On Friday afternoon, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced a federal indictment against 12 Russian intelligence officers, with charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller. Soon after, the White House issued an official written statement that failed to mention anything about the accused, even in passing.
Donald Trump probably doesn’t want my advice on communications challenges, but the president’s line should probably be something along the lines of, “I commend law enforcement officials for their diligence. Our adversaries must understand that any foreign intervention in our elections is unacceptable, and perpetrators can and will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”
It’s really not that complicated. And yet, as woeful as the White House’s written response was on Friday afternoon, Trump made things vastly worse over the weekend, tweeting on Saturday morning:
“The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration. Why didn’t they do something about it, especially when it was reported that President Obama was informed by the FBI in September, before the Election?”
Eight hours later, the president added:
“These Russian individuals did their work during the Obama years. Why didn’t Obama do something about it? Because he thought Crooked Hillary Clinton would win, that’s why. Had nothing to do with the Trump Administration, but Fake News doesn’t want to report the truth, as usual!”
In case that weren’t quite enough, Trump sat down with CBS News and said officials at the DNC “should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked.”
There’s a lot to chew on here, so let’s take a minute to reflect on the gap between the president’s rhetoric and reality.
* “The stories you heard about the 12 Russians yesterday took place during the Obama Administration, not the Trump Administration.” Well, obviously. Russia wanted Trump to win the election, so it launched its intelligence operation in order to put Trump in power. There was no Trump administration before Putin’s government intervened to help the Republican ticket win, thereby creating a Trump administration.
* “Why didn’t [the Obama administration] do something about it?” Well, the Obama administration actually did quite a bit, and would’ve done more, but congressional Republicans refused. Maybe Trump should have a chat with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about this.
* Officials at the DNC “should be ashamed of themselves for allowing themselves to be hacked.” In related news, maybe Richard Nixon should’ve whined about the quality of the locks on Watergate’s doors.
Look, after Friday’s indictment, Trump has a straightforward choice. The president could condemn our foreign attackers, vow accountability for our foes, and promise to make every effort to bolster our defenses against future aggression. Alternatively, he could also whine about Obama, blame the victims of the foreign attack, and throw in some gratuitous references to “Crooked Hillary.”
The fact that Trump chose the latter will only encourage questions about whether, and to what degree, he’s been compromised by the adversary that worked so hard to put him in power.