The whole thing was a con from the start, and even now it remains unclear whether Trump was in on the con—or was its dupe.
Is history repeating itself? Trump is advertising his meeting with Putin as his next triumph. The only alternative to supporting Trump is nuclear war with Russia, the president insists, as do his henchpeople, on the government payroll and off. But what happened?
Nobody knows. This ignorance most probably explains Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s astonishing comment when asked whether Trump was open to sending U.S. persons, including former Ambassador Michael McFaul, to Russia to be interrogated by Russian authorities.
“The president’s gonna meet with his team, and we’ll let you know when we have an answer on that.” Then, after a follow-up: “There was some conversation about it, but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States.”
That’s the sound of someone playing for time. She understands how explosive it would be to confirm the story—and she has not given up hope that it may not be true. Yet she dare not outright deny it either. Who knows what the president might have said—and whether the Russians have a recording of his words?
Typically—in fact, almost invariably—the national-security adviser joins the president’s meetings with foreign leaders, especially adversarial ones. You may remember the famous picture of President Nixon talking for the first time with Chairman Mao. In the wider-angle image, Henry Kissinger shows up just outside the close-up frame. Or think of President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in Iceland, chatting informally on a red couch—and surrounded by note takers, cabinet secretaries, and senior aides.
It’s highly disturbing that Trump would exclude his own national-security adviser from his conversations with Putin. The exclusion bespeaks a lack of presidential confidence in his closest foreign-policy aide. For Bolton to acquiesce is equally disturbing: It suggests overeagerness to hold on to a high office whose functions he is not trusted to perform.
And of course, from a public point of view, the solo meeting looks even worse. Putin helped elect Trump by means of a massive, clandestine espionage effort intended to sway the outcome of the 2016 election. For Trump to meet with his benefactor in private, emerging with secret commitments, lends credence to the very darkest suspicions about the Trump-Putin relationship.
Maybe that’s why somebody shared with The New York Times on Wednesday this stunning revelation:
Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.
The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.
The reporters on that story—David Sanger and Matthew Rosenberg—are two of the most seasoned and reputable national-security journalists in the United States. They would not have taken the decision to reveal such sensitive sources-and-methods information lightly; perhaps not unless a responsible person assured them the revelation would no longer put lives at risk. And that, in turn, raises the possibility that the sources that produced the January 2017 certainty have already been compromised, closed, or worse.