The President’s attempt to reverse the damage—clearly the result of a panicked White House staff—only worsened the matter. Speaking from the White House Cabinet Room on Tuesday, Trump tried to take his listeners for fools as he explained that he had merely been misunderstood by the press. This was one of the most shameless walk-back attempts in the history of the American Presidency. Reading from prepared notes, which always lends to his delivery a hostage-like cadence, Trump tried to half-apologize to the American intelligence community for equating its analysis with that of Putin and the F.S.B. And, with that, the lights suddenly went out. The President sat in darkness. Even before the worldwide commentariat had a chance to voice its incredulity, the White House electrical system had called bullshit on Trump. Or was it a higher power?
Afterward, “some Republicans close to Trump”—that would of course be The Donald His Very Self—weighed in:
Some Republicans close to Trump and the White House said staffers should have backed him up more forcefully in the hours after the Putin summit, arguing that the prepared statement amounted to a public cave-in.
“Whoever in the White House advised him to make that statement today should not only be forcibly ejected, but be banned from politics for eternity,” said one of these Republicans, calling Trump’s prepared remarks “ridiculous.”
By contrast, David Frum keeps his focus on the big picture:
The reasons for Trump’s striking behavior—whether he was bribed or blackmailed or something else—remain to be ascertained. That he has publicly refused to defend his country’s independent electoral process—and did so jointly with the foreign dictator who perverted that process—is video-recorded fact.
And it’s a fact that has to be seen in the larger context of his actions in office: denouncing the European Union as a “foe,” threatening to break up NATO, wrecking the U.S.-led world trading system, intervening in both U.K. and German politics in support of extremist and pro-Russian forces, and continually refusing to act to protect the integrity of U.S. voting systems—it all adds up to a political indictment, whether or not it quite qualifies as a criminal one.
America is a very legalistic society, in which public discussion often deteriorates into lawyers arguing about whether any statutes have been violated. But confronting the country in the wake of Helsinki is this question: Can it afford to wait to ascertain why Trump has subordinated himself to Putin after the president has so abjectly demonstrated that he has subordinated himself? Robert Mueller is leading a legal process. The United States faces a national-security emergency.