Donald Trump acknowledged yesterday that he'd called Russian President Vladimir Putin in the morning, and it was "a very good call" between the two leaders. The obvious follow-up question has become, "A very good call for whom?"
The Washington Post's report on the conversation was amazing.
President Trump did not follow specific warnings from his national security advisers Tuesday when he congratulated Russian President Vladimir Putin on his reelection -- including a section in his briefing materials in all-capital letters stating "DO NOT CONGRATULATE," according to officials familiar with the call.Trump also chose not to heed talking points from aides instructing him to condemn the recent poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain with a powerful nerve agent, a case that both the British and U.S. governments have blamed on Moscow.
Whether the American president realizes this or not, this is a delicate moment in U.S./Russia relations. The Kremlin stands accused -- by the Trump administration, among others -- of recently launching a poison-gas assassination attempt on British soil. The White House also just last week announced sanctions against Russia in response to its attack on our elections.
And Russia just held a national election -- described by many observers as a "sham" -- in which Putin's rivals weren't allowed to run.
It's against this backdrop that White House officials urged Donald Trump to do two things: (1) don't congratulate the Russian autocrat; (2) condemn Russia's actions in the U.K. This is a time for the American president -- ostensibly the "Leader of the Free World" -- to be firm and resolute.
And yet, Trump ignored the all-caps guidance, congratulated Putin, and said nothing about the nerve-agent attack or the U.S. election attack.
The Washington Post's Carol Leonnig told Rachel on the show last night that the American president's call became an "OMG moment" inside the White House, as officials tried to digest what had just happened.
It's possible, of course, that Trump simply didn't read the briefing materials prepared by his own team, which wouldn't come as too big of a surprise, since we already know this president "rarely if ever" reads his own intelligence briefings.
It's also possible that the "newly emboldened" Trump saw the all-caps guidance, but the president decided he didn't care what his own administration's diplomatic and security teams believed was in the nation's best interest.
Or maybe Trump has been compromised in some way and treats Russia, whose illegal intelligence operation helped put the Republican in power, differently than every other country.
Whatever the explanation, there are apparently some folks in the administration who want the world to know what happened.
As for the larger context, as we recently discussed, the White House was recently eager to insist that when it comes to Russia, Trump has been incredibly “tough.” We should all be impressed with his “toughness.” Trump’s tough toughness, the argument went, has certainly been tougher than that rascally Barack Obama, who was never as tough as Donald “Tough” Trump.