With Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin huddling Wednesday in Geneva it’s worth remembering a similar summit between Putin and Donald Trump in 2018 – one of the lowest points of a presidency absolutely stuffed with them.
The two presidents met in Helsinki on July 16, 2018 – a meeting that came amid special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The central issue was whether Trump would confront Putin about Russia’s involvement in a US presidential election.
That, um, didn’t happen. In a joint news conference after their meeting, Trump not only refused to condemn Russian interference but seemed to side with Putin and against his own intelligence community.
“I hold both countries responsible,” Trump said in response to a question from the American press about Russia’s interference. “I think that the United States has been foolish. We’ve all been foolish. We’re all to blame.”
He later added that Putin “was extremely strong and powerful in his denials” of election meddling. And this: “My people came to me, [former Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.” (Trump later clarified that he meant “wouldn’t” rather than “would” in that last sentence.)
While that was the worst of it, there was so much else bad in the Trump-Putin presser. A few select lines from that debacle:
* “There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it. And people are being brought out to the fore. So far that I know, virtually none of it related to the campaign. And they’re going to have to try really hard to find somebody that did relate to the campaign.”
* “We won the Electoral College by a lot: 306 to 223, I believe. And that was a well-fought – that was a well-fought battle. We did a great job.”
* “But just to say it one time again – and I say it all the time – there was no collusion. I didn’t know the president. There was nobody to collude with. There was no collusion with the campaign.”
* “So let me just say that we have two thoughts. You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server – haven’t they taken the server. Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee?”
So, yeah. Not only did Trump throw his own intelligence community under the bus but he also managed to make mention of the number of electoral votes he won, repeatedly insisted (in the middle of an investigation) that he had not colluded with Russia during the 2016 campaign and even managed to float a wild conspiracy theory concerning the whereabouts of a DNC server.
In a piece about the summit I wrote at the time, I called it “the most shameful, stunning moment of the Trump presidency.”
Almost three years on – and with another American president meeting with Putin – it’s clear that Trump’s actions (and inaction) during the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol were worse than what he did in Helsinki in 2018. But man, it took a lot for Trump to go lower than where he was then.