The efforts of Donald Trump and his buddy Vladimir Putin to help Russia get off scot-free after hacking the U.S. election have hit a snag: Congress. As challenged as the GOP-controlled Congress has proven to be, lawmakers appear to have brokered an agreement on a measure strengthening sanctions against Russia and preventing Trump from unilaterally lifting them. Oh, bother. What both Trump and Putin failed to appreciate was that being president in the U.S. isn't exactly like being president in Russia—the U.S. Constitution actually provides safeguards and checks for a president who would gladly outsource our governance to a foreign entity, all to puff up his wounded ego.
This was something that two men who are used to playing by their own rules—the ones they alone set—totally overlooked. Taken together, their complete alignment against the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russian hacked our election is now backfiring. The lockstep preference of a U.S. president for a hostile foreign power's version of events over that of our own intelligence operatives was a little too close for comfort for Congress—even an ideologically-driven one that would much rather be using Trump's signature for other priorities. But Putin's brazen denials along with Trump's inability to accept that he might not have triumphed in the election without Putin running interference is finally sinking the dinghy they've been huddling on together amid the sea of evidence engulfing them. The New York Times' David Sanger writes:
Mr. Putin is beginning to pay a price for what John O. Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, described last week as the Russian president’s fateful decision last summer to try to use stolen computer data to support Mr. Trump’s candidacy. For his part, Mr. Trump ignited the movement in Congress by repeatedly casting doubt on that intelligence finding, then fueled it by confirming revelation after revelation about previously denied contacts between his inner circle and a parade of Russians.
If approved by Congress this week, Mr. Trump has little choice, his aides acknowledge, but to sign the toughened sanctions legislation that he desperately wanted to see defeated.
Why oh why would a U.S. president who has blithely alienated nearly every U.S. ally be so eager to side with Putin in his denials of wrongdoing? Trump's new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, spelled it out pretty clearly over the weekend.
He said that when the subject comes up, Mr. Trump cannot separate the intelligence findings from his emotional sense that the issue is being used to cast doubt on his legitimacy as president.
“It actually in his mind, what are you guys suggesting?” Mr. Scaramucci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “You’re going to delegitimize his victory?”
If so, Mr. Trump is the only one with access to the best intelligence on the issue who still harbors those doubts.
As for Putin's interests: he certainly treasures sharing the stage and stature with the leader of the most powerful country in the world. But the sanctions do matter.
Russia has stumbled along at barely 1 percent growth, and the new sanctions, while hardly draconian, will not ease its pain.