When the cant and emotionalism subside, the Helsinki summit will go down in history as a turning point in this American president’s struggle to disembowel the bipartisan regime of complacency and lassitude he successfully ran against. It may also be a modest inflection point in U.S.-Russian relations.
President Trump knew what he was getting into in holding a press conference with Vladimir Putin. He knew the press would ask him whose version of Russian meddling in the 2016 election does he believe? Putin’s? Or that of former U.S. intelligence agency directors John Brennan, James Clapper, and James Comey? The question came and President Trump quickly moved to the missing Clinton servers and 33,000 erased Clinton emails under congressional subpoena.
Trump’s response causes the ultimate evocation to the voters in this epic battle that has been lurching and raging over America and astonishing the world for two years. Many of the president’s political supporters expressed genuine regret. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Trump had “missed an opportunity” to confront Putin publicly, and Newt Gingrich said that the president’s remarks were a “serious error,” requiring immediate correction. The departing NeverTrumpers like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and Senators Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and John McCain (R-Ariz.), and even Trump late-comers like Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), were more critical. The Democrats offered almost uniform expressions of shock and anger that the president had humiliated the country.
They all missed the point. The real issue surged to the surface and into the ether in a blinding flash about five minutes after the joint press conference ended in the form of a tweet from former CIA director John Brennan.