Putin gives Trump a humiliating brushoff

WASHINGTON — It certainly didn’t take long for Russian President Vladimir Putin to give the back of his hand to President Donald Trump in their much anticipated face-to-face meeting in Germany.

Putin essentially told him, “Go away, kid, you bother me,” in response to the U.S. intelligence community’s unanimous finding of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. When Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who sat in along with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, reported that Trump had agreed with Putin that it was best that they just “move forward,” neither Trump nor Tillerson voiced any objection.

Lavrov played the kindly cop on the beat who tells an on-looker, “Move along, folks, nothing to see here.” Trump might have been expected to offer some official outrage, and at least a threat to impose some damaging economic sanctions, but he was mute on the matter. Tillerson merely mentioned later that some members of Congress were pushing for more sanctions.

In a way, it was not surprising that the American president did not press the case. After all, for weeks he had discredited his own intelligence agencies by describing their findings as a hoax and a witch hunt.

The previous day, Trump had said the Russians and private parties were probably involved but that “nobody really knows for sure.” Now Putin reiterated that “there were no grounds to believe that Russia interfered in the U.S. electoral process,” adding about Trump, “It seemed to me that he took it into account and agreed.” To listening reporters, he suggested, “You should ask him.”

Concerning this highest-profile issue on the table, the wily Putin ate Trump’s lunch while giving him a left-handed compliment, observing that “the television Trump is very different from the real man.”

Apparently aware of public doubts and criticism of Trump’s intellect, Putin rather patronizingly noted: “He is absolutely specific, adequately perceives his interlocutor, analyzes quickly, answers the questions he is asked and (handles) whichever subjects arise during a discussion.” In other words, Trump can actually walk and chew gum at the same time.

Tillerson also reported that the two leaders had agreed on some unspecified arrangement to talk further “regarding commitments of noninterference in the affairs of the United States and our democratic process,” leading Republican Sen. John McCain to observe Putin “could be of enormous assistance … since he’s doing the hacking.”

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York called Trump’s observations “disgraceful.” He said Trump “had an obligation to bring up Russia’s interference in our election with Putin, but he has an equal obligation to take the word of our intelligence community rather than that of the Russian president.”

As for Trump’s observation to Putin that it was “an honor to be with you,” The Washington Post editorially demurred: “It is not an honor to sit down with the leader of a regime that invades peaceable neighbors, covertly interferes in the elections of democratic nations, and orchestrates and tolerates the assassination of domestic political opponents and journalists.” But the editorial agreed it was wise for the two leaders to hold their first face-to-face meeting.

In a Sunday appearance on CNN, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley went beyond Trump’s ambiguous observations on the Russian meddling. “Everybody knows it happened,” she said, and that the Russians are “doing this across multiple continents … in a way that they’re trying to cause chaos within the countries.” But when asked what she expected the U.S would do about it, she merely offered: “We’ll see what happens.”

Unlike Putin and other national leaders departing the G20 Conference in Hamburg, Trump left without holding a press conference for the many American and other reporters there. Left unanswered was the question of any U.S. retaliation to the Russian meddling in the election that put Trump in the White House.

Trump himself continues to blame Oval Office predecessor Barack Obama for letting the Russians get away scot-free for the assault on American democracy. What’s more important to Trump now, apparently, is to “move on” to whatever next indignity this nation may suffer as he mindlessly labors to “make America great again.”