Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.
The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president – and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality – have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.
Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.
Just as alarming, current and former officials told the Washington Post that Trump’s daily intelligence update – the presidential daily brief, or PDB – “is often structured to avoid upsetting him.”
Complicating matters is the fact that the president’s team appears to work from the assumption that Trump, an incurious former television personality, does not read. The article added, “Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter. In other cases, Trump’s main briefer – a veteran CIA analyst – adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.”
In other words, a year after a foreign adversary launched the most important attack on the United States since 9/11, Americans have an emotionally fragile president who not only doesn’t want to respond – signaling to the world that attacks against the U.S. will draw no meaningful reaction – but is inclined to throw a tantrum when confronted with evidence about the attackers.
The result is a national security dynamic in which intelligence professionals have to walk on eggshells around the Commander in Chief, hiding and/or downplaying information about the foreign adversary that launched an espionage operation that helped put Trump in power.
The portrait that emerges is obviously alarming. But it raises a related question that warrants further scrutiny,
Yes, it seems painfully clear that Trump refuses to consider any information, no matter how accurate or important, about Russia’s attack on the American elections. The available evidence suggests the explanation for the president’s posture is that he’s a delicate man-child, fearful that the facts will show his dubious presidency is the result of a foreign crime, and therefore illegitimate.
But there’s another possibility: perhaps Trump shuts down any discussion of Russia’s attack, not because he’s afraid of validating the scandal that elected him, but because the American president has been compromised by Russia?
As Jon Chait put it yesterday, Trump “might legitimately feel insulted by any mention of Russian hacking, and truly unable to assimilate foreign-policy discussions on an adult level. But it’s quite possible his hair-trigger anger over the subject of Russia is a tactic designed to close off a subject on which his guilt runs very deep.”