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September 23, 2017

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There’s no reason to trust Trump on Russia

Team Trump wants us all to get over this annoying Russia thing and just move on. Sorry, sir, not going to happen.

At the G-20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany, Donald Trump met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the man whose thumb was all over the scale that delivered Trump’s victory. It was like a father meeting his offspring. But was it their first meeting? Maybe, maybe not.

For years Trump claimed not only that he had met Putin but also that the two men had a great relationship.

Then in July 2016 came the about-face. At a news conference, Trump said, “I never met Putin,” and “I don’t know who Putin is.” This, coincidentally, was the same news conference at which he encouraged Russia’s cyberattack of Hillary Clinton’s campaign to “find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

Thereafter, Trump would repeatedly deny meeting Putin or knowing him.

Clearly, Trump having a great relationship with Putin and Trump not knowing Putin at all cannot both be true.

I say this to remind you of something that you can never allow to become normal and never allow to become acceptable: Our president is a pathological liar. He lies about everything, all the time. Lying is his resting condition.

Therefore, absolutely nothing he or his team says is to be believed, ever.

With that in mind, we are told by Rex Tillerson, our secretary of state and the man upon whom Putin bestowed Russia’s Order of Friendship, that Trump “opened his meeting with President Putin by raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election,” and that Trump repeatedly “pressed” Putin on the issue, and of course Putin denied, again, Russian involvement.

The Russians say Trump accepted Putin’s denial, although the White House denied that account. Trump is full of lies and Putin is full of tricks.

Whom to believe?

Tillerson’s telling gives pause.

Asked if Trump spelled out consequences Russia would face for their attack on our election, Tillerson said Trump and Putin focused on “how do we move forward” because “it’s not clear to me that we will ever come to some agreed-upon resolution of that question between the two nations.”

At another point, Tillerson said Trump and Putin agreed to establish a working-level group “around the cyberissue and this issue of non-interference.”

This is also outrageous.

I didn’t get the sense that Trump strongly asserted as fact that Russia attacked our elections or that Trump would seek to punish Russia. The readout tells the opposite story, one of Russia being let off the hook. And this whole business of setting up a cybersecurity working group with the Russians is like inviting the burglar to help you design your alarm system.

In a Twitter tirade Sunday morning, Trump wrote: “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion. ...”

But Trump’s opinion, as expressed the day before his meeting with Putin, was that the source of the attack was something of an open question.

At a news conference in Warsaw, Poland, Trump said: “I think it could very well have been Russia, but I think it could well have been other countries.”

This is a slap in the face to our intelligence community that has unanimously rendered its verdict: It was Russia!

Trump continued on Twitter: “... We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!”

No, sir, this is not the time to “move forward” with Russia, but rather time to “move forward” against it.

Last week, CNN reported that “Russian spies are ramping up their intelligence-gathering efforts in the U.S., according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials who say they have noticed an increase since the election.”

CNN continued: “The officials say they believe one of the biggest U.S. adversaries feels emboldened by the lack of a significant retaliatory response from both the Trump and Obama administrations.”

And on Saturday, The New York Times reported the first of several stories about the meeting between members of Trump’s campaign and people connected to the Kremlin, writing:

“Two weeks after Donald Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination last year, his eldest son arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin, according to confidential government records described to The New York Times.”

The Times continued: “The previously unreported meeting was also attended by Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, as well as the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.”

The Times pointed out that the meeting “is the first confirmed private meeting between a Russian national and members of Trump’s inner circle during the campaign.”

America is under sustained, possibly even accelerated, attack by a foreign power, the same one that attacked our election, and Trump not only wavers on the source of the attack, but also refuses to condemn the culprit and in fact has a penchant for praising him.

This whole thing stinks to high heaven, and we must press on until we uncover the source of the rot.

Charles M. Blow is a columnist for The New York Times.

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