After Donald Trump met privately with Vladimir Putin in Germany, there were different accounts on whether the American president accepted the Russian president’s denial about intervening in our presidential election. The answer, however, is now coming into sharper focus.
After Trump returned from the G-20 summit, he assured the public that Putin “vehemently denied” intervening in the American election, which means, as far as the Republican is concerned, it’s time to “move forward.” The implication wasn’t subtle: Trump seems inclined to accept the Russian leader’s claims at face value, evidence be damned.
This was bolstered yesterday when the American president sat down with Reuters for an interview.
In the White House interview, the president said he directly asked Russian President Vladimir Putin if he was involved in what U.S. intelligence says was Russian meddling in the presidential campaign and that Putin had insisted he was not. […]
“I said, ‘Did you do it?’ And he said, ‘No, I did not. Absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time in a totally different way. He said absolutely not,” Trump said.
Wait, Trump asked the question in two different ways? Well, that changes everything.
Look, this is silly. Trump, a former television personality with no background in government or public policy at any level, has been told repeatedly by his own intelligence agencies that the Russian government orchestrated an attack. He then sat down with Putin, a former KGB operative, and asked if he’s responsible for the crime of the century.
Putin denied it twice, which apparently Trump found persuasive. The Russian president must have been thrilled to find the one person in the world naïve enough to believe Putin’s obvious lies.
When Reuters asked Trump if he accepts Putin’s denial, the American president reportedly paused.
“Look. Something happened and we have to find out what it is, because we can’t allow a thing like that to happen to our election process,” he said. “So something happened and we have to find out what it is.”
I realize Trump can be a little slow on the uptake, but we’ve already found out. The FBI, the CIA, the NSA, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have spent months telling Trump what happened. The president, however, doesn’t believe them – preferring instead to listen to Vladimir Putin.
In fact, Trump doesn’t even have to believe the U.S. intelligence agencies; he can simply read his own son’s emails, which show the Russian government offering to help put Trump in power. “We have to find out” what happened? It should already be clear to any borderline-literate person what happened.
Yes, as a political matter, Trump has an incentive to ignore reality. To accept the facts would be to acknowledge that the American president needed a foreign adversary’s help to win the election, tainting his legitimacy and creating an unprecedented crisis.
But the motivated reasoning of an insecure man doesn’t change reality.