One major feature of Donald Trump's Asia trip has been his inconsistent and incoherent statements with regard to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. Trump White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway tried to square those statements this weekend by explaining that safeguarding U.S. elections from Russian interference isn't really Trump's job anyway.
Trump created controversy when he told reporters aboard Air Force One that he believes Russian dictator Vladimir Putin when he says he did not interfere in our elections and criticized then-U.S. intelligence leaders who made that assessment as “political hacks.”
Then, in what is charitably being billed as a “clarification,” Trump explained that he meant he believes Putin really believes he didn't interfere while also claiming he is “with our agencies, especially as currently constituted,” agencies whose assessment has not changed. One telling and essentially unreported fact is that Trump never said he believes that particular assessment, only that he “believe(s) very much in our intelligence agencies.”
In an interview with “This Week” fill-in host Martha Raddatz, Conway was asked to explain Trump's contortions, and she went with the old Dr. McCoy “I'm a president, not an election-protecty-guy” defense (emphasis added):
RADDATZ: Those two statements seem to contradict each other. Which is it?
CONWAY: No, it's what I — I can't imagine the president could be more explicit. He said yesterday, as he said today, that when President Putin says it, President Putin means it. He means that they didn't interfere in the election. What the president said...
RADDATZ: So he thinks he's just delusional, President Putin?
CONWAY: No, he didn't use that word. He said that President Putin believes it. What the president believes is what's most important here. He believes the assessment of the intelligence communities. And he stands by that. He's very respectful of that. Director Pompeo of the CIA said the same thing.
And so this president has formed his judgment about that issue based on the intelligence communities in this country.
And he also — you know, the president is not the chairman of the board of elections in this country, he's the president of the United States. He wants to deal with President Putin and other world leaders — as he has for two weeks right now, Martha — on major issues like global security, on trade, perhaps, on — in other countries, on combating ISIS, on a nuclearized North Korea.
Most Americans watching this show and everywhere in this country now appreciate having a strong leader who is willing to take his counsel from the — along with the international community and put the case right to North Korea and say to Putin, and say to Xi, and say to Abe, and say to others — and then Moon, join with us in making sure the nuclearized North Korea is contained.
That certainly is one way of looking at it, but then, none of the intelligence agencies that Trump is supposedly “with” now are “board of elections” officials, either. Attacks on our democracy by a foreign power are within a president's jurisdiction, said nobody in history ever until now.
Given the state of the Trump-Russia investigation, such desperate spin is to be expected from Trump's most reliable alternative fact-generator, but the supposedly Trump-hostile media has no such excuse. The fact that Trump deafeningly refused to say he believes Russia interfered in our elections ought to be at the top of every journalist's story as yet another indication that Trump behaves like a man who is afraid to cross Vladimir Putin for some reason.
Watch the full interview below.