Two bombshell stories over the weekend, one from The New York Times and another from The Washington Post, gave fresh insight into President Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia and the concern it sparked among U.S. intelligence officials.
But as new and increasingly damning information surfaces, it is difficult not to recall how Trump’s presidency survived his disastrous one-on-one with President Vladimir Putin last summer — a meeting the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ) called "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory."
As NPR reported at the time, the world was shocked and yet not surprised when “the president of the United States stood onstage alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin and accepted the former KGB officer's denials regarding that interference.”
Sen. Bob Casey, the Pennsylvania Democrat, said Trump had "shamed the office of the presidency" with his "dangerous and reckless" reaction to Putin — "a new low and profound embarrassment for America."
Former CIA Director John Brennan went further than both senators, calling the president’s deference to Putin "nothing short of treasonous."
During the press conference that followed their private meeting, Putin admitted to wanting Trump to win the presidency in 2016 but denied his government had been involved with efforts to interfere on Trump’s behalf.
Trump accepted that denial:
"My people came to me. Dan Coats came to me, and some others," Trump said. "They said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."
Not once, not twice, but repeatedly the U.S. president refused to demand satisfaction, or an apology, or a promise that such interference would cease. Instead, he said the two nations needed to get along and the probe of Russian interference was getting in the way.
Trump later attempted damage control by tweeting that he has “GREAT confidence in MY intelligence people” — but he wasn’t finished.
Seemingly unable to fully repudiate Putin’s denials, Trump wrapped up his tweet saying: ‘However, I also recognize that in order to build a brighter future, we cannot exclusively focus on the past – as the world’s two largest nuclear powers, we must get along!”
The tweet did little to console those who felt Trump had failed to represent the interests of his own country.
In its July report, NPR captured well the anticipation met only with disappointment as the world waited for Trump to address Russian interference, hoping to hear a strong rebuke of Putin’s efforts:
Then the moment came, in Monday's news conference, for Trump to reveal what the Putin meeting had produced on the issue of Russian interference. Instead, Trump began talking about Hillary Clinton's missing emails and the "brilliant campaign" he had run in 2016 — citing the tally from the Electoral College.
It was as if the need to keep that Election Night feeling alive was greater than the need to deal with the geopolitical situation at hand and defend the international rule of law. Greater also than the need to support NATO and its mission to hold Putin accountable.
And greater than the first commitment of any president to protect the national security and preserve the democracy of the United States.
Yet the Trump presidency survived.