As Russia’s Vladimir Putin began his invasion of Ukraine this week, Donald Trump made no effort to hide his adulation. The Republican described the Russian leader’s military offensive as “genius” and “very savvy.” Referring to Putin declaring portions of Ukraine as independent, Trump said it was a “wonderful” strategy.
The former U.S. president even went so far as to endorse the Kremlin’s rhetoric, saying Putin would “be a peacekeeper,” adding, “They’re gonna keep peace all right.”
Yesterday, Trump kept going, issuing a written statement touting Putin and admonishing his own country’s president. Last night at Mar-a-Lago, the Republican kept the celebration going, telling an assembled crowd how “smart” Putin is for launching a military offensive against his neighbor.
Sen. Lindsey Graham was in attendance for Trump’s comments, and soon after, he appeared on Fox News to push a curious message:
“I miss Donald Trump. If Donald Trump were president, none of this crap would be going on because you got to be strong. When you’re weak is when everything falls apart. And Biden is weak and Trump was strong. I hope we have another election soon.”
This seemed like the sort of thing that might benefit from some fact-checking.
It’s difficult to take seriously the idea that President Joe Biden is “weak,” especially as it relates to policy toward Russia, but even more provocative is Graham’s belief that Trump was “strong.”
Was he? Let’s take a stroll down memory lane.
Before getting elected in 2016, Trump already showed signs of weakness when it came to his political benefactors in Moscow. During the Republican National Convention, for example, the candidate and his team showed no real interest in the platform’s contents, except to remove language about providing Ukraine with defensive weapons.
Also before Election Day, Trump touted Putin for having “outsmarted“ U.S. leaders.
All the while, Trump was seeking, receiving, benefiting from, and lying about Russia’s intervention in the 2016 elections on his behalf.
During the post-election presidential transition period, Trump spoke openly about easing sanctions on Russia, which roughly coincided with Michael Flynn’s secret communications with Russia, which he would later lie to the FBI about.
Two weeks after his inauguration day, Trump talked about his “respect” for Putin. Reminded that the Russian autocrat is a “killer,” the new American president questioned his own country’s moral authority. “We’ve got a lot of killers,” the Republican said. “What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”
Two weeks later, top members of Trump’s team explored ways to lift sanctions against Russia.
Trump had only been in office for a few months when he prepared to reward Russia — apparently in exchange for nothing — by giving it diplomatic compounds on American soil that had been taken during the Obama administration.
The same month, Trump welcomed Russian diplomats into the Oval Office — at Putin’s request — at which time the Republican revealed highly classified information to his Russian guests for no apparent reason.
By July 2017, as Congress approved new sanctions against Russia for having attacked our elections, the Trump White House tried to weaken the legislation. The then-president grudgingly signed the bill — not because he supported it, but because it passed by veto-proof margins. He then issued a statement criticizing Congress’ proposal.
The same month, Trump had a private chat with Putin, after which the Republican announced plans to partner with Russia on an “impenetrable Cyber Security unit.”
In August 2017, the Russian government expelled 755 people from the American embassy and consulate staff. Trump responded by “thanking” Putin and saying he “greatly appreciated” the striking diplomatic move.
In early 2018, after Putin won a sham election, White House officials pleaded with Trump not to congratulate the Russian leader. The Republican ignored them.
A few months later, Trump appeared alongside Putin in Helsinki, lashed out at Americans he doesn’t like, and announced that he considered the Russian leader more reliable than his own country’s intelligence agencies. As 2018 neared its end, Trump lifted Russian sanctions.
In 2019, leveraged military aid to launch an illegal extortion scheme with Ukraine, personally forced out a capable U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, and called for Russia to be welcomed back into the G7.
During his re-election campaign, Trump also prepared to withdraw U.S. troops from Germany, which also happened to be in line with Moscow’s wishes.
All the while, Trump criticized NATO, expressed disdain for the European Union, and undermined democracy in the United States — which also put the Republican’s agenda in line with Putin’s plans.
Trump’s own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, suggested to Bob Woodward that he couldn’t shake the suspicion that Trump was beholden to Putin.
Even now, as many Republicans condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the former American president simply can’t bring himself to do the same.
Remind me, Lindsey Graham, how exactly did you arrive at the belief that Trump was “strong”?