Guest Editorial: Trump is treading dangerous ground in excusing Russian aggression
Our president seems to accept Putin's denials about a cyber assault on American democracy
America witnessed an astonishing event from Helsinki on Monday. President Donald Trump stood beside an adversary of the United States — someone who ordered a cyber and disinformation attack on the American 2016 presidential election in clear violation of U.S. sovereignty — and seemed to take our adversary's side.
At his news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump told the world that he continues to harbor doubts that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and he argued that the United States is as much at fault as Russia for tattered relations between the two superpowers.
To see a president hold views so strongly at odds with the facts is disturbing even to Washington Republicans who normally go out of their way to avoid offending their party’s populist leader.
Though House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered the factual corrections to Trump’s words in the mildest tone possible, his words are stunning for their clarity: “There is no question that Russia interfered in our election. … Russia is not our ally. … There is no moral equivalence between the United States and Russia.”
The coolness of Ryan’s rebuke was matched by the fire of Sen. John McCain, who cares little if he offends Trump. McCain called Trump’s press conference “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory” and the whole Helsinki summit “a tragic mistake.”
“The damage inflicted by President Trump’s naivete, egotism, false equivalence and sympathy for autocrats is difficult to calculate,” McCain wrote.
Trump’s Republican critics are correct. Not only have all the U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered in the U.S. elections, so have the House and Senate intelligence committees and so has Trump’s own director of national intelligence, Dan Coats.
And Russia’s role in shredding relations with western democracies is hard to overstate. Russia interceded in elections across Europe as well as America, invaded Ukraine and seized Crimea, abetted the blood-lust of a Syrian dictator, poisoned British citizens and supplied the missile system used to shoot down an airliner and murder 298 people.
Why does Trump cling to falsehoods that are so convenient to the Kremlin? Perhaps because the truth raises questions about the legitimacy of his own victory.
That’s why, when a reporter asked him to explain himself Monday, Trump launched into a rambling diatribe in which he attacked the FBI, an FBI agent, the Justice Department and the Clinton campaign.
All presidents up until now have understood deep in their bones which side they’re on.
Whatever happens with Robert Mueller’s investigation, Trump now has Americans wondering where his interests lie, and that’s an indictment in itself.
(USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff.)
USA TODAY, July 16