Trump finds new ways to carry water for Russia's Putin

If the Kremlin had written a script for the American president to follow, would it have sounded any different from what Trump said on Friday?
Image: FINLAND-US-RUSSIA-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY-SUMMIT
Russia's President Vladimir Putin listens while President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference at Finland's Presidential Palace on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images file
By Steve Benen

More than two weeks after being flown to Germany for medical treatment, Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's condition is reportedly improving. Though doctors in Berlin said he'd been the victim of a “severe poisoning,” Navalny is apparently no longer in a medically induced coma, and he's now responsive.

As a political matter, however, there's a broader debate about the proper response to the attack against him. Late last week, NATO members endorsed Germany's conclusion that Navalny was poisoned with a military-grade Russian nerve agent. And given that Navalny is Vladimir Putin's principal political foe, few questioned who bore responsibility for what happened.

And yet, late last week, there was Donald Trump, who'd said effectively nothing about the attack on Navalny, fielding a question from a reporter about how the international community and the United States should respond to the apparent attempt on Navalny's life.

The American president's response talked about North Korea. Then Hillary Clinton. Then Afghanistan. Then the Middle East. Then German energy policy. Eventually, the Republican was willing to say:

"So I don’t know exactly what happened. I think it’s -- it’s tragic. It’s terrible. It shouldn’t happen. We haven’t had any proof yet, but I will take a look."

Asked about his doubts over the evidence that's already been presented, Trump added:

"It is interesting that everybody is always mentioning Russia. And I don’t mind you mentioning Russia, but I think probably China, at this point, is a nation that you should be talking about much more so than Russia...."

He went on to tell reporters how much he "gets along" with his counterpart in Moscow.

In other words, Putin's government is accused of trying to kill a Russian opposition leader, sparking outrage from our Western allies, and Donald Trump (a) is skeptical of the evidence; (b) wants to change the subject; and (c) touts his closeness with the Russian autocrat.

If the Kremlin had written a script for the American president to follow, would it have sounded any different?