Donald Trump did it again. At Politico, Katie Glueck covers the basics:
The nominee of the Republican Party – the party that takes credit for winning the Cold War – on Wednesday appeared to align himself with Russia over his Democratic opponent, in remarks that suggested, to many, he was urging Moscow to interfere in a U.S. election.
That break with longstanding bipartisan policy toward dealing with Russia, or any foreign nation, for that matter, succeeded in getting him the lion’s share of the media spotlight as Wednesday evening programming kicked off for rival Hillary Clinton’s Democratic National Convention. But it was a leap few fellow Republicans were ready to make – with some in the party suggesting it smacked of “treason.”
Hillary Clinton’s Democratic National Convention was not the lead story. Donald Trump’s possible treason was:
The backlash began immediately after Trump’s extended riff on Russia at a Wednesday morning press conference, in which he called for Russia to “find” and release 30,000 emails deleted from Clinton’s private email server. Trump went on to promise a better relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin if elected president, saying he’d “look at” easing sanctions and recognizing Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula – something at odds with current U.S. policy – but most of the focus came back to the emails.
“I will tell you this, Russia, if you’re listening I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Donald Trump said earlier Wednesday, referencing the thousands of emails that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sent over her private email server that her lawyers had not turned over to the State Department, deeming them to be personal in nature. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
He went on to add, on Twitter, “If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!”
Trump seemed to be urging Russia to hack Clinton’s email, specifically emails at the time she was secretary of state, and that didn’t sit well in some quarters:
Those remarks, which came a day after Clinton became the first woman nominated as a major party’s presidential candidate, were “tantamount to treason,” said William Inboden, a member of the National Security Council during the George W. Bush administration, in an earlier interview with POLITICO.
“I thought it was a wildly irresponsible thing for any American to say, much less a candidate for the presidency of the United States,” said Tom Nichols, a former GOP Senate aide and a current professor at the Naval War College, when asked about Trump’s remarks. “It’s not just out of the mainstream – in terms of presidential candidates, it’s so far out of the mainstream, it’s a totally different solar system.”
Indeed, other Republicans who refrained from directly criticizing Trump also made clear that they view Russia as a major threat – and saw no role for Putin in the presidential race.
“Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug,” said Brendan Buck, spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has endorsed Trump. “Putin should stay out of this election.”
The Republicans were divided. Putin should butt out of our election. Their nominee said he should butt in. Something had to be done:
Trump is no stranger to going it alone, or to bucking the party line, but following the press conference, his campaign went into damage control mode, seeking to reset the widely drawn conclusion that Trump was urging Russia to hack Clinton’s emails. Adviser Jason Miller went on a tweetstorm insisting Trump only meant that Russia should turn over the emails to the FBI if they already had them, and not work pro-actively to acquire them.
“To be clear, Mr. Trump did not call on, or invite, Russia or anyone else to hack Hillary Clinton’s e-mails today,” tweeted Jason Miller, a senior communications aide to the real estate mogul. “Trump was clearly saying that if Russia or others have Clinton’s 33,000 illegally deleted emails, they should share them with the FBI immediately.” (A different Trump aide did not answer repeated inquiries on how Russia would acquire those emails without hacking.)
That would not do, so the man himself had to say something:
In an excerpt of a Fox News interview set to air Thursday morning, Trump appears to further distance himself from the interview.
“Of course I’m being sarcastic. And they don’t even know frankly if it’s Russia. They have no idea if it’s Russia, if it’s China, if it’s somebody else. Who knows who it is?” he says, according to an excerpt tweeted out by the network. “And what they said on those emails is a disgrace, and they’re just trying to deflect from that.”
But on Wednesday, Trump declined to say that he would urge Putin to stay out of American politics. “I’m not going to tell Putin what to do,” he said. “Why should I tell Putin what to do?”
That clarifies nothing, and the Clinton campaign had said this:
“This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent,” said Jake Sullivan, one of Clinton’s senior policy advisers, in a statement. “That’s not hyperbole, those are just the facts. This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue.”
And then there were the national security experts:
“The invitation to Russia to hack a presidential candidate’s email messages is stunning and reckless,” said Matt Olsen, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “To the extent our adversaries take this seriously, it presents a threat to the integrity of our electoral process and our national security.”
Added George Little, a former Pentagon and CIA spokesman, “This is absolutely a national security issue, and it is yet another vivid example of Trump’s complete lack of foreign policy experience. His campaign’s disturbing coziness with Russia was already a worrying head-scratcher, and this latest episode of recklessness profoundly underscores that very real concern.”
And there’s the guy from the Naval War College:
Nichols, a frequent Trump critic, noted that “we’re in a lot of hacking wars already. But that doesn’t make encouraging more – which, in his view, is what Trump did – any more acceptable.”
“It’s bad enough he doesn’t understand the gravity of what he said, but that he’s giving encouragement to a hostile foreign power is unconscionable,” Nichols said. “I don’t think he’s joking. He doubled down on it. Once off the cuff, it’s a joke. Twice, it’s policy.”
That is a bit scary, but to be fair, there are two personal biases here that color that assessment. First, the Army colonel in the family, who now runs operations at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is a graduate of the Naval War College – so Nichols’ opinion may be given too much weight here. Secondly, those of us who are still a bit Czech after all these generations in America, get a bit queasy when this man who wants to be president says Russia can keep Crimea. Crimea was part of Ukraine, an independent country that had once been part of the Soviet Union, and Putin rolled in the tanks and took Crimea back. Trump says he can keep it, and also has said that even if the three Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – are part of NATO now, when they were once part of the old Soviet Union, Trump says Putin can have those back too. Trump thinks NATO is stupid, and these guys never paid their fair share to NATO anyway, so they pay us big bucks for years of us covering their sorry asses, right now, or Putin’s tanks roll in and we shrug. They didn’t pay up. It’s a simple business deal. Some of us, however, remember the Soviet tanks rolling into Prague in 1968 to crush that Velvet Revolution. Others might remember Budapest in 1956 – same thing – the tanks rolled in – Ike did nothing. An hour after Trump is elected, expect the same thing. The tanks roll in again all across Eastern Europe. Putin takes it all back. Trump shrugs. But perhaps that doesn’t bother others. They like Trump’s style. Not everyone has Czech grandparents.
Franklin Foer, however, says everyone should understand what’s really going on here:
Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin are both lying. Only one of them, however, is cunning; the other is gaffing his way toward treason. Trump has emphatically denied ties to Russia – a claim refuted by his Twitter feed and a cursory Google search. Putin says his government had nothing to do with the hack of the DNC computers, even though it carelessly left a trail of crumbs tracing back to his intelligence services. The cunning liar is exploiting the blundering one.
It seems that only one of them is competent:
Trump isn’t a Manchurian candidate. He’s not taking orders from the Kremlin. As I wrote on Friday, Trump is a useful device for Putin – a way to hurt the United States and perhaps a way to exact revenge on Hillary Clinton. Putin has made a habit of supporting far-right candidates who undermine his foes in Europe; perhaps he never could have imagined such a character taking root on American soil. Trump’s reasons for aligning with Putin have been more innocent, if no less dangerous. Trump is a real estate guy who sucks up to power to get buildings built. And he desperately wanted to build in Russia – the dream of Trump Tower Moscow has been a constantly recurring one. “We will be in Moscow at some point,” he once proclaimed.
When he took his many trips to Moscow, Trump praised authorities so that he could get the necessary approvals. His kind words to Russian leaders and his personal style endeared him to the country’s new elite. Trump is baldly denying these efforts – “I have nothing to do with Russia,” he said on Wednesday. It’s true that his Moscow building never broke ground, but Russian investment flowed to his properties. “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., once bragged. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” Or as Trump himself once put it: “The Russian market is attracted to me.”
This investment wasn’t incidental to Trump: It was essential. After his 2004 bankruptcy, the big banks wouldn’t touch him. Who would? He had a record of litigiousness and going belly up. But Russian investors helped prop up Trump’s mega-building projects, which were crucial to his image as a man who makes things, not just a reality television star. There would be no Trump SoHo, for instance, without capital from Russia. As one lawsuit alleges, the money arrived at Trump projects through an Icelandic investment fund “in favor” with Putin’s elite and through mysterious infusions of cash from Russia and Kazakhstan into the accounts of his partners.
It’s not hard to see why this dependence, and his fawning words about Putin, would endear him to the Kremlin. Putin would be foolish not to lend Trump a quiet hand. And, indeed, his inner circle has made little secret of its rooting interest in the Trump campaign. Russia Today, Putin’s primary propaganda vehicle, routinely trashes Hillary Clinton and praises Trump’s courageous stances.
In short, Trump is being used, and Putin is being used too:
Perhaps our intelligence community has a better sense of the ultimate goal of Russia’s hack. But it doesn’t take much imagination to describe the relationship between the Kremlin and Trump campaign as symbiotic. Let’s review the events of the past few weeks. First, Trump softened the Republican Party’s stance on Ukraine; then Trump announced that he wouldn’t come rushing to the aid of NATO allies invaded by Russia. That was followed by the leak of the Democratic National Committee emails, on the eve of the convention – an event that Julian Assange implied was intended to injure Hillary Clinton. It’s hard to imagine that this chain of events was coordinated. Yet Trump and Putin profited from one another in measurable ways.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Trump made clear that he wasn’t standing in Putin’s way.
And that was that, and that’s pretty awful:
It was grossly negligent for Hillary Clinton to leave her emails so exposed, and she should be shamed and hounded for her indifference to cybersecurity. But that’s a sin of omission. By any moral calculus, Trump just committed a far worse offense. He advocated that a foreign country commit espionage in order to weaken his political opponent.
Pause to consider: The Republican presidential nominee wants another country to steal secrets from the United States and not in the interests of exposing military misadventures or for some high-minded reason. He wants to expose American secrets in order to hurt his foe. Nixonian doesn’t even begin to capture it.
Do you like his style now? Some still do, but Ezra Klein wonders if we have stopped to appreciate how crazy Donald Trump has gotten recently:
Last Thursday, Donald Trump gave a pretty normal convention speech. It was darker, grimmer, and more pessimistic than most, but it was free of Trump’s odder tics – he stayed on teleprompter, he bit back his riffs, he didn’t try to settle old scores or freelance on major policies. Perhaps this was the pivot. Perhaps Trump would settle down now that the nomination was his.
The very next day, Trump walked out and gave one of the craziest, most self-destructive press conferences in political history. He was off script. He was unhinged. He was settling scores.
“I don’t want [Ted Cruz’s] endorsement,” he said, for absolutely no reason. “If he gives it, I will not accept it. Just so you understand. I will not accept it. It won’t matter. Honestly, he should have done it, because nobody cares and he would have been in better shape for four years from now if he’s gonna – I don’t see him winning anyway, frankly.”
No one cares. Why does he care? Cruz is gone, but Trump rambled on about Ted Cruz’s father and Lee Harvey Oswald having breakfast, which never happened, and that’s a problem:
Don’t lose sight of the wild forest amid all of Trump’s screaming trees: There was no reason for Trump to say any of this. Trump had just accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president. Cruz had been vanquished, booed off the stage. Trump’s opponent, now, was Hillary Clinton. But he couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t stay on message. He couldn’t suppress the crazy, for 24 hours.
At the conservative Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes was just agog. This is “not about tactics or messaging,” he wrote. “It’s about something simpler and something much more important: Donald Trump is not of sound mind.”
Trump’s press conference today was similarly bananas. He walked out onstage and blasted the job Tim Kaine had done in… New Jersey? Of course, Tim Kaine was the governor of Virginia. Trump seems to have literally confused the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee with Tom Kean, the former Republican governor of New Jersey.
Unwilling to stop there, Trump went on to comment on the hack of the Democratic National Committee’s emails… So, yes, Donald Trump went out and asked a foreign government to conduct cyber espionage in order to help his campaign. This came only hours after his running mate, Mike Pence, had warned of “serious consequences” if Russia truly was behind the DNC hack. Apparently those serious consequences would be… future assignments from Donald Trump?
Klein is worried:
This isn’t normal behavior from a major American politician. It’s not even particularly normal behavior from Donald Trump. After he picked Mike Pence, empowered campaign chair Paul Manafort, and gave a structured convention speech, there looked to be a chance that Trump was unveiling a new, more sober persona for the general election. But he can’t do it. He can’t suppress his own mania for even a week.
It’s weird to keep saying this, but this is not okay. This is not a man with the temperament, the steadiness, the discipline to be president. The issue here isn’t left versus right, or liberal versus conservative, or Democrat versus Republican. It’s crazy versus not crazy. Donald Trump, of late, has been acting pretty crazy. That’s not acceptable in the job he’s running to fill.
And meanwhile, at that convention:
Former CIA director Leon Panetta attempted to warn the Democratic National Convention of the threat to the world posed by a President Donald Trump on Wednesday, but a small but vocal minority of conventioneers were having nothing of it.
A group of apparently pro–Bernie Sanders delegates heckled Panetta and interrupted his speech at key moments with chants of “No more wars!” and “Lies! Lies! Lies!”
Everyone is crazy these days:
When the lights were killed in a section with some of the most vocal hecklers, many of them held up their phone lights in apparent protest.
Again, Panetta was attempting to warn of the foreign policy dangers posed by a Trump presidency. “Donald Trump says he gets his foreign policy experience from watching TV and running the Miss Universe pageant,” he said. “If only it were funny. But it is deadly serious. Donald Trump asks our troops to commit war crimes, endorses torture, spurns our allies from Europe to Asia, suggests that countries have nuclear weapons, and he praises dictators from Saddam Hussein to Vladimir Putin.” It was around this time that the protest got underway, and it certainly distracted from Panetta’s attempted message.
It pretty much ruined it, and one of Andrew Sullivan’s readers says this:
You know what, I’ve had it up to my goddamned eyeballs with these petulant, perpetual college freshmen booing and chanting. Tape all your damned mouths until you’re ready to use them for something useful.
I’m a lifelong solid Democrat. A stereotypical one even. Skeptical of patriotism and the greatness of America. I went into this convention very lukewarm on Hillary. I was voting for her, but primarily because when the choice is a neo-fascist or not-a-fascist, you choose not-a-fascist. That’s your damned duty as an American.
But after the last few days, watching these bozos push their whiny lips out and shout down and boo decent people who have worked for decades to make this country better, I’m 100% with her. I’m fully on board. And it was that petulant attitude of the Bernie diehards that did it. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this patriotic. It’s my duty – all of our duties – to keep this fascist buffoon out of the Oval Office. And that the Bernie-or-busters and the craven GOP enablers of Trump can’t see that, or feel that, or understand that, makes me incensed. I will not let them pout or pander us into armbands. No fucking way.
Some resist “the crazy” that’s everywhere these days – no Nazi armbands for them – and Sullivan notes this about Michael Bloomberg’s convention speech:
I have a feeling that Bloomberg managed to move more actual undecided votes to Clinton than any other speaker so far. A brilliant move by the DNC… This is a crisp, smart and devastating analysis of the damage Trump would do to the economy. This election has to be about this choice: between a madman and a politician. “This is not reality television. This is reality.”
“Trump says he wants to run this country the way he runs his business? God help us. I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one.”
Bloomberg is speaking to people like me. He wants “a problem-solver not a bomb-thrower.” He knows business. Trump knows very little about business. This is effective beyond this hall.
And Bloomberg deviated from his prepared speech at the end – “Together, let’s elect a sane, competent person.”
That would be Hillary Clinton. It seems she has her own billionaire on her side, the former Republican mayor of New York, now an independent, perhaps ten to a hundred times richer than The Donald, who says that party doesn’t matter. This is sane versus insane, which Sullivan puts this way:
One candidate in this election is unhinged, treasonous, contemptuous of American liberties, and at war with the core interests of the Western democracies. And an entire political party is refusing to call this out. They are cowards and quislings and pathetic appeasers. Their party deserves to be eviscerated in this election. If it isn’t, if their nominee wins, it will be America that will be eviscerated.
Sullivan notes that Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, tweeted this about the whole evening – “American exceptionalism and greatness, shining city on hill, founding documents, etc. – they’re trying to take all our stuff!”
Sullivan – “Well, you gave it all away to a thug.”
And by the way, he’s not sane, and it’s getting worse.