Donald Trump was briefed by top White House aides on a plan to aggressively confront Vladimir Putin at their meeting this week, but Trump refused and took a different tack — publicly praising the Russian president at a controversial press conference.
A report from the Wall Street Journal claimed that officials advised Trump to take the Justice Department’s indictment of 12 top Russian military officers and “shove it in Putin’s face and look strong doing it.” The indictments claimed that these officers led a campaign to hack emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chief, which were then leaked online in a bid to harm Clinton’s election chances.
Many had publicly called on Trump to confront Putin over the indictment and the assessment of the American intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 election on Putin’s orders. Before the summit in Helsinki, Finland, Republican Senator John McCain said Trump should cancel the meeting if he was not prepared to aggressively confront Putin.
“President Trump must be willing to confront Putin from a position of strength and demonstrate that there will be a serious price to pay for his ongoing aggression towards the United States and democracies around the world. If President Trump is not prepared to hold Putin accountable, the summit in Helsinki should not move forward,” McCain said in a statement (via The Hill).
But as the Wall Street Journal noted, Trump did not listen to the advice of McCain or his own security team.
“It was a well laid-out plan. Unfortunately, he didn’t execute on it,” the official reportedly continued.
Instead, Trump appeared to praise Vladimir Putin in a press conference after their private meeting, siding with the Russian president when he claimed that Russia did not interfere with the election. Trump called Putin’s denial “extremely strong and powerful” and called into doubt the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia had interfered with the election. As Salon noted, Trump instead seemed to cast blame on the DNC itself for the hack.
— The Hill (@thehill) July 21, 2018
Donald Trump ultimately tried to walk back the claims amid widespread criticism both from Republicans and Democrats, but still has not publicly pressed Vladimir Putin or admitted that Russia was behind the election interference. There will be one more chance to put the original plan into motion, however — Trump announced this week that Putin would be making a visit to Washington, D.C., in the fall.