President Donald Trump gave the sluggish scandal that still has no name an ass-slap of giddyap at the G-20 conference this week in Hamburg where he met the scandal’s purported auteur, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Shaking Putin’s hand, patting his back and pronouncing it an “honor” finally to meet his counterpart, Trump confirmed himself Russia’s most powerful supplicant.
Even Russia-scandal skeptics had to cringe at the servile mewling of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who spoke to the press after the two-hour-plus mini-summit, which included the principals, Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, and two translators. Tillerson said Trump raised the subject of Russian campaign meddling but that Putin had denied it and at that Trump agreed to move on.
Lavrov told the press that Trump accepted Putin’s assurances that his country did not interfere in the American election. “There was not a lot of relitigating of the past,” Tillerson agreed, which was a peculiar thing for him to say seeing as relitigation is Trump’s default posture. The president, who is a grudgemaster and accomplished Twitter duelist, imagines himself a tough negotiator. He’s made so many contentious and frivolous court appearances he could pass for a vexatious litigant.
If the mark of a great diplomat is the ability to speak craziness with a straight face, Tillerson earned admittance to the Dips Hall of Fame. A “framework” for cybersecurity cooperation would be set up between the two countries, he promised. This would be like going into the fencing business with the guy who burgled your house. Sounding more like a therapist than the secretary of state, Tillerson said, “We’re unhappy. They’re unhappy,” and explained that salvaging this “really important relationship” meant blotting out the recent unpleasantness. (Take a shot of amnesia and call me in the morning.) Then Tillerson produced a laugh line that topped his previous ones. “The Russians have asked for proof and evidence” of the meddling, he said. Perhaps he should buy Putin a subscription to the Washington Post.
And remember, Tillerson was the smart one representing the United States in the room.
The meeting was a giant exercise in “Don’t Think About Russian Meddling,” restoking speculation on what Putin might have on Trump. Back in the U.S.A., heavy sobbing sounded in the corridors of the deep state, where hankies and terry cloths were filled with tears. The gnashing commenced Thursday when Trump gave one of his rambling, having-it-both-ways speeches in which he concluded that the Russians meddled in our election but also that “nobody really knows” whether they did and besides it could have been “others.” This conflicts with the findings by every tier in the U.S. intelligence establishment, which insists the Russians—and the Russians alone—did it.
Will the shame of the mini-summit provoke new leaks? Things have been pacific on that front for the past couple of weeks for several reasons. The deep state leaks its muddiest matter when threatened or when its sense of justice is infringed, obeying an internal “checks and balance” prerogative. The big no-name scandal leaks started with the arrival of the Trump administration, as the intelligence establishment panicked over national security adviser Michael Flynn’s unreported phone chats with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. When Trump administration officials ignored Acting Attorney General Sally Yates’ warnings about Flynn’s treachery, the deep staters ratted him out with classified surveillance information. In May, the intel establishment leaked again because it doubted that the Trump administration would sanction son-in-law Jared Kushner for meeting with the ambassador to pitch the idea of establishing a back channel at a Russian diplomatic site for the Trump transition team to talk to Russia. Later in the month, leaked news that Russian government officials had been overhead discussing “derogatory“ information about Donald Trump and his aides during the 2016 campaign minted new, sensational headlines. Again, this was not information the Trump administration would likely disseminate.
The deep state’s confidence in oversight and process has risen since the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller and his subpoena-wielding legal army. With Mueller on the case, leaks to the press make less sense than scheduling an appointment with one of the special prosecutor’s tough guys. Mueller has placed a lockdown on his team, so don’t expect leaks from him. It’s gonna be a long, hot, dry summer unless the targets of the investigation start gushing to the press on the direction of their attorneys.
What explains how and why Putin continues to out-maneuver the alleged master of media? Perhaps it made sense for Trump to bow to Putin when he was staging a beauty pageant in Russia and soliciting Russian cooperation in his business ventures. As many have noted, he has a natural affinity for strong men bound by nothing more than their own appetites. But the display in Hamburg defies reason. Instead of acting like the leader of the first world, Trump is acting like a job applicant, beveling his words so as not to offend Putin. The same goes for his secretary of state. As the G-20 talks slip into the rear-view mirror, Trump has positioned himself in Putin’s garden as a piece of statuary, perhaps a toad, locked into a perpetual smile in the direction of his master.
Trump would be lucky if the no-name scandal, which began as an intelligence investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election, ended in Hamburg, with Putin’s assurances and his acquiescence. But given the money-laundering experts Mueller has hired, his investigation might turn out to be as much Russian money and influence as propaganda and hacking. Trump has repeatedly called the special prosecutor’s investigation a “witch hunt.” But what if witches really exist, and Trump and his coven have committed myriad financial crimes? Trump’s double-talk and relationship with Putin won’t be of much use to him if the dirty-money trail leads to the White House.
The name game continues. Submit your nomination to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com—be prepared for me to use your name if I decide to run it. This week’s nominations: “Battleship Pro-Trumpkin” (Raena Grace Padilla); “The Spy Who Came in From Trump Tower” (Tobe Berkovitz); “Trumps-a-Daisy” (Patrick Chavez); “The Screwdriver Tapes” (Jonathan Bryant); “The Wash-Sickle” (Rick Ambrose); “Merde-a-Loco” (WHC Basetti); “Dom Iz Kart (House of Cards)” (Gail Vida); “All the King’s Comrades” (Raena Grace Padilla); “The Screwdriver Scandal—Vodka And Orange” (Brent Scarcliff); “The Scarlet Twitter” (Michael Prapuolenis), “The MAGAlomaniac Scandal” (Paul and Jeannette Lewis); “Czar Nickelless” (Dave Morrow); “Collusion for a Bruise’n” (Greg Bristow), “An Inconvenient Trumpth” (Christopher Assini); “Hack-a-Rooskie” (Robert Foels); “For Whom the Bear Trolls” (Brice Russell); “The Continental Grift” (Bela Selendy), “Ivankait to Stop Already” (Laura McNamara); “Wrussomania” (Frank Liu); and “Plot Against America” (Joshua Krist). My email alerts have hacked my Twitter feed which has installed ransomware on my RSS feed.