Regular readers know I haven’t had much good to say about Donald Trump, but I did think he made the right decision in January when he recognized Juan Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela.
Now it’s possible that his administration has botched the subsequent effort on behalf of Guaidó and actually strengthened the Maduro regime’s hold on power. But I hoped this was one case where Trump would stand firm for democracy and against the non-democratic forces– most crucially Russia— backing Maduro.
So once again the question arises: Why does Trump turn into a puddle of orange goo every time he speaks with Vladimir Putin?
After he spoke to Putin on the phone for an hour, Trump held a news conference with the prime minister of the Slovak Republic. The first thing he emphasized was that Putin wasn’t going to get involved in the deteriorating situation in Venezuela.
“I had a very good talk with President Putin — probably over an hour,” Trump began. “And we talked about many things. Venezuela was one of the topics. And he is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela. And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid.”
Someone should tell Trump’s own secretary of state that.
In an interview Thursday, Mike Pompeo said that not only had Russia gotten involved in Venezuela, but that it had actually “invaded” it.
It makes you wonder: Does Trump have any idea what’s going on in Venezuela? Does he talk to Pompeo about it? Trump’s comments are completely opposite to how the rest of the U.S. government has talked about Russia’s involvement in Venezuela. And yet Trump seemed to simply take Putin’s word for it and then align himself with Putin’s talking points. Even just from a public relations standpoint, it was a coup for Putin.
In the same way, Trump is eager to believe Putin’s avowal of non-interference in the 2016 election despite the Mueller Report’s extensive documentation of Russian government meddling. He didn’t even mention the interference in his conversation with Putin, but apparently they shared a “light moment” over the report anyway.
Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office hours after the call with Putin, Trump described a brief exchange about the conclusion of the two-year investigation. Mueller found that while Russia interfered “in sweeping and systematic fashion,” there was not a criminal conspiracy between Russia and Trump’s campaign.
“We discussed it. He actually sort of smiled when he said something to the effect that it started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse,” Trump said. “But he knew that, because he knew there was no collusion whatsoever.”
The two leaders could not see each other during the call. Trump’s description was meant to convey that it was a light moment, a spokesman said.
Touching, isn’t it, when two leaders from different parts of the world can enjoy a moment like that?
Trump was asked repeatedly whether he raised the issue of election interference or warned Putin not to do it again.
“We didn’t discuss that,” Trump said eventually. “Really, we didn’t discuss it.”
In the past, Trump has bristled at criticism that he has not forcefully confronted Putin over Russian actions aimed at influencing the election and undermining Americans’ faith in their democracy.
After the two leaders met in Helsinki last July, Trump accepted what he called Putin’s “extremely strong and powerful” denial of election interference, despite the opposite conclusion by American intelligence agencies.