Russia's President Vladimir Putin (R) listens while US President Donald Trump speaks before ahead of their meeting in Helsinki, on July 16, 2018....
BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI

Trump finds new ways to defend and excuse Putin’s Russia

Updated

“Do you really think I’d call Russia to help me with an election?” Donald Trump asked CBS News’ Lesley Stahl in a “60 Minutes” interview that aired last night. “Give me a break…. It’s so ridiculous.”

It was a deeply strange moment. After all, in July 2016, we all heard the Republican hold a press conference in which he declared, in reference to Hillary Clinton, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

In other words, the future president literally called on Russia to help him win an election. (We later learned that Moscow was well aware of Trump’s request at the time.)

But his Russia-related comments in the “60 Minutes” interview managed to get even more bizarre as it continued. After Stahl noted that the American president never seems to criticize his Russian counterpart publicly, we saw this exchange:

STAHL: Do you agree that Vladimir Putin is involved in assassinations? In poisonings?

TRUMP: Probably he is, yeah. Probably. I mean, I don’t–

STAHL: Probably?

TRUMP: But I rely on them, it’s not in our country.

First, the fact that Trump is willing to voice at least some skepticism about whether Putin has ordered assassinations is emblematic of just how far the American president is prepared to go to defend his Russian benefactor.

Second, Trump seems largely indifferent to assassination attempts committed outside the United States, even on our allies’ soil. It speaks to the pointless myopia of his “America First” posture.

Third, I’m not at all sure what he meant by, “I rely on them.” He relies on whom, exactly? And for what?

But even putting all of that aside, there’s reason to believe Trump may have been wrong when he asserted that the assassination issue isn’t relevant to “our country.” Remember this  New York Times report from last month?

When a suspected hit man for Russian intelligence arrived in Florida about four years ago, F.B.I. surveillance teams were alarmed.

The man approached the home of one of the C.I.A.’s most important informants, a fellow Russian, who had been secretly resettled along the sunny coast. The suspected hit man also traveled to another city where one of the informant’s relatives lived, raising even more concerns that the Kremlin had authorized revenge on American soil.

Stahl also asked Trump whether he believes Russians “interfered in the 2016 campaign election.” The president was willing to concede that Moscow “meddled,” though he quickly added, “But I think China meddled too.” He added that he sees Beijing as “a bigger problem.”

Two years after a foreign adversary attacked U.S. elections to put Trump in power, Trump is still trying to downplay the significance of the attack, while simultaneously trying to divert attention elsewhere.

The Kremlin was likely pleased with the interview.