Trump Enraged After Finding Out He Stood Up to Putin

Vanity Fair

Trump Enraged After Finding Out He Stood Up to Putin

Isobel Thompson, Vanity Fair          April 16, 2018

Nothing distinguishes Donald Trump from the Trump administration like Vladimir Putin, toward whom Trump remains inexplicably solicitous despite his advisers’ insistence that Russia is a grave national-security threat.

The most generous interpretation of this discrepancy is that the president is pursuing a good-cop, bad-cop strategy to bring Russia back into the international community. This is a worthy goal, of course, if somewhat naive. As my colleague Peter Savodnik wrote last month, in the wake of the Skripal poisoning in Salisbury, the friendship Trump long sought with Putin has been forestalled by circumstances outside his control. “That breakup is happening now, whether the American president wants to be broken up with or not.”

Trump, naturally, has accepted this geopolitical reality with all the dignity of a lovesick teen whose parents have taken away his phone. As The Washington Post reports, the president had been adamant with his handlers in the White House that the U.S. response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Britain be limited.

Indeed, the president was initially hesitant to believe intelligence that Russia was responsible for the attack at all, and resisted pressure that he should respond in accordance with European allies. “Why are you asking me to do this?” Trump asked in a call with British Prime Minister Theresa May, according to a senior White House official. “What’s Germany going to do? What about France?”

At his Mar-a-Lago resort, Trump was assured by aides that both nations would expel the same number of Russians diplomats. “We’ll match their numbers,” Trump finally agreed. “We’re not taking the lead. We’re matching.” Trump was furious, then, when it was announced that France and Germany didn’t even come close to matching the U.S., and were expelling only four Russians each:

His briefers tried to reassure him that the sum total of European expulsions was roughly the same as the U.S. number.

“I don’t care about the total!” the administration official recalled Trump screaming. The official, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Growing angrier, Trump insisted that his aides had misled him about the magnitude of the expulsions. “There were curse words,” the official said, “a lot of curse words.”

Despite Trump’s private anger, his government has taken a number of increasingly aggressive steps to counter Putin. Last year, the Trump administration approved the sale of lethal arms to Ukraine. Earlier this month, his administration sanctioned a clutch of Russian officials and oligarchs, prompting Russia’s Foreign Ministry to threaten a “harsh response.” And yet Trump himself is torn. “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’ You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!” he raged on Twitter last week, after an alleged attack that killed dozens of Syrians in the rebel-held town of Douma.

Just a bit later, however, he seemed to think better of poking the hornet’s nest. “There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy, something that would be very easy to do, and we need all nations to work together,” he pleaded. “Stop the arms race?” Later that morning, he made a point of blaming “Democrat loyalists” and the “Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation” for any “bad blood” with Russia. “No Collusion,” he added, instinctually.

Over and over, however, the president’s befuddling personal admiration for Putin seems to get in the way of domestic politics. Last summer, Trump was forced to sign a sanctions bill he had opposed when Congress presented him with a veto-proof majority. (Privately, the Post reports, Trump lamented that the Mueller probe had thwarted his efforts to befriend Putin. “I can’t put on the charm,” he complained.) When Trump grudgingly approved the arms sale to Kiev, the Post reports, he was infuriated that news of the deal became public. (“For some reason, when it comes to Russia, he doesn’t hear the praise,” a senior administration official said.)

More recently, he disregarded clear instructions from advisers to “NOT CONGRATULATE” Putin for his fraudulent re-election win, but did so anyways, even inviting him to visit the White House.

The tension between Trump and his government has resulted in what are, effectively, two separate Russia strategies: one pursued by the president, and one by his administration. On Monday, the president and his Cabinet butted heads again, with Trump throwing cold water on preliminary plans to impose additional economic sanctions on Russia, announced Sunday by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Trump, according to the Post, told his national-security advisers that he was not comfortable with how punitive they were. The least generous interpretation of that decision seems to speak for itself.

Author: John Hanno

Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Bogan High School. Worked in Alaska after the earthquake. Joined U.S. Army at 17. Sergeant, B Battery, 3rd Battalion, 84th Artillery, 7th Army. Member of 12 different unions, including 4 different locals of the I.B.E.W. Worked for fortune 50, 100 and 200 companies as an industrial electrician, electrical/electronic technician.

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