On Russia, Trump Was Just As Bad in 2015

Things have gotten ugly. How ugly? The U.S. ambassador to Russia is former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman. His brother, Paul Huntsman, is the owner and publisher of The Salt Lake Tribune. In an editorial published in today’s issue of The Salt Lake Tribune, Robert Gehrke says that Ambassador Huntsman needs to resign.

Ambassador Huntsman, you work for a pawn, not a president. It’s time to come home.

There is no other reasonable course of action to take after Monday’s disgraceful joint news conference with President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin…

…Ambassador Huntsman, you have two sons who wear the uniform of the U.S. Navy. How is it possible to entrust their future to such a cowardly, misguided commander in chief who has demonstrated time and again a fundamental disregard for U.S. security and our moral authority internationally?

This has to be the last straw. To remain silent and continue to serve this president would be complicity in the undoing of our nation and its status as a world leader.

Come home, Mr. Huntsman. Your country needs you.

I don’t know about you, but unless I got a pretty strong “go ahead,” I would not demand the resignation of our publisher’s brother and write that a failure to resign would amount to complicity in the undoing of our nation. Since Mr. Gehrke’s editorial appeared in print, it’s probably safe to assume that Paul Huntsman agrees that his brother ought to step down.

None of this was cleaned up by Trump’s non-apology and pathetic attempt to claim he misspoke. Trump is beholden to Vladimir Putin and only the willfully blind now fail to see this. He did not misspeak. He said the exact same things he’s been saying for three years now.

This seems like a good week to visit my archives, so to prove my point, let’s go back to March and look at a long excerpt from my piece: Trump’s Lies About Moscow Tower are Impeachable.

Trump spent the summer and fall of 2015 telling anyone who would listen that he had a great relationship with Vladimir Putin and that he was a great leader. He repeatedly suggested that he’d get along with Putin much better than President Obama had been able to and that this would be a positive for the country. Typical of this time period was an appearance Trump made on Bill O’Reilly’s show on September 29 where he said “I will tell you that I think in terms of leadership, [Putin] is getting an ‘A,’ and our president is not doing so well.”

“Putin is now taking over what we started and he’s going into Syria, and he frankly wants to fight ISIS, and I think that’s a wonderful thing,” Trump told Fox News Tuesday, after ending his boycott against the network. “If he wants to fight ISIS, let him fight ISIS. Why do we always have to do everything?”

What people didn’t know was that in this exact period of time, he had Cohen and Sater hammering out the details on a licensing agreement for this:

The tower — a sheer, glass-encased obelisk situated on a river — would have soared above every other building in Moscow, the architectural drawings show. And the sharply angled skyscraper would have climaxed in a diamond-shaped pinnacle emblazoned with the word “Trump,” putting his name atop the continent’s tallest structure.

As Putin ramped up Russia’s military commitment in Syria in an effort to bolster the regime of Bashir al-Assad, Trump kept approving of the move and suggesting his real motive was to attack ISIS, a sworn enemy of Assad. Here’s what he told the Guardian two weeks before he signed the letter of intent on a Moscow Tower:

“[Putin]’s going to want to bomb ISIS [in Syria] because he doesn’t want ISIS going into Russia and so he’s going to want to bomb ISIS. Vladimir Putin is going to want to really go after ISIS, and if he doesn’t it’ll be a big shock to everybody.”

From the outside, Trump’s behavior was bizarre and hard to understand. Being so friendly to Vladimir Putin didn’t seem consistent with U.S. foreign policy objectives and it certainly didn’t look like a coherent political strategy. Phillip Bump of the Washington Post noted this in December:

…Putin’s poll numbers among Americans are terrible. Globally, Russia is viewed very negatively, according to Pew Research, with two-thirds of Americans holding an unfavorable view of the country. Three-quartersof Americans have no confidence in Putin to do the right thing — which presumably includes offering political endorsements.

If Trump didn’t care about U.S. interests and his actions and words made no sense politically, why was he acting this way?

If people were suspicious before, their concerns were amped up to eleven by statements Trump made on December 18 and December 20. Appearing on Morning Joe on the 18th, Trump made news when he dismissed host Joe Scarborough’s observation that Putin kills journalists who don’t agree with him by saying, “Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too, Joe.” He followed that up on December 20 by telling George Stephanopoulos that there was no proof that Putin had killed anyone:

“…in all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t’ seen that. I don’t know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? Do you know the names of the reporters that he’s killed? Because I’ve been — you know, you’ve been hearing this, but I haven’t seen the name. Now, I think it would be despicable if that took place, but I haven’t’ seen any evidence that he killed anybody in terms of reporters.”

There was a lot of outrage on both points. That Trump would deny that Putin kills journalists was curious and offensive, but that he’d assert that even if it were true it was no worse than what America does was seen as delusional and unpatriotic.

At that point, I think a lot of people began to seriously question whether Trump had some financial ties or interests in Russia that explained his behavior. And, of course, that’s exactly what was going on.

In 2015, Trump was realistically more interested in building Europe’s tallest building in Moscow than he was in becoming president of the United States. In 2018, he is still interested in something other than being president of the United States. Maybe that is just not getting caught. Maybe it’s worse than that. Regardless, Trump started out as a candidate denying that there is any moral difference between Putin’s Russia and America and he’s still doing it. Back in 2015, he dismissed reporting on Putin’s murder of journalists. Yesterday, he dismissed reporting on their intervention in our elections. People are acting shocked but there has not been a change of approach or behavior. It has been consistent throughout and it was just as suspicious in 2015 as it is now.

I’m glad people are being asked to resign, but it’s pretty late in the game for people to be figuring out that Donald Trump is captured by the Russians.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.