Trump Both Accepts and Denies Russian Interference in the 2016 Election

With all of the news breaking so fast these last few days, one story hasn’t garnered nearly enough attention. On Friday, the Washington Post reported that, during Trump’s meeting in the Oval Office on May 10, 2017 with the Russian ambassador and foreign minister, he said that “he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

That meeting took place on the day after the president fired James Comey. It garnered a lot of attention because of a couple of other things Trump said.

The comments, which have not been previously reported, were part of a now-infamous meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which Trump revealed highly classified information that exposed a source of intelligence on the Islamic State. He also said during the meeting that firing FBI Director James B. Comey the previous day had relieved “great pressure” on him.

Like the call with the president of Ukraine, the Post goes on to report that “a memorandum summarizing the meeting was limited to a few officials with the highest security clearances in an attempt to keep the president’s comments from being disclosed publicly.”

There are several obvious reasons why the administration didn’t want the public to know what Trump said during that meeting. But we now know that he not only admitted that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, he said that he wasn’t concerned about it. In other words, he basically gave Moscow the green light to do it again.

What is also important about Trump’s admission is that it contradicted what he was saying publicly. Just three months prior to the Oval Office meeting, he was attempting to spread doubt about Russian interference, tweeting that “it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.” A few weeks after his admission to the Russians in the Oval Office came this infamous moment during the president’s press conference with Putin in Helsinki.

Two months later, Trump not only admitted that Russia interfered in the election, but that they did so to support him.

The president immediately walked that statement back during questioning from reporters later that day saying, “Russia did not help me get elected… Russia didn’t help me at all.”

All of this has relevance to Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president. Here is one of the “favors” he asked.

I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

Matt Shuham and Josh Kovensky did a good job of explaining how that request is tied into the world of right wing conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s involvement with the Democrats in covering up another conspiracy theory: that Seth Rich leaked the DNC emails to Wikileaks. According to these folks, blaming it on Russia was all part of a DNC hoax to cover their tracks. Reporters at the New York Times found that is a conspiracy theory that the president won’t let go.

Thomas P. Bossert, who served as Mr. Trump’s first homeland security adviser, said he told the president there was no basis to the theory that Ukraine, not Russia, intervened in the 2016 election and did so on behalf of the Democrats. Speaking out for the first time, Mr. Bossert said he was “deeply disturbed” that Mr. Trump nonetheless tried to get Ukraine’s president to produce damaging information about Democrats…

Other former aides to Mr. Trump said on Sunday that he refused to accept reassurances about Ukraine no matter how many times it was explained to him, instead subscribing to an unsubstantiated narrative that has now brought him to the brink of impeachment.

If your head is spinning by now, that’s because the president has admitted both privately and publicly that Russia interfered in the election, all while denying it both publicly and privately. The blatant contradiction encapsulates Trump’s state of mind perfectly. His narcissism is so pervasive that neither the truth nor consistency play a role in his statements. When a defense of his ego demands an admission of Russia’s interference, he does so. When it interferes, he denies it.

We can all find ourselves running around in circles trying to understand various things that Trump has said or done. Frankly, it’s all a waste of time. There is no grounding in reality or strategy involved. Every utterance or action of this president is in service to his own ego. It is that simple.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.