Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump
Credit: Kremlin.ru/Wikimedia Commons

Conspiracy theorists have long claimed that President Franklin Roosevelt knew in advance that the Japanese planned to attack Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, but that he cynically sat on the alert, knowing that the attack would immediately draw the United States into war. The idea that a sitting president would intentionally keep the nation defenseless in face of an imminent attack is, of course, preposterous.

Or at least it was before Russia launched a cyberattack against us in 2016 to boost Donald Trump’s campaign. Seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Moscow’s actions “represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order.” President Trump did not accept the intelligence agencies’ consensus views, instead singling out some “400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer” as the likely culprit.

As the midterm elections loom, officials are girding for another assault by the Kremlin on our democratic process. “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 U.S. midterm elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate in February. The electric voting machines used by many states have been found to be highly vulnerable to Russian hacking. So, what measures has President Trump implemented to protect us?

Zilch. Asked recently whether he had received a directive by the president to disrupt further Russian cyber-attacks, NSA Director Mike Rogers responded, “No, I have not.” FBI Director Christopher Wray, asked the same question, likewise answered in the negative.

Trump denounced the raid on Michael Cohen’s offices as “an attack on our country” — yet he gives a free pass to Moscow for its interference in our elections. Why the inaction from the White House? Serious news media and pundits keep describing the president’s Putin-reticence as “puzzling,” “mysterious,” and “inexplicable.” Actually, it boils down to two possible motivations: incompetence or intentionality.

The Trump administration is certainly a study of ineptitude and chaos. An unprecedented half of top officials have left little more than a year into office, including six cabinet-level officials. There is no coherent national security policy. Daily Twitter blitzes each morning set policy, such as it is. Aides are blindsided by Trump’s impulsive diktats while daily revelations about the Russia investigation and the Stormy Daniels saga emerge at an exhausting, whipsawing pace.

But Trump’s studied silence on Putin and Russian aggression possesses an eerie consistency that makes it hard to attribute to mere incompetence. Rather, it reflects intent.

In his new book, former FBI Director James Comey says that Trump and his cronies “were about to lead a country that had been attacked by a foreign adversary, yet they had no questions about what the future Russian threat might be.”

We’ve seen drip after drip of reports outing contacts between Trump operatives and the Russians, the mysterious removal of an anti-Russia plank from the GOP campaign platform, and Jared Kushner’s seeking to establish a “back channel” to Putin via the Russian embassy. Then there is President Trump’s baffling lack of criticism of Putin, his foot dragging on sanctions, and his peremptory invitation to Putin for a summit meeting at the White House.

There is enough circumstantial evidence to indicate that Putin, a former KGB spy, has something on President Trump, whether it’s incriminating financial dealings, campaign collusion, or rumored sexual transgressions at the glitzy Moscow Ritz Carlton. “The Russians,” former CIA Director John Brennan has said, “I think, have had long experience with Mr. Trump, and may have things that they could expose.”

Until Robert Mueller is finished with his investigation, we can only sift through reporting and mull over the Steele dossier. Elements of the latter have been confirmed, including the Putin-ordered active measures campaign to boost Trump and George Papadopoulos’s and Carter Page’s meetings with Russian representatives. Now, McClatchy reports that the Department of Justice has evidence that Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen visited Prague in 2016 to strategize with Kremlin reps, a Steele dossier charge that Cohen has vehemently denied.

The Department of Homeland Security says that Russian hackers attempted to hack the election systems in 21 states. Yet the department is refusing to share its more sensitive findings with state officials, preventing them from implementing tailored measures to protect their voting systems. Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee in February that “there’s no single agency in charge” of blocking Russian meddling in the November midterm elections. Congress allocated $120 million to the State Department to counter Russian cyber-meddling—but not a single penny has been spent.

Recall the old aphorism that if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. Not only has Trump abdicated his responsibility to protect us against Russian interference—what should be standard operating procedure for any president—but he has offered no credible explanation for his continued inaction. This, and his cozying up to Moscow, give him all the tell-tale signs of a person compromised by a foreign intelligence service.

A decade ago, Donald Trump Jr. acknowledged that “in terms of high-end product influx into the U.S., Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” The president seems to be impervious to allegations of sexual misconduct, but it increasingly looks like the money trail will expose illegalities with Russian oligarchs while outing the leverage the Kremlin has over him.

Feliks Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the Soviet secret police, once said “the fact that you are free is not your achievement, but rather a failure on our side.” Such authoritarianism lives on in Vladimir Putin, who is scheming to once again undermine our woefully defenseless election system come November to prove that our freedom indeed can be robbed, and even more disturbingly, enabled by the commander-in-chief himself.

James Bruno

Follow James on Twitter @JamesLBruno. James Bruno is a Washington Monthly contributing writer and former U.S. diplomat. Read his blog, DIPLO DENIZEN, and follow him on Twitter @JamesLBruno. The opinions and characterizations in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent official positions of the U.S. government.