knew about “election meddling by Russia,” but “did nothing about it.” Trump, who now apparently refers to himself in a first-person-and-first-letter way, added, “Since the Obama Administration was told way before the 2016 Election that the Russians were meddling, why no action? Focus on them, not T!”
“Well I just heard today for the first time that Obama knew about Russia a long time before the election, and he did nothing about it. But nobody wants to talk about that. The CIA gave him information on Russia a long time before they even – before the election…. It’s an amazing thing. To me – in other words, the question is, if he had the information, why didn’t he do something about it? He should have done something about it. But you don’t read that. It’s quite sad.”
Even by 2017 standards, this is astonishingly foolish.
First, to argue that the Obama administration did “nothing” in response to the Russian attack is plainly wrong – Trump may have heard something about Obama imposing new sanctions on Russia that the Trump administration has thought about lifting – and contradicted by the Washington Post article the president is only pretending to have read.
Second, as recently as last week, just a few days before the Fox interview, Trump denied that Russia intervened in the American election, dismissing the allegations as a “hoax” concocted by Democrats. Now he’s saying the intervention did happen, and it was up to Obama to stop Trump’s foreign benefactors’ crimes.
If the Republican president is going to sound coherent on the subject, he should probably make up his mind, because this is getting a little silly. Trump used to argue that Russia didn’t interfere in the election; then he argued that Russia may have interfered, but it didn’t matter; then he argued that it may have mattered, but the Trump campaign didn’t cooperate with the Russian crimes; then he went back to saying Russia didn’t intervene at all, only to say a few days later that Russia did intervene, and Obama deserves the blame.
Third, if Trump is going to blame Obama and his team for not responding aggressively enough, he might also want to have a chat with congressional Republican leaders – who were notified and who refused to take the matter seriously.
Fourth, given that the Russia attack on our election was the most important attack on the United States since 9/11 – a point made clear by the Washington Post article the president is responding to – why in the world has Trump taken no action in response to the intervention he now admits happened?
And finally, for all the love of all that is good in the world, why is Trump saying he “just heard today” about this “for the first time”? Sure, the amateur president has a steep learning curve, and he appears to struggle to keep up with current events. But Americans have known for a while about the Obama White House’s challenges in responding to the Russian attack last year. Unless he daydreamed through every intelligence briefing he’s received, Trump has been notified about the details more than once, and didn’t need the Washington Post’s reporting to shed light on the subject.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard Trump say he’s “just” learned something the rest of us have known for months. Not to put too fine a point on this, but when the president resembles a low-information voter, there’s a problem.