Donald Trump took the rather extraordinary step last week of endorsing the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, a move that coincides with efforts in Moscow to approve a resolution defending the conflict. The American president's comments were not well received.
In fact, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, one of the most Republican-friendly pieces of media real estate in all of major American print media, noted in response to Trump's remarks, "We cannot recall a more absurd misstatement of history by an American president."
Yesterday, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney addressed the controversy publicly for the first time, in response to a line of questioning from CNN's Jake Tapper.
TAPPER: As you know, the Soviet Union did not invade Afghanistan because terrorists from Afghanistan were attacking the Soviet Union, and it is not necessarily considered by Americans or even the Soviets, now Russians, certainly not the Afghans, a good thing that they did so. Where did he get that idea from?MULVANEY: I think that idea is born out of frustration. The president has been -- this ties into the comments and the discussions I think you and I have had about Syria as well, which is that the president promised that he would have a different Middle Eastern foreign policy. He's just very frustrated with the slow progress in Afghanistan. And I think that was probably just a comment born in frustration. [...]TAPPER: But you know that it's not true that the Soviet Union didn't invade Afghanistan because of terrorist attacks on the Soviet Union, and they -- it was not a good thing that they went in there, right?MULVANEY: I mean, again, I think those are comments the president made born out of frustration from where we are. And I'm not too concerned about the details.
That's not much of an answer. Indeed, Mulvaney may not be "too concerned about the details," but there's a case to be made that the rest of us should be.
To hear the president's chief of staff tell it, Trump endorsed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan because he's "frustrated" by the state of the U.S. conflict in the country. I haven't the foggiest idea what that's supposed to mean. The Republican president wishes the ongoing war was producing different results, which led him to endorse the Kremlin's talking points?
As for Mulvaney's indifference to "the details," as Rachel explained on the show the other day, what we've seen is a pattern of behavior from Trump in which he's routinely echoed obscure arguments from Vladimir Putin's government, each of which exist wholly outside the American body politic.
Offered an opportunity to explain why, the White House chief of staff pointed to unrelated "frustrations," and dismissed "the details" as trivia.
If Mulvaney hoped to come up with a compelling defense, he'll have to try again.
Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney and a former senior official at the FBI, told MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace on Friday, "I don't mean to be an alarmist but ... the president of the United States is echoing directly the line of the Kremlin on a whole bunch of things. And so, whether or not it results in an indictment, whether or not it's something we ultimately we can see, touch, feel, and hear, this is something U.S. intelligence officials have to understand: why is the president saying what he's saying?"
At this point, the White House doesn't have a good answer to that question.