Kremlin photo

Russia Is Laughing at Us

And that’s exactly what the Kremlin wants

by MATTHEW GAULT

The White House swore up and down that Pres. Donald Trump’s decision to fire FBI director James Comey on May 9, 2017 had nothing to do with the FBI’s investigation into alleged ties between Trump and Moscow. But Trump’s own letter to Comey seems to indicate otherwise.

“While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgement of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau,” Trump wrote, in a classic case of protesting too much.

The high-profile shit-canning sparked a media firestorm that led to my favorite headline of the week. “Sean Spicer Had a Meltdown After Trump Fired Comey, Hiding in Bushes and Demanding Darkness,” Newsweek reported, rehashing a great Washington Post story.

The Post later clarified that the White House’s communications director was “huddled with his staff among bushes near television sets on the White House grounds, not ‘in the bushes,’ as the story originally stated.” What a relief.

The Russia madness didn’t end there. A meeting between Trump, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov on May 10 added fuel to the conspiratorial fire. The whole thing happened in the Oval Office — and the White House kept the U.S. press out of the meeting.

Russian state media, however, took lots of photos.

Moscow didn’t miss a single opportunity in the days following Comey’s firing to make Trump look like an asshole. Russian president Vladimir Putin’s goal is, and always has been, to undermine American power by making the president look weak.

Who knew it’d be so easy?

Here’s the thing — collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow is far from being a proven fact. Sure, the scant evidence we do have points to some kind of connection. But it could be years before we know the full scope of that connection, if it truly exists at all.

But that doesn’t mean that the Kremlin isn’t taking full advantage of the appearance that Trump is vulnerable to Russian influence.

For Moscow, an actual inappropriate partnership between Trump and Putin is beside the point. Every hint of scandal undermines Trump’s legitimacy. This is about casting doubt and sowing discord, not taking control.

Putin offered the American media a masterclass in expert-level trolling when CBS cornered the Russian president following a charity hockey game. The CBS reporter wanted to know how Comey’s firing might change Russian-U.S. relations.

“There will be no effect,” Putin said while standing in a tunnel, decked out in his hockey gear. “Your question looks very funny to me. Don’t be angry with me. We have nothing to do with that. President Trump is acting in accordance with his competence, in accordance with his law and constitution. What about us? Why we?”

The Russian president then grinned and invited the reporter to join him on the ice. “Acting in accordance with his competence” is the best backhanded compliment I’ve ever heard.

Putin’s off-the-ice remarks were nothing compared to ridiculous shitstorm the Kremlin stirred up when it posted photos of the May 10 meeting between Trump, Tillerson and Lavrov.

The timing of the confab was, frankly, terrible. Making matters worse, White House officials closed the meeting to the U.S. press, but allowed a Russian photographer into the room to snap some photos. Again, not the smartest move.

The White House reportedly thought the photographer was Lavrov’s personal assistant. It turned out he worked for TASS, a state-owned media outlet. The White House discovered the deception when the photographer posted the photos online following the meeting.

The incident, coming on the heels of Comey’s firing, caused a red panic in Washington. Intelligence experts even speculated that the Russians might have bugged the Oval Office.

White House officials first downplayed the danger, saying that the photog had gone through all the same security checks that everyone else does in order to get into the building. Then they contradicted themselves and claimed that the dirty Russians had tricked them.

“We were not informed by the Russians that their official photographer was dual-hatted and would be releasing the photographs on the state news agency,” a White House source told The Washington Post. Pleading ignorance only made the administration look even more incompetent.

CNN got a more candid response from a White House official. “They tricked us,” the source said.

Alexandr Scherbak, the Russian photographer, admonished everyone on Facebook. “I admit that this is all nonsense to me,” he wrote. “I’m appealing to American journalists not to lose their sense of professional dignity and not to pass onto other people their own failure to organize a photoshoot with U.S. press access.”

He described the entire meeting as boring, innocuous and routine. Which is probably true. But it still looks bad — and that’s the point. Kicking U.S. reporters out of a closed meeting with Russian officials, then allowing Russia state media to take pictures … is weird.

Doing it the day after you fired the guy investigating your ties to Russia is worse. Claiming the Kremlin tricked you after the fact is stupid beyond belief.

These stories, taken together, reveal a lot about the real relationship between Trump and Putin. The former KGB man is playing a game the business mogul can’t understand, let alone keep up with.

Moscow isn’t interested in anything other than causing chaos in Washington. A weak and stupid president — and Trump is both — reduces Washington’s influence and boosts Moscow’s.

Putin is smarter than Trump is and understands the media landscape far better. With a well-timed photo-op and a backhanded compliment before a hockey game, the Russian president prodded the U.S. media to cry conspiracy.

Even better, Putin made his alleged pal look like a moron in the process.

One day, probably far in the future, we’ll know the truth about possible ties between Putin’s regime and the Trump administration. Until then, we’ll have to settle for watching the former spy troll an ignorant old man — and turn the U.S. government into a geopolitical joke.

Stay defiant.

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