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Trump’s unapologetic apology

In the immediate aftermath of President Trump’s despicable performance in Helsinki, I can’t help but feel sorry for everyone whose job it was to prepare the president not to embarrass himself. I’m sure they tried their best. I’m sure that no one in those positions intended for him to endorse Vladimir Putin’s claim that Russia did nothing to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election.

I know of no new convincing evidence that might help us understand why Trump did this. Bribery? Extortion? Stupidity? Ego, based on an unwillingness to accept or acknowledge needing such help to steal the election? Something else? I wonder if we’ll ever find out. Maybe even Trump doesn’t know.

But Tuesday’s development — in which Trump claimed to have misspoken by one syllable and accidentally said the opposite of what he meant to say, and that it took him a day to figure it out — is, even by the debased standards of the lies that he regularly asks his followers to believe,  a bridge too far.

It is in fact insulting. And I pity anyone who finds this one-syllable two-letter correction a convincing explanation of Trump’s real intent.

In case you have any doubt, let’s just put up the transcript. Notice, it begins with a very specific question about whether or not Trump believes the U.S. intelligence community, which has concluded with high confidence that Russian operatives engaged in interference with the 2016 election.

Associated Press reporter Jonathan Lemire: “Just now president Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded 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?”

The answer would be hilarious if it came from Groucho Marx in “Duck Soup.” But it came from the current incumbent in the Oval Office. Please read it and try to remember the original question. (Note: nothing in that question mentions Hillary Clinton’s computer server.)

Trump: “So let me just say we have two thoughts. We have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server. Why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee? I’ve been wondering that. I’ve been asking that for months and months and tweeting it out and calling it out on social media. Where is the server? I want to know, where is the server, and what is the server saying?

With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, [director of national intelligence] Dan Coats 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, but I really do want to see the server, but I have—I have confidence in both parties. 

I really believe that this will probably go on for a while, but I don’t think it can go on without finding out what happened to the server. What happened to the servers of the Pakistani gentleman that worked on the DNC. Where are those servers? They’re missing. Where are they? What happened to Hillary Clinton’s e-mails? 33,000 e-mails gone, just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily. I think it’s a disgrace we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 e-mails.

So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did, is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. Okay? Thank you.”

The unresponsiveness is incredible. First there’s a predictable change of topic to the Clinton server, and only then an acknowledgement that the U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia interfered. But there’s absolutely no endorsement of that community’s consensus view (which is backed up by facts in an actual indictment issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller).

Instead, Trump’s answer features praise for the strength and power of Putin’s denial. Mr. Trump worships strength and power, so I take it as a pretty strong endorsement that he leans toward believing Putin or at least that he leaves open the possibility that Putin is telling the truth and that the U.S. intelligence community is mistaken or biased.

Incredible. He doesn’t say whom he believes, but he seems to be leaning toward Putin. So all hell breaks loose, and Republicans who have never criticized him before do so, demanding that he retract his remarks, apologize, and endorse the unanimous conclusion of the U.S. intelligence community.

Instead, on Tuesday, Trump issues a ridiculous, unconvincing and unresponsive clarification that’s supposed to take care of the problem. I’ve included the full text below, plus a link to a video, but let me summarize it first.

Trump says that he couldn’t understand the fuss about the statement, quoted in full above, so he reviewed the tape and discovered that that he had misspoken one word by one syllable, that he had said “would” when he meant “wouldn’t,” and that this had given the erroneous impression that he didn’t have full confidence in the findings of his intelligence community.

I’ll candidly admit that I don’t believe any slip of the tongue was involved. But how can I know? Nonetheless, even if you change the one “would” to “wouldn’t” it has almost no impact on the overall impression that Trump doesn’t know whether Putin or the intelligence community is telling the truth.

Here’s Trump’s unconvincing clarification/takeback, which begins with him expressing astonishment that his statement at Helsinki was causing such a ruckus and that he couldn’t understand how anyone thought he was doubting the intelligence community:

“I came back and I said, ‘What is going on? What’s the big deal?’ So I went out there and reviewed a clip of an answer that I gave. And I realize there’s a need for some clarification.

It should have been obvious, I thought it would be obvious, but I would like to clarify just in case it wasn’t —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 I wouldn’t,’ or ‘it wouldn’t be Russia.’

So, just to repeat it, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t.’ The sentence should have been — and I thought I would maybe be a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video — the sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative. So, you can put that in and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.”

Personally, I don’t believe a Trumpian slip of the tongue was involved. But even if you allow him to edit his remarks to fix the “slip,” Trump’s statement still says that the intelligence community believes the evidence shows Putin interfered, while Putin says he didn’t; it still says Trump has “confidence in both parties” (one of whom is Putin), still emphasizes the strength and clarity of Putin’s denial, and still expresses no doubt about Putin’s denial.  At no point does Trump say he didn’t believe Putin, nor does he say that he does believe the U.S. intelligence community.  And of course, more than half of Trump’s  answer is concerned with Clinton computer server, which is irrelevant to the original question.

Here’s the paragraph is question, in which he said, “I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia” but wishes he had said “wouldn’t be Russia:”

“With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, [director of national intelligence] Dan Coats 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 [but he meant to say wouldn’t] be, but I really do want to see the server, but I have—I have confidence in both parties.”

There’s video of Trump’s “clarification” in this Washington Post clip.

Comments (19)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/18/2018 - 11:29 am.

    Trump’s responses to any topic are always a mixture of bluster, lies, incoherence, mis-statement of fact, ignorance of facts and repetition of long-held but dis-proven beliefs. Any notable firestorms after these answers is walked back by some sullen ultra-specific half-denial/non-denial which does not change the overall direction of the response, and then a day or so later, he walks back his denial.

    What is really notable in this issue is how any responsible Republican would have thought that Trump should hold a private, off the record meeting with Putin.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 07/18/2018 - 12:15 pm.

      John Kerry

      Back when a GOP president could merely be accused of extreme recklessness but not treason, Dem nominee John Kerry was called a “flip-flopper”.

      Who’s flip-flopping now?

      • Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/18/2018 - 01:13 pm.

        Out of politics vs the subject of today

        You can go back in time and come up with a contrary or justifying response to a politicians statement anytime you want. Kerry is long out of politics. We are dealing with a current politician who is irrational, lives on a different planet, can’t deal with honesty no matter the subject, and should not be in office. Extreme narcissism is a mental disorder. Not being a doctor I find it is undeniable that the president suffers from extreme narcissism, which should not be the country’s problem to deal with. America has many critical problems that are not being dealt with because of a man with extreme narcissism. The GOP needs to admit they elected the wrong person and start working for those they were elected to serve, all the people in our country.

    • Submitted by LK WOODRUFF on 07/18/2018 - 12:48 pm.

      Trump’s been thumbing his nose at America all along.

      This latest ‘faux pas’, done blatantly on a public worldview stage and on foreign soil, just finally crossed way too many lines. He is a treasonous traitor. He and his corrupt regime, and all complicit REPs, and all the willfully and blindly allegiance ‘followers’ need to be dismissed from their positions and from our lives.

      This will give Trump lots of time to deal with all of the many, many lawsuits awaiting him. Though I strongly suspect he’ll be dealing with them from jail, since I am confident Mueller et al have left no stone unturned regarding his many illegal and nefarious actions (e.g., bank fraud, money laundering, tax evasion, conspiracy and more….)

      The next ‘private’ meeting between Trump and his handler, Putin, can take place at his jail. Unless of course Putin decides Trump is no longer relevant to him, in which case he will direct his demise. Because be clear: Putin does not plan to share world dominance with anyone, including ol’ suck up Donny.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/18/2018 - 12:00 pm.

    Stock answers

    Trump has a limited set of stock answers which he gives to any question, whether or not they’re relevant to that question.

  3. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/18/2018 - 12:46 pm.

    Would vs Wouldn’t

    Trump’s clarification using the word “Wouldn’t” to replace the “Would” is the first time he used “Wouldn’t” in this or similar sentences, “I don’t see any reason why it WOULD be, but I really do want to see the server, but I have—I have confidence in both parties.” The corrected sentence is just a stupefying sentence. It wasn’t the Russians goes contrary to what ALL of our Intelligence Agencies tell us. How did. “Where is the server make it into the same sentence?” I have confidence in both parties say he trusts the US Intelligence Agencies and Russia and they came up with different answers. I have heard Trump’s babble called word vomit, which is hard to deny. I have to wonder how much longer the GOP is going to allow Trump to continue to make the Republican Party meaningless. It has gotten to the point you can’t believe a word Trump or the Republican Party says. I guess that explains the smart ones getting out of the party as they can’t justify GOP dogma any longer either. Note to Trump and the GOP, the political honeymoon is long over.

  4. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/18/2018 - 12:52 pm.

    Another Issue

    He still seems to think it would be a good idea to have Putin and his minions investigate electoral Russian interference. Presumably, he would also be okay with US law enforcement helping Putin go after one of his critics (William Browder), since that was part of the offer of assistance.

  5. Submitted by David LaPorte on 07/18/2018 - 12:56 pm.

    Wiggle room

    Trump didn’t even firmly endorse the unanimous conclusions of our national intelligence agencies in his so-called “walk back”. He left the door open for the meddling not being Russia. From the NY Times:

    “Could be other people also,” Mr. Trump said, appearing to ad-lib. “A lot of people out there.”

    His ego won’t let him admit that the Russians helped him because it calls into question whether the elections was, using his word, “rigged”. It’s somewhat comforting to know that the people around him are (more) clear eyed, but he IS the president.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/18/2018 - 01:10 pm.

    The irony

    It is ironic that Trump’s own patriotism is being questioned after he was the guy who demanded NFL players should stand for the National Anthem.

  7. Submitted by Jim Bernstein on 07/18/2018 - 01:24 pm.

    Mr. Trumps Obsession

    Given his obsession with everything Hillary Clinton and his constant reminder to himself that there was “no collusion”, could it be that Mr. Trump knows that in fact his victory was engineered by his Russian collaborators? Mr. Trump seems too much like the school yard bully who needs to keep intimidating others to conceal his own weakness.

  8. Submitted by Joe Musich on 07/18/2018 - 01:43 pm.

    Well this …

    quote from Christopher Moore’s Noir fits, “…the dried apple face of scrutiny….!” He will not be above reproach.

  9. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 07/18/2018 - 02:48 pm.

    The scripted “wouldn’t” that purported to walk back Trump’s ad-libbed comment in Helsinki is a change that makes no logical sense in the sentence as he spoke it. Which is basically, “It wasn’t Russia . . why wouldn’t it be”? in the amended version. A nonsense sentence.

    Not to speak of Trump’s inability to simply read a script: He followed with an ad-libbed contradiction of what HE HAD JUST SAID!

    Do the White House folks who are left–anybody worth their salt is long since gone to better work with more integrity–really think that Americans, and the world audience, are that dumb?

    I still can’t get over the Hillary Clinton and DNC junk he spewed in Helsinki. Where’s his brain?

    • Submitted by Misty Martin on 07/19/2018 - 09:12 am.

      I think I know where his brain might be . . .

      In the same place where it was when he made that infamous “Access Hollywood” tape with Billy Bush, first heard on 10/8/16. And this is the man responsible for making what can prove to be, life-altering decisions for our country and its citizens on a daily basis? Scary!

  10. Submitted by Curt Carlson on 07/18/2018 - 04:01 pm.

    Just watch the press conference and see if, in the context his body language and facial expression, there is any way he possibly could have intended to say “wouldn’t”. Of course not.

    He’s not a man for fine distinctions, and he seems to find it impossible to understand that it is at least logically possible for Russian interference in the election to have occurred without collusion with him or his campaign. But there’s that foreign word: logically.

  11. Submitted by Mike Chrun on 07/18/2018 - 04:10 pm.

    .4 % Drop

    I know it’s early but since the weekend his poll numbers have gone down by less than 1%. That is just absolutely astounding. He questions the patriotism of NFL players, and at a rally this summer I believe he said that the folks who weren’t cheering him but sitting stone-faced were “treasonous.” Yet he attacks our closest allies; is actively undermining European cooperation among its countries; and basically trying to blow up NATO which has been the main defense against Russian aggression for over 60 years. And he continues to praise a dictator who has seized land from a neighboring country, murdered opponents, and was complicit in destroying a civilian airplane resulting in the deaths of innocent people.

    We already see the walking back of the walking back. And we see the counter-spin led by right-wing media. Let’s blame it on Obama. What about Hillary? Oh, we don’t understand his genius and this whole bizarre last week will make America great. And a few Republicans criticize him but will fall in line again. Hey, tax cuts and Supreme Court justices and deregulation is what we want. Democracy and freedom be damned.

  12. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/18/2018 - 10:38 pm.

    The outline of the Trump/Putin quid-pro-quo becomes clear after the meeting in Helsinki. The amazing (!?1) offer of turning 12 Americans over to Putin for questioning in exchange for sending over the 12 GRU officers to coordinate the Mueller investigation reveals the matter at the heart–the actions that led to the Magnitsky Act and the consequences of that act.

    It turns out that the Magnitsky act really crippled the ability of Putin and his oligarch buddies to move themselves and their money freely in the rest of the world. The mid-campaign meeting at Trump tower with the Russian lawyer laid out the deal–Clinton dirty deeds revealed in exchange for dropping the Magnitsky act (the adoption issue was another effect of the act). There is a lot of pressure on Putin by the mighty and powerful in Russia to do away with the act so business as usual can resume. It didn’t hurt that Trump properties had already seen the benefit of the laundered oligarch money and there were pre-existing financial deals and future deals to be made.

    And today, Ms. Sanders said that the sending of the 12 to Russia for investigation is “under consideration “. It should be clear to all that this is the heart of the deal–the dismantling of the Magnitsky act.

    The 12 are Bill Browder, the friend of the murdered Magnitsky, Michael McFaul the former US Ambassador to Russia, Homeland Security Department official Todd Hyman (who testified in a deposition against Prevezon, a Russian company accused of laundering proceeds from the fraud uncovered by Sergey Magnitsky), Svetlana Engert (who supposedly stole criminal case materials from Russia), Alexander Shvartsman (who supposedly oversaw Browder’s stay in the U.S.), Jim Rote (a supposed CIA agent acting as Browder’s “financial manager”), Robert Otto (who supposedly served as deputy director of a U.S. intelligence agency until January 2017), David Kramer (who recently served as an adviser to the U.S. State Department), Jonathan Wiener (a long-time aide to John Kerry and an adviser on national security), and Kyle Parker (a recent U.S. State Department official)….

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/19/2018 - 08:36 am.

    Tunnel vision doesn’t help

    Let’s not pretend that Trumps joint press conference happened in a historical vacuum. The day before his “summit” with Putin Trump was interviewed at his money losing golf resort in Scotland. He was asked specifically about briefing’s he received from Dan Coats verifying past Russian infiltration’s AND current attacks presently underway. Trump’s response was that he’d have to check into that, but generally Coat’s knows what he’s talking about. He went on to say that he’d “ask” Putin about it and Putin better not lie!

    This was an astounding interview that was largely overlooked. First, our POTUS admitted to knowing nothing about current and ongoing Russian cyber attacks (he’d have to check into it) despite being briefed that red lights are flashing all over the place just as they were prior to 9/11. And remember, this is the President who claims tariffs and border walls are ALL about national security. He also admitted that the final word on Russian interference would be Putin’s word, Putin may lie, but he still gets the last word. This was the day BEFORE the joint press conference.

    Trump has ALWAYS said he believes Putin’s denials… because his denials are so strong and sincere. As if Trump has never dealt with a liar.

    And let’s not forget what this summit was really about- the basis for this “Summit” goes all the way back to the G7 summit back in June when Trump declared that the EU is an enemy. At the time Trump was trying to get Russian back into what would then be the G8 again. THAT’S when all this talk about a future “summit” between Trump and Putin began.

    Then at the joint press conference Trump repeats his claim that “all” he can do is “ask” Putin whether or not he’s launching cyber attacks on the US, and if Putin denies it, then we have to take his word for it. Presumably this is how a POTUS is the hardest on Russia that any POTUS has EVER been… he “asks” a question. By the way… we have no proof that Trump really did ask this question.

  14. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 07/19/2018 - 10:00 am.

    I want to know

    How is it that Ronald Reagan knew Trump would be president someday? Paraphrasing Reagan, “The government is the problem”. He seemed to know that Trump was going to be president someday. Reagan nailed it, our one-man government is a major problem. The cowardly GOP have been worked into a corner they don’t know how to get out of. The result is they have abdicated their power to the president and turned into a do-nothing congress. Trump is taking the entire party right down the rabbit hole. Trump can’t deal with domestic issues and he can’t deal with international issues because he has too many personal issues. It is not the publics responsibility to deal with his personal issues. His daily barrage of incompetence is not a way to run a government. At the end of the Nixon term President Gerald Ford said, “Or national nightmare is over”. We will hear those same words again when Trump has vacated the office.

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