President Donald Trump took to Twitter on Monday and reminded the world that, yes, he really did mean what he said at the Helsinki summit about Vladimir Putin being right and the entire intelligence community being wrong.
"So we now find out that it was indeed the unverified and Fake Dirty Dossier, that was paid for by Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC, that was knowingly & falsely submitted to FISA and which was responsible for starting the totally conflicted and discredited Mueller Witch Hunt!" Trump declared in his first tweet, before going on to quote Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch.
These statements can be considered as a way of walking back or simply ignoring Trump's post-Helsinki summit retraction, when he argued that he hadn't meant to disagree with the intelligence community and support Putin's denials of election interference on the grounds that he had meant to say "President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this — I don’t see any reason why it wouldn't be."
Trump's original quote had been: "President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this — I don’t see any reason why it would be."
As CNN's Brian Stetler noted, Trump has continued to downplay the threat posed by Russia to America's democratic system despite arguing that his comments in Helsinki have been mischaracterized:
He continues to claim regularly that the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian interference in 2016 is a "witch hunt." Numerous Trump administration officials say it is not a "witch hunt." They also say the Russian effort is ongoing.
But on Wednesday, Trump left people wondering if he believes the Russians are still actively interfering in American politics.
To be clear, Trump's director of national intelligence Dan Coats says yes. Coats recently said it was "undeniable."
But when ABC's Cecilia Vega asked "Is Russia still targeting the US, Mr. President?" Trump responded "Thank you very much. No."
Vega was one member of a small press pool that was allowed inside the beginning of a Cabinet meeting. When Trump said "no," Vega followed up: "No, you don't believe that to be the case?"
Trump was again heard saying "no."
Stetler also outlined responses from both a Republican and a Democratic commentator indicating that Trump's strange behavior is being increasingly interpreted as a sign that Putin has the goods on him:
With regards to Trump's treatment of Putin and Russia, national security experts and journalists have been citing the fact pattern and saying there's something strange going on.
"No rational president would act this way if he weren't being blackmailed on some level," Republican congressman turned MSNBC host Joe Scarborough commented. Scarborough has been harshly critical of Trump for more than a year.
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, a liberal-leaning website, wrote that Helsinki "made cautious, prominent people start to come to grips with the reality" that Trump is "under some kind of influence or control by a foreign adversary."
Trump's repeated insistence that Putin did not meddle in the 2016 presidential election — followed by his willingness to turn over a former American ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, in return for giving Putin access to Russian military intelligence officers who had been indicted — has been harshly criticized, including by McFaul himself.
While McFaul told Salon that "the generous interpretation" is that Trump "didn't understand what he was talking about, he added "but let's be clear: What Putin was doing was assigning moral equivalency to a legitimate indictment with lots of evidence against several Russian military intelligence officers for violating American sovereignty in 2016 during the presidential elections, with a completely fabricated, cockamamie story invented by Putin. To even, for a moment, give any kind of dignity to what President Putin proposed was not in America's national interest, from my point of view."
Bill Browder, a British businessman who Putin hates for successfully pushing legislation that has cost Putin's cronies a lot of money, also expressed bewilderment at Trump's actions.
"I have no idea what motivates his behavior. All I can say is that the idea that he seemed to entertain for a few days of handing me and 11 Americans over to Vladimir Putin for our work on the Magnitsky Act seemed pretty horrifying," Browder told Salon.
He added when it came to the question of whether Trump's behavior demonstrated that he had been compromised by the Russian government, "Who knows? But whatever it is — I'm not a psychologist, I can't get inside his brain — but his conduct in relation to me and Mike McFaul and 10 other American officials who had been working on the Magnitsky Act makes no rational sense."