Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

The Trump press conference: Down the rabbit hole we go


In a press conference this morning, Donald Trump pleaded with Russian government hackers suspected of breaking into computers at the Democratic National Committee to also find and release emails of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

“It would be interesting. Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said, staring into the camera as he signaled a desire for further Russian meddling in American politics. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

"Because you'd see some beauties there," he said. "So let's see.”

Trump also defended Russia against increasingly strong evidence from federal intelligence officials and private cyber-security experts that the DNC hack had been conducted by Russian government agencies. The source of the cyber-attack was "probably not Russia," Trump said, although he cited no evidence or expert analysis on which to base that conclusion. "It's probably China, or somebody sitting in his bed."

"I never met Putin," he said. "He said one nice thing about me, that I'm a genius."¹

When invited to condemn Russia's concerted hacking campaign and tell Putin to keep his nose out of our politics, Trump declined.

“I’m not going to tell Putin what to do. Why should I tell Putin what to do?”

Yes indeed. Why should a top American political leader tell Russian leaders to stop hacking into the private computers of U.S. citizens, U.S. political groups, U.S. government agencies, U.S. media outlets? What business is it of an American leader to try to keep foreign powers from meddling in our democratic elections?

I guess it's consistent, if nothing else. Trump has already repeatedly suggested that if Russia were to invade NATO allies such as Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania, the United States under President Trump might stand by and do nothing, despite our pledge to defend those countries.

He also said this morning that as president, he might officially recognize the forced annexation of Crimea by Russia and also might lift sanctions that were imposed on Russia as punishment for that aggression.

So what else?

Trump said that he has been doing well, very well, among Hispanic voters.

He talked again of wanting to be friendly with Russia, because we need their support against ISIS. "Wouldn't it be nice if we got along with people?" he said. He then immediately launched a rhetorical attack against France, which has been one of our strongest military allies against ISIS and has conducted hundreds of air attacks against ISIS targets. That support is a major reason why France has been targeted for terror attacks.

To Trump, though, France is no longer a place that anyone would want to visit. "France is no longer France," he said. "France is no longer France. They won't like me saying that."

He returned to Putin's relationship with President Obama:

"Number one he doesn't like him. Number two he doesn't respect him. I think he's going to respect your president if I'm elected. And I hope he likes me. President Trump would be so much better for U.S.-Russian relations."

He denied that he has any investments or business deals in Russia. He and his staff continue to duck the question of whether Russians have investments in him. He said that if Russia is indeed responsible for the hacking, it reveals a lack of respect on their part that he, as president, would somehow correct immediately.

He addressed the contents of the already leaked DNC emails, which included a suggestion from a DNC staffer that it might be useful with more conservative voters to highlight Bernie Sanders' alleged atheism. (There is no evidence that the stupid suggestion was ever acted upon.)

"They were terrible things," Trump said, putting on his shocked face. "Talking about Jewish. Talking about race. Talking about atheism. Putting labels on people. It was a disgrace.

Trump also attacked President Obama as the most ignorant person ever to hold the office. This was shortly before he attacked the performance of Hillary Clinton's running mate, Tim Kaine, during his time as governor of New Jersey.

Tim Kaine was never governor of New Jersey. Tom Kean was N.J. governor from 1982-90.

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UPDATE @ 2:40 p.m. : I'm beginning to see attempts by Newt Gingrich and others to explain away Trump's behavior as some sort of poor joke gone awry. I would find that more believable if Trump hadn't already indicated support for this kind of behavior:

Finally, ask yourself this:

If the Russians do release the Clinton emails in the next few days, plus more embarrassing emails culled from the DNC servers, would The Donald's reaction be:

A.) Anger and outrage at the Russians for spying and and for daring to meddle in internal American politics, or

B.) Glee and delight at any political opportunities that might arise, while excusing any Russian role in the matter.

Based on his reaction to the release of emails to date, the only plausible answer would be B, Trump would welcome that intervention and be utterly delighted. After all, that's exactly how he responded to the first round of such emails, and he clearly has no intention of changing that approach.

So no, this is the furthest thing from a joke.

¹In a Republican presidential debate last November, in an effort to build his foreign policy stature, Trump told a quite different story. "I got to know (Putin) very well because we were both on '60 Minutes,' we were stablemates, and we did very well that night," he said.

The question then becomes whether Trump was lying then or lying now. The answer is that he was lying then.

He and Putin never came close to meeting -- they were on separate continents and were interviewed separately for separate segments on '60 Minutes'. And despite Trump's publicly expressed hopes that Putin would grant him a meeting when he was in Moscow for a Miss Universe pageant, it never took place.


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.