NEW YORK — President Donald J. Trump certainly could have addressed Vladimir Putin more assertively in Helsinki Monday regarding Russian interference in U.S. elections. He could have done so diplomatically and might have said:
“Russia wishes to return to the G-8 and otherwise be a part of the community of civilized nations. Such countries do not interfere in each other’s elections. So, I would advise President Putin to observe, rather than participate in, our upcoming mid-term elections.”
Clearly, Trump did not do this, although his clarification from the White House on Tuesday seemed to reattach some of the feathers that his statements sent flying.
Why didn’t Trump say such words to Putin? Perhaps DJT thought that establishing rapport with a leader armed with some 6,850 atomic warheads trumped publically getting in Putin’s grill about poking around in U.S. politics. As it happens, the 2010 New Start treaty that limits American and Russian nuclear arsenals expires in 2021. This might explain Trump’s sense of priorities.
Whatever the president intended, his actual performance triggered fresh rage on the Left and even pushback on the Right. Predictably, Trump haters over-reacted, and their criticisms boomeranged.
• Senator John McCain (R – Arizona) called the Helsinki press conference “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory.”
• “A single, ominous question now hangs over the White House,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. “What could possibly cause President Trump to put the interests of Russia over those of the United States?”
• House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California wondered, “What do the Russians have on Donald Trump, personally, financially, and politically?”
• “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors,’” former CIA chief John Brennan said via Twitter. “It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin.”
• “I agree with John Brennan, who said that it was nothing short of treasonous,” said House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. He told journalists on Capitol Hill that Trump’s consequent impeachment “would be a distraction” — for now. “We need to focus on taking back the House,” Hoyer added.
• Former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks told MSNBC Monday night: “I would say that his [Trump’s] performance today will live in infamy, as much as the Pearl Harbor attack or Kristallnacht.”
The idea that Trump is a treasonous puppet who dances while Putin tugs his strings is belied by what the president and America’s NATO allies accomplished in Brussels, just days before Helsinki.
First, NATO members agreed to fulfill their treaty obligations to spend their fair share for collective defense: 2 percent of GDP. While Estonia, Greece, Latvia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. (at 3.5 percent) now meet or exceed that benchmark, NATO’s 24 other members fall short. However, with Trump’s prodding, NATOites are boosting their military outlays.
“All Allies have started to increase the amount they spend on defense in real terms, and some two-thirds of Allies have national plans in place to spend 2 percent of their Gross Domestic Product on defense by 2024,” the NATO summit’s joint communiqué stated. “We are committed to improving the balance of sharing the costs and responsibilities of Alliance membership.”
“I would like to thank President Trump for his leadership on defense spending,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said last week in Brussels, as CNN reported. “It is clearly having an impact. Last year on the President’s initiative, we agreed to develop national plans to raise defense spending.” Stoltenberg said that he expects NATO’s European members and Canada to “add an extra $266 billion to defense between now and 2024.”
Second, the president pressured Germany’s Angela Merkel to abandon Nord Stream 2, an energy-dependency-enhancing pipeline that would pump Russian natural gas into Western Europe. Trump urged Merkel, instead, to purchase U.S. liquefied natural gas.
A pro-Putin puppet would not prod European nations — some bordering Russia — to spend an extra quarter-trillion dollars on soldiers and weapons. A “Siberian candidate” would not foil Moscow’s scheme to hook Germany on Russian natural gas.
Previous Trump initiatives give Putin migraines:
• As early as January 2017 and as late as last month, Trump slapped severe financial sanctions and travel limits on Russian companies and oligarchs in retaliation for the invasions of Ukraine and Crimea and “the Kremlin’s destabilizing activities, including its interference of Western democratic elections in 2016 and 2017,” according to CNN. “We cannot allow those seeking to sow confusion, discord, and rancor to be successful,” Trump said in a statement. “We must unite as Americans to protect the integrity of our democracy and our elections.”
• In July 2017, Trump sold Patriot air-defense missiles to Poland. As The Weekly Standard then observed “The agreement comes seven years after the Obama administration removed a group of missile launchers from near the Russian border with Poland after Moscow objected to their placement.”
• A U.S.-led coalition airstrike on February 7 killed several dozen Russian “mercenaries” operating in Syria.
• In response to the poisoning of a Russian ex-spy and his daughter in the U.K., Trump last March expelled 12 Russian diplomats from New York, 48 more from Washington, D.C., and padlocked Moscow’s consulate in Seattle.
• In April, Trump sent Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine. Obama didn’t. “I am sincerely grateful for the just decision of Donald J. Trump in support of Ukraine, in defense of freedom and democracy,” said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. “We continue to work on strengthening our defense capabilities in order to deflect Russian aggression.”
In contrast to Trump’s “treason,” remember that, as part of their “Russian Reset,” Obama and Hillary handed Putin control of 20 percent of America’s uranium supply. Before, during, and after that 2010 deal, investors in Uranium One poured $145 million into the Clinton Foundation. Those calling Trump treasonous seem remarkably relaxed about his predecessors’ letting Moscow capture one-fifth of America’s stockpile of the active ingredient in atomic bombs.
Finally, Putin’s tampering with U.S. elections is not necessarily a thing of the past. “We’re doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference in 2018,” Trump said Tuesday. “We’re going to take strong action to secure our election systems and the process.”
In case Russia fiddles with this year’s elections, and those down the road, Trump should press states and cities to tighten their cyberspace infrastructure, update their voter rolls, and otherwise bolster their electoral systems against Moscow’s mischief. Trump should encourage states and cities to deploy the relevant aid that he and the Republican Congress already have offered, including $380 million in election-assistance grants.
“Ensuring that those registered are real, eligible, and alive is the most important election-integrity tool,” says former federal prosecutor J. Christian Adams, president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation. “If the registration rolls are full of errors, aliens, or the dead, the election could be manipulated, and we wouldn’t even know it — especially without voter ID.”
Trump also should advocate forcefully that states and cities require voters — black, white, and otherwise — to show ID at the polls. If Putin penetrates America’s election-related databases, photo IDs will make it harder for him to get fake voters to cast ballots or simply create thousands of confounding identity mix-ups on November 6 (e.g. right name, wrong address). These could be fixed by instructing voters to use photo ID to confirm that they are who they say they are. This already is routine at airports, banks, and many government buildings. It’s neither racist at these places nor racist at the polls.
“If Russia somehow tries to alter voter-registration records — and to date there is no evidence they have successfully done so — that could include trying to insert fake voters into the registration records and then voting by absentee ballot or sending individuals in to vote in those fake names,” warns Hans Von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation, whose website details 983 criminal convictions for vote fraud. “A voter ID requirement that applies to absentee balloting as well as in-person balloting like what Kansas and Alabama have could deter that.”
Of course, if President Trump suggests voter ID as one way to frustrate Vladimir Putin’s American political ambitions, Democrats and the Left will scream themselves hoarse. Their frenzied efforts to stop such a preventive measure will expose their latest “Trump = KGB = treason = Kristallnacht” fury as just another spasm of Trump-hating partisan blather.