Editorial: Trump is out of his league
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President Donald Trump's embarrassing behavior at his news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin ratcheted up the calls for his impeachment from some Democrats and others this week after he took Putin's word that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election. It has been demonstrated that Russia, in fact, did meddle in the election, as independent counsel Robert Mueller III made clear with an indictment of 12 Russian agents just before the Helsinki summit.
The indictment includes Russian operations meant to instill chaos in the months before Election Day. It has already been shown that Russian operatives hacked into the Democratic National Committee's emails two years ago.
Most disturbing was Trump's "both sides" argument, similar his equivocation last year after white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia. Then, he said there was blame on "both sides," when clearly the racists and neo-Nazis were at fault and even ended with the death of a counterprotester. Monday, when asked directly whether he believed Putin's denial that Russia interfered in the election, Trump said there were "two thoughts" on the matter: one from his director of national intelligence, asserting Russia's involvement, and one from Putin, who denied it.
His acceptance of Putin's denial over America's own intelligence agencies is something no other president has ever done. It's un-American, dangerous, and exemplifies all that is wrong with Trump's presidency. He was unable and unwilling to stand up to Putin, as Republican Senator John McCain said in a statement. There aren't "two thoughts" on Russia's foray to interfere in U.S. elections, rather, there should be no doubt among anyone that the meddling did occur.
Trump's egregious behavior strongly suggests that Putin does possess compromising information about him, though what that is, remains a mystery. He "is wholly in the pocket of Putin," former CIA Director John Brennan wrote on Twitter, calling Trump's behavior "treasonous."
As usual, Republicans, fixated on confirming a conservative to the Supreme Court, offered mostly mild comments, if they said anything at all. That's disgraceful. House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wisconsin), who's retiring at the end of the year, did say there was no doubt Russia meddled in the U.S. election.
As condemnation mounted, on Tuesday Trump tried to walk back his comments. He said he accepted U.S. intelligence on Russian interference in the election, and said he misspoke at the joint news conference with Putin and meant to say he didn't have any reason to doubt Russia interfered in the election.
In what has become a well-known pattern, however, Trump left just enough wiggle room to cause more confusion. "I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place," Trump said Tuesday. "Could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all." He often goes right up to the line - this time in Helsinki he crossed it.
We must not let Trump off so easily. He and the Republicans think that just because the president "clarified" his remarks, the incident is over. Not so. Trump knew exactly what he was saying in Helsinki. Once the anger over his comments became apparent, he simply changed "would" to "wouldn't," but that doesn't make sense in the context of what was said.
Russia is likely planning more mischief ahead of this November's midterm elections, and the president will again demean his intelligence staffers. Count on it.
Quit the Trump-Putin lovers theme
By the way, the New York Times posted homophobic editorial cartoons online showing Trump and Putin as lovers. They have since been removed, but shouldn't have been, as published content should not be deleted. They were beneath the "paper of record" and diminished what is clearly a serious issue. It is not OK to equate the love that millions of same-sex couples have for one another with these corrupt leaders. The point is they should have never been published in the first place if the editors were more aware of the latent homophobia.