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Episode #802: At the Speed of Trump
First Broadcast: 7/23/18
Repeated: 9/17/2018
It started on Monday, July 16, when President Trump held a two-hour meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland--for reasons that are still unclear to everyone besides them--with no one else besides their translators in the room. Later that day, Trump and Putin gave a joint press conference, in which one reporter asked Trump this question:

President Trump, you first. Just now, President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. My first question for you sir is, who do you believe? My second question is would you now, with the whole world watching, tell President Putin, would you denounce what happened in 2016 and would you warn him to never do it again?

Trump replied in a way that did not inspire confidence in anyone who thought he might have the United States' best interests at heart:

My people came to me, Dan Coates, came to me and some others they said they think it's Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it's not Russia. I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be.

The White House certainly didn't help things by also omitting part of this exchange from its official transcript:

Q: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
A: Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal.

Those, along with several other remarks by Trump that praised Russia and denigrated the United States, generated an avalanche of responses from people throughout the political spectrum. "Disgraceful," said Anderson Cooper. "Treasonous" and "imbecilic," said John Brennan. "Tragic," said John McCain. Senator Chuck Schumer got even more direct:

A single, ominous question now hangs over the White House: What could possibly cause President Trump to put the interests of Russia over those of the United States? Millions of Americans will continue to wonder. The only possible explanation for this dangerous behavior is the possibility that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.

At this point, it was clear to everyone in the White House who wasn't Trump that something had to be done to walk back his remarks. On Tuesday, July 17, 27 hours after his original statement, Trump made this announcement in front of reporters:

In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word "would" instead of "wouldn't." The sentence should have been: "I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be Russia." Sort of a double negative. ... I have a full faith and support for America's great intelligence agencies. I accept our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia's meddling in the 2016 election took place--could be other people also. A lot of people out there."

The immediate about-face of this walk-back was bad enough, but then it got worse one day later on Wednesday, July 18, when ABC News reporter Cecilia Vega asked Trump some questions:

"Is Russia still targeting the U.S., Mr. President," Vega asked.
"Thank you very much, no," he said.
Vega pressed: "No?! You don't believe that to be the case?"
He responded: "No."
Vega asked again a third time: "But can you just clarify, you don't believe that to be the case?"
The president ignored that question.

After that, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump was not saying "no" in answer to that question, but instead he was "saying 'no' to answering questions. ... He does believe that they would target, certainly, [the] U.S. election." This latest reversal prompted Senator Susan Collins of Maine to ask, ďThereís a walk-back of the walk-back of the walk-back of the walk-back? This is dizzying.Ē

Later that same day, CBS News aired an interview that reporter Jeff Glor conducted with Trump, which featured this exchange:

GLOR: "You say you agree with U.S. intelligence that Russia meddled in the election in 2016."
TRUMP: "Yeah and I've said that before, Jeff. I have said that numerous times before, and I would say that is true, yeah."
GLOR: "But you haven't condemned Putin, specifically. Do you hold him personally responsible?"
TRUMP: "Well, I would, because he's in charge of the country. Just like I consider myself to be responsible for things that happen in this country. So certainly as the leader of a country you would have to hold him responsible, yes."

That's where things stood right before we taped this episode, and as you might expect, Trump has gone on to contradict everything he's said since then in a single tweet:

So President Obama knew about Russia before the Election. Why didnít he do something about it? Why didnít he tell our campaign? Because it is all a big hoax, thatís why, and he thought Crooked Hillary was going to win!!!

Is it any wonder that people like Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire now want to subpoena the American translator who accompanied Trump to his meeting with Putin, to find out exactly what was discussed there and what, if anything, was promised by Trump on the behalf of the United States? I dread what stories will make this look like ancient history in the days to come.

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