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Guest Editorial: Business as usual won’t work after Helsinki
One day after his disastrous meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, and facing an avalanche of criticism, including from many in his own party, President Donald Trump reverted to his favorite excuse: He blamed the mess he created on the news media. "Fake news is going Crazy!" he tweeted in the morning.
Then, hours later, he changed his story, saying the uproar was all due to a simple misstatement — just a single word he got wrong during his joint news conference with Mr. Putin. Asked by a reporter about the U.S. intelligence community's long-held conclusion that Russians meddled in the 2016 American elections, Mr. Trump had said,
"I don't see any reason why it would be Russia." No, no, he insisted Tuesday; he meant to say, "why it wouldn't be Russia," meaning that he finally, after all these months, decided in Helsinki to accept the notion that Russia meddled in our election.
Of course, in the rest of the 45-minute news conference, that's not at all what he was saying. And Tuesday, after clarifying what he now says he meant to say, he immediately qualified it yet again: "Could be other people, also," he said. "A lot of people out there." He then repeated his frequent assertion that there's no finding of any collusion between his campaign and the Russians — a question among the many not yet addressed conclusively by the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
So goes yet another attempt to give cover to Mr. Trump's GOP protectors and enablers, including those who briefly had the audacity and courage to publicly contradict him. Now they can assure critics of their timidity — their choice, on display daily, of partisanship over patriotism — that it was all a misunderstanding, since you can surely take this president at his word. No, he never lies.
Still, there remains mounting pressure for members of Congress to go beyond disagreeing with the Monday statements, perhaps to include a censure of the president for siding with Mr. Putin over the FBI, CIA, NSA and even Mr. Trump's own top advisers. No wonder Republicans are eager to shift the conversation to other topics.
But there isn't a topic more important than the weakness — some called it treason — of a president of the United States standing on foreign soil and denouncing our nation's intelligence agencies while embracing a longtime enemy. Almost as important is the cowardice of a congressional majority that refuses to speak the truth of what everybody saw: a spineless leader, unequal to the task at hand. (Go to YouTube and watch the smug Russian alongside the overmatched American. It will break your heart.)
We have seen this pattern too often: Deny facts, then blame Democrats, then attack the media for reporting what can be seen and heard. But after Mr. Trump's showboating abroad — undermining the NATO alliance, offending America's best friends, affirming his bromance with Mr. Putin, our adversary — it's ever harder for the president's pals, especially those on Capitol Hill, to avoid the truth of his unfitness for office. Still, you know they will try: Fake news. Yeah, right.
Albany Times Union, July 17