President Donald J. Trump loves Vladimir Putin, the Russian strongman—as do the right-wingers who love Trump.
But motives hardly matter in this new time; for white nationalists like former White House strategist Steve Bannon, Trump’s weakness for Putin serves Bannon’s dark vision for a reordering of the world, one that has little respect for democracy or civil rights. In the days preceding Trump’s visit to London, Bannon got himself a nice hotel suite in which he courted European far-right leaders, such as Brexiteer Nigel Farage and the National Front’s Louis Aliot—during which he stoked the chaos gripping the government of the United Kingdom over negotiations with the European Union over the terms of the U.K.’s exit from that economic alliance.
As he did in Britain, Trump adhered to the Bannon playbook in Brussels—this time wreaking havoc at the NATO summit with demands that NATO allies double the percentage of each nation’s gross domestic product it pledges to devote to defense spending.
And it was all capped off by that disastrous press conference in Helsinki, at which Trump demonstrated a fealty to the Russian president in far greater measure than any commitment he maintains to uphold the Constitution of the United States. As Trump entertained Putin’s proposal for turning over a former U.S. diplomat for questioning by the Kremlin, he demonstrated his respect for the Constitution to be not so much.
Now we learn that Trump, who reflexively rejects the findings of his nation’s own intelligence and law enforcement communities that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election (despite occasional scripted walk-backs of that stated view), has invited Putin to the White House, just weeks ahead of the 2018 midterm congressional elections.
The invitation was apparently proffered minus any consultation with his national intelligence director (NDI), who was caught off-guard during a public appearance when informed that the president had just tweeted news of his invitation.
The occasion was the Aspen Security Forum. NDI Dan Coats was on stage, being interviewed by NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell, who dropped the surprise on Coats right then and there.
“Say that again?” said Coats, incredulous. “Did I hear that right?”
Oh, yes, you did, Mr. Coats. Indeed you did.
The president of the United States wants to entertain, in the White House, the man U.S. intelligence services say intervened in the election that ultimately landed Trump in the Oval Office. If Putin accepts, he will arrive as an investigation of the election matter by Special Counsel Robert Mueller is ongoing. A Putin visit would no doubt please the evangelical foot soldiers of the Trump base. And it would elate the white supremacists who form the leading edge of support for Trump’s racialized policies on immigration and law enforcement. Of course, the mere fact of the invitation surely pleases Vladimir Putin, patron of the Quisling from Queens.
Whatever Putin has on Trump is endangering the republic. It’s a weakness that allows his manipulation by Putin, who has long wished to destroy both the EU and NATO.
Congressional leaders surely know this, but other than paying lip service to the obvious fact that Vladimir Putin is not our friend, they’ve yet to rein in the president. After all, the midterms are only months away, and Trump is popular with the Republican base—the people who show up at the polls for midterm elections.
Any responsible member of Congress, regardless of party, should be willing to censure this president for his egregious behavior in Helsinki. No read-out or comprehensive statement about what the president and Putin discussed at the closed-door summit has been issued by the White House. Yet, according to the Russians, agreements were made.
Meanwhile, something worth contemplating is the $1 billion lent to Donald Trump by a bank with some shady practices. Justin Kennedy, the bank official who made the loan, is the son of the Supreme Court justice who just stepped down in time to give Trump a nomination to make just ahead of the mid-terms. Justin Kennedy made that astonishingly large loan when he was an executive at Deutsche Bank, which has been sanctioned by the U.S. for laundering the money of Russian oligarchs.
Maybe there’s something in that billion-dollar loan that Putin has on Trump. Or maybe it’s something else. But now that we know the president of the United States entertained the idea of handing over, for questioning by Russian officials, a former U.S. ambassador—for the political purposes of the Russian president—it’s pretty clear where the U.S. president’s allegiance lies. And it’s not to the United States of America.