In a rare moment of bipartisan unity on Sunday, Republicans and Democrats came together in mutual astonishment after President Trump, in part of an early-morning storm of tweets, said that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed joining forces to battle “election hacking & many other negative things.”
Putin, of course, is believed by US intelligence agencies to have ordered cyber attacks on the US presidential election in 2016, including the theft and distribution of private emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and to the Chairman of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
“This is like the guy who robbed your house proposing a working group on burglary,” marveled Ash Carter, the former Obama administration Defense Secretary.
Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 9, 2017
“Partnering with Putin on a ‘Cyber Security Unit’ is akin to partnering with Assad on a ‘Chemical Weapons Unit’” wrote Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, referring to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, who is known to have used chemical weapons against his own people.
The idea is “dangerously naive,” said California Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigation Russian intrusion into the election. “If that’s our best election defense we might as well just mail out ballot boxes to Moscow
“It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close,” said South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham.
Trump’s bizarre tweet came just a day after he arrived home from the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, a series of meetings highlighted by the first face-to-face meeting between Trump and Putin.
The president’s cabinet and advisers were, as usual, effusive in praising their boss, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin calling the trip and “outstanding success” and criticizing some observers for suggesting that Trump might have missed an opportunity to call Putin to account for attempting to subvert the United States elections process.
“I think what we should be focused on is that the president handled it brilliantly,” Mnuchin said.
Trump’s White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, insisted that Trump has been “a star” at the summit in Hamburg. But beyond their agreement on the boss’s wonderful performance at the summit, there appeared to be some confusion even among the Trump team as to what the proper takeaway from the president’s meeting with Putin really was.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the only other senior US official in the room, described a “positive chemistry” between Trump and Putin, even as he said that the US president pressed his counterpart on the question of election meddling. Tillerson offered no actual details.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who was not in the meeting, suggested that Trump’s proposal to work with Russia on cybersecurity issues was some sort of Machiavellian masterstroke.
“From a cyber standpoint we need to get together with Russia,” she said. “We need to tell them what we think should happen shouldn’t happen and hopefully if we talk to them about it hopefully we can cut this out and make it stop.”
However, she added, “It doesn’t mean we ever trust Russia. We can’t trust Russia. And we won’t ever trust Russia, but you keep those that you don’t trust closer so that you can always keep an eye on them and keep them in check, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do with Russia right now.”
Trump, meanwhile, spent the morning firing off tweets that left many with the impression that he simply wants to put the entire Russian election hacking scandal in the rear view mirror.
“I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election,” he wrote Sunday morning. “He vehemently denied it. I've already given my opinion.....We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!”
The president’s apparent willingness to move on, left his would-be allies in Congress frustrated. Sen. Graham, who said that he is pleased with many of Trump’s foreign policy positions, including his handling of the war in Syria and the North Korean nuclear crisis, nevertheless said Trump has a “blind spot” when it comes to Russia.
“To forgive and forget when it comes to Putin with regard to cyber attacks is to empower Putin and that’s exactly what he’s doing,” he said on Meet the Press Sunday morning.
“At the end of the day he’s hurting his presidency by not embracing the fact that Putin’s a bad guy who tried to undercut our democracy, and he’s doing it all over the world,” he said. If the president continues to refuse to recognize that, Graham said, he will be ““betraying democracy.”