Trump’s approach to the Russia investigation reveals what attorneys call “consciousness of guilt.” He acts as if special counsel Robert Mueller poses an existential threat. Accordingly, one way to assess Trump’s self-interested behavior on many topics — not just the Russia investigation — is to view it through the Putin Prism.
Applying the Putin Prism to this week’s Trump-Russia Timeline update produces an interesting perspective on several new entries relating to the G-7 summit.
Lobbying for Putin
Leaving for the summit on June 8, Trump said, “Russia should be in this meeting. Why are we having a meeting without Russia being in the meeting? And I would recommend, and it’s up to them, but Russia should be in the meeting, it should be a part of it… They should let Russia come back in.”
Unlike most of Trump’s proclamations at impromptu sessions with reporters, his lines seemed rehearsed.
Then for two days at the summit, he pressed the case for Putin’s inclusion, acknowledging only that “something happened a while ago where Russia is no longer in.” The “something” was Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which led to its expulsion from what had been the G-8 group of industrialized democracies.
A Bizarre Twist
After the summit ended and Trump had left, he tweeted that the US would not sign the G-7 joint statement. The media accepted as true Trump’s stated reason: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s relatively mild remarks at the final G-7 press conference, where Trudeau released the statement to which all countries, including the US, had agreed previously. Reporters wrote off Trump’s tweets as just another case of his impulsive reactions to what he perceived to be a personal slight.
It was more than that. The next day, Trump spokesmen Larry Kudlow and Peter Navarro appeared on Sunday morning news programs, parroting a more dramatic version of Trump’s new talking point: Trudeau had “stabbed Trump in the back.” Anyone familiar with the rise of authoritarianism in Weimar Germany after World War I bristled at that phrase.
Using the Putin Prism
Running these events through the Putin Prism produces a much different storyline. When Trump left Canada, the joint statement was a done deal. He had agreed to it. At the supposedly offending press conference, Trudeau didn’t say anything different – or new – from his prior public responses to Trump’s threats concerning new trade tariffs against Canada, a stalwart ally.
Trump’s stated reason for reneging on the G-7 communique makes no sense. So use the Putin Prism to test this hypothesis: Maybe someone on Air Force One briefed Trump on the 4,000-word statement. Certainly, if Putin and his advisers read it, Item 17 would have caught their attention:
— “We urge Russia to cease its destabilizing behaviour, to undermine democratic systems and its support of the Syrian regime.”
— “We condemn the attack using a military grade nerve agent in Salisbury, United Kingdom.”
— “We urge Russia to live up to its international obligations, as well as its responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, to uphold international peace and security.”
— “We reiterate our condemnation of the illegal annexation of Crimea and reaffirm our enduring support for Ukrainian sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. We maintain our commitment to assisting Ukraine in implementing its ambitious and necessary reform agenda.”
— “We recall that the continuation of sanctions is clearly linked to Russia’s failure to demonstrate complete implementation of its commitments in the Minsk Agreements and respect for Ukraine’s sovereignty….”
— “Should its actions so require, we also stand ready to take further restrictive measures in order to increase costs on Russia.”
If Trump viewed the G-7 statement through the Putin Prism, he saw that reneging on his prior support for the statement was preferable to upsetting Russia’s president.
A Different Perspective
The Putin Prism is a versatile tool for understanding some of Trump’s seemingly inexplicable behaviors. For example, scandal-ridden EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt keeps his job. Why? Because if Trump ever persuades Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign, he could appoint Pruitt as acting attorney general without a confirmation hearing. In that scenario, Pruitt would replace Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein as Mueller’s supervisor and could, effectively, terminate Mueller’s investigation.
Likewise, consult the Trump-Russia Timeline and apply the Putin Prism to a key episode: Don Jr.’s statement that Trump dictated to describe the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Russians promising “dirt” in Hillary Clinton.
- July 7, 2017: The Times asks the White House for comment on a breaking story about the Trump Tower meeting. The White House stalls for time on the grounds that Trump’s team is busy at the G-20 summit in Germany.
- July 7: At the summit, Trump initally meets with Putin personally. The only other attendees are Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and two interpreters. But later during dinner, Trump has a second, private conversation with Putin. This time, only Putin’s interpreter is present.
- According to Trump’s later account of his dinner conversation with Putin, “We talked about adoptions.”
- July 8: Aboard Air Force One on the return trip to Washington, Trump dictates Don Jr.’s statement describing the June 9 meeting: “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children…”
Where did Trump get the “adoptions” idea for Don Jr.’s statement? The Putin Prism reveals a plausible and upsetting answer.
Whenever Trump says or does something that seems bizarre on its face, run it through the Putin Prism. Some of his strangest actions might make more sense than you think. And that’s troubling.
Now you know why, in addition to the Trump-Putin discussions at the July 2017 summit, this week’s update to the Trump-Russia Timeline now includes all other known dates that Trump and Putin have spoken since Trump took office: Jan. 28, 2017, Apr. 3, 2017, May 2, 2017, Nov. 21, 2017, Dec. 14, 2017, Dec. 17, 2017, and Feb. 12, 2018.
Take a look at what else was happening around those dates. You will be amazed. And you’ll begin to understand why one of Trump’s first initiatives after the November election was to create a “back-channel” with Putin.
Here’s a complete list of this week’s Trump-Russia Timeline updates:
JAN. 28, 2017: Putin Calls Trump
FEB. 17, 2017: Cambridge Analytica Director Meets With Assange
APR. 3, 2017: Trump Calls Putin
MAY 2, 2017: Trump Speaks With Putin
AUG. 1, 2017: White House Admits Trump ‘Weighed In’ on Don Jr.’s Misleading Statement (revision of previous entry)
NOV. 21, 2017: Trump Speaks With Putin
DEC. 14, 2017: Trump Speaks With Putin
DEC. 17, 2017: Trump Speaks With Putin
FEB. 12, 2018: Trump Speaks With Putin
APR. 11, 2018: Trump Architect Drops Out of Sight
APRIL 21, 2018: Swiss Banks Freeze Vekselberg’s Assets
MAY 23, 2018: Schiff: Send Interview Transcripts to DOJ For Perjury Investigation
MAY 31, 2018: Graham Suggests Rosenstein’s Recusal; DOJ Responds
JUNE 4, 2018: Trump Asserts Power To Pardon Himself
JUNE 4, 2018: Trump Attacks Mueller/Media “Witch Hunt”
JUNE 4, 2018: Sanders Refuses To Explain Her Previous Lie; Giuliani Says Sekulow Made a “Mistake”
JUNE 4, 2018: Mueller Accuses Manafort of Witness Tampering
JUNE 5, 2018: Trump Attacks Comey, Sessions, and Russia Investigation
JUNE 5, 2018: Parscale Launches Pro-Trump Website
JUNE 5, 2018: Vekselberg Has Repaid Bank Debt, Cut Foreign Holdings
JUNE 6, 2018: Ryan Sees No Evidence To Support Trump’s “Spy-gate” Claim
JUNE 7, 2018: Trump Tweets About Mueller, Comey, and the Need to Investigate Democrats
JUNE 8, 2018: Trump Says He’ll Stop Talking About Trump-Russia For Awhile, But Doesn’t
JUNE 8, 2018: Trump Says Russia Should Be Readmitted to G-7
JUNE 8, 2018: Mueller Indicts Kilimnik; Adds Charges Against Manafort
JUNE 9, 2018: Trump at Summit: Russia Should Rejoin G-7
JUNE 9, 2018: Trump Reneges on G-7 Joint Statement