The botched Putin summit gives Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein some breathing room
Even for a Friday the 13th, it was a strange event. Just three days before President Trump was scheduled to have his first one-on-one meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the top U.S. Department of Justice official in charge of the Russia investigation laid out the most detailed accusations yet of how Russia worked to elect Trump in 2016. After giving less than two hours’ public notice, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took the podium on the seventh floor of Justice Department headquarters and, in his low-key, straightforward manner, announced that 12 more Russians had been indicted for allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election.
The 29-page indictment, delivered by special counsel Robert Mueller, accused a handful of senior Russian intelligence officers of orchestrating a hacking scheme that penetrated Democratic campaign groups and led to the theft of thousands of emails and other information. In his prepared remarks, Rosenstein said he’d briefed Trump on the details earlier that week. Asked if Trump indicated his support for the findings, Rosenstein said he’d let the president speak for himself.
Three days later, he did. Standing next to Putin, Trump called the Russia investigation “a disaster for our country” and sided with Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies on the question of Russia’s efforts to tilt the election. Trump refused to denounce Putin for the attack and said he didn’t see any reason why Russia would interfere in the U.S. election—a sentiment he’s since tried to walk back, saying he misspoke.
The Putin summit was always going to be strange. But coming as it did on the heels of the bombshell indictments, the discussions backed Trump into a corner. His apparent willingness to please a Russian leader in such a public setting will reverberate for months, with effects almost too large to measure. All the more baffling is that this is apparently the way Trump wanted it to happen. According to accounts from people familiar with the decision, Rosenstein offered Trump the choice of having the indictments come out before or after the Putin summit. Trump chose before, in the hope that it would strengthen his hand.
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