President Donald Trump went to Europe. He attended the NATO summit and chastised European leaders, particularly Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, for failing to live up to commitments to the defense of Europe against Russian aggression. He even accused her of being under Russian control for boosting Russian gas export earnings. In the UK, he repeated his long-stated view that Britain should fully break with the European Union, which he referred to as a "foe" of the United States. He embraced the "hard Brexit" policies of Boris Johnson, who resigned from the Theresa May cabinet over her move to reach a "soft" Brexit deal with Brussels. And then he went to Helsinki to meet with Vladimir Putin.
The substance of the talk between Putin and Trump is not fully known, except for a few brief comments by the two leaders after the one-on-one meeting had occurred. Putin acknowledged that President Trump refused to give any ground on the Russian annexation of Crimea. They discussed the need to revive negotiations on nuclear disarmament. They talked about moving the Syrian situation towards an end to the brutal seven years of war. They discussed the prospects of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
During the brief press conference that followed the summit, President Trump held both past US administrations, as well as Russia, responsible for the deterioration in Russian-American relations. If that was not a fair comment, please educate me. I listened to the entire press conference, read the transcript and re-watched the 45 or so minutes a second time. It was in response to the final question, from an AP reporter, that the President refused to take the bait. Sitting next to the Russian President, having just launched an effort to genuinely "reset" relations between the two nations that control 90 percent of the world's thermonuclear weapons, Trump tried, clumsily, to avoid the "gotcha" moment over Russian alleged interference in the 2016 presidential elections.
As was the case with his "impolitic" comments at Brussels and in London, Trump spoke bluntly about what he views as a mainstream media, FBI, Democratic Party jihad against his presidency. In his mind, Russiagate is all about replaying the 2016 elections to prove he was not legitimately chosen by the American people to be the 45th President of the United States.
I have heard, repeatedly, in the days since the Helsinki meeting (it was not a summit) that the President "chose Putin over the US intelligence community." Not once have I heard any anger at the fact that the AP reporter blatantly tried to undo whatever goodwill had been established between the two leaders in their private discussion. I was frankly appalled by the sheer chutzpah of the question, given the fragile relations between the two thermonuclear-armed states, and given the intent behind the question.
The US media jumped triumphantly all over those final moments of the press conference. Obama's CIA Director John Brennan, now a media pundit, tweeted that Trump's actions were "high crimes and misdemeanors" effectively calling for his impeachment. Even if this is all about domestic politics in a midterm election year, it's pretty disgusting.
In following the President's European adventure, I read the entire "Brussels Declaration," the final communique from the NATO heads of state summit. It read like a criminal bill of indictment against Russia. The NATO leaders–Trump included–set forth a military buildup and force restructuring that aims to secure the European flank for the foreseeable future. European leaders pledged to meet the 2 percent of GDP defense spending obligation by 2024, a clear concession to Trump (and Mattis') demands. So where in all of this did Trump hand the keys to the White House to Vladimir Putin?