There’s some crosstalk in the video, but Donald Trump appears to have answered ABC reporter’s Cecilia Vega’s question about whether Russia is still “targeting” the U.S. with a “no”—and he definitely followed it up with the facially absurd claim that Vladimir Putin is scared of him:
The White House is claiming thatTrump’s “no” wasn’t in reference to the Russia question, but Daily Beast White House reporter Asawin Subsaeng says it was “clear” to others in the room that Trump’s “no” was a response to Vega. (Update, 4 p.m.: Vega says that Trump was looking at her when he spoke and that she believes he was answering her question.) In any case, the gist of his subsequent statement was that Russia wouldn’t want to mess with us anyway: “We are doing very well, probably as well as anyone has ever done, with Russia. There’s been no president, ever, as tough as I am on Russia. All you have to do is look at the numbers, look at what we’ve done, look at sanctions, look at ambassadors not there, look unfortunately at what happened in Syria recently, and I think President Putin knows that better than anybody, certainly a lot better than the media.”
• The question about “targeting” presumably refers to whether Russia will continue to seek influence in the U.S. through politics-related hacking, propaganda, and other intelligence operations. On Tuesday, the Department of Justice charged a Russian woman named Mariia Butina with ingratiating herself into the NRA and Republican Party at the behest of the Kremlin; a filing on Wednesday asserted that Butina has contacts in Russia’s FSB intelligence agency. Trump administration director of national intelligence Dan Coats said last Friday that “warning lights” regarding the threat of further Russian hacking attacks are “blinking red.”
• Other presidents were obviously tougher on Russia. Next.
• Trump has been in a running battle with congressional members of his own party regarding sanctions in which he has consistently opposed their imposition.
• This is what he’s referencing in Syria. This is the “ambassadors” thing. He meant “diplomats”; we still have an ambassador in Russia. It’s a small mistake, but it would be nice if just once he didn’t make a hash out of basic details of governance, would it not?
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