On Sunday, Donald Trump’s view of Russian election meddling was that it was a “hoax.” Today, it’s “I know you are, but what am I”:
While the overall message is self-serving and misleading, some of what Trump says here is true. The Trump administration has been “tough” on Russia. It has passed new sanctions on numerous oligarchs and officials over human rights violations, election meddling, and Russia’s conflict with Ukraine. It expelled dozens of Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain. Administration officials, notably U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, have strongly criticized Russia for backing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and helping North Korea evade sanctions. The Trump administration has, in contrast to the Obama administration, agreed to send lethal aid to the government of Ukraine, albeit with some restrictions.
And nearly all these moves, according to extensive reporting and sometimes the president’s own public statements, were undertaken despite Trump’s extreme reluctance. To take just one example, after the expulsion of the diplomats in March, Trump was, according to the Washington Post, “furious that his administration was being portrayed in the media as taking by far the toughest stance on Russia.” Of course, he’s more than happy to take credit for “toughness” when it suits his purposes.
We’ll have to see if that extends to backing the latest round of sanctions legislation coming through the Senate in what seems like a direct response to his chummy summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
As for whether Russian bots and trolls could back Democrats in the upcoming election, it’s quite possible! And plenty of experts have predicted it could happen. After all, Russia’s political project in the United States was probably never to promote long-term Republican dominance; it was to sow discord and paralysis. Just as it has in Russia for years, the Kremlin was allegedly often willing to back two sides of the same fight in the United States, promoting rallies by supporters and opponents of Trump, for example, or Black Lives Matter activists and white supremacists.
But we don’t need these facts to determine whether Putin wanted Trump to win: Putin said he did.