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Jacob Heilbrunn Politics US Politics

Trump flings Putin in his critics’ faces

The Russian president may yet come to Washington, DC, which will only make them madder.

In a recent, compelling interview with Edward Luce of the Financial TimesHenry Kissinger observes, “I do not think Putin is a character like Hitler. He comes out of Dostoyevsky.”

It looks like Dostoyevsky will be coming to Washington soon. With his invitation to Vladimir Putin to visit Washington in the fall, Donald Trump is making it clear that he will not be deterred by the chorus of Russia hawks who are depicting him as the Kremlin’s stooge. In the July 20 New York Times, Texas Republican Congressman—and former CIA officer—Will Hurd alleges that Trump is, in essence, guilty of treason: “By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad.”

Trump seems to be calculating that he can outmaneuver his critics by flinging Putin, who has not yet accepted the invitation to DC, in their faces. Among his critics is none other than his Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, who appeared at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday to make plain his disagreements with his nominal boss. Told that Trump had asked Putin to visit, Coats responded, “Okaaaay. That’s going to be special.” The White House is said to be worried Coats has gone “rogue.”

At the same forum, however, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen faithfully adhered to the Trump line. She announced that she hadn’t seen a shred of evidence that would indicate the Russians were trying to help Trump in 2016. Today she issued a statement declaring that she really does believe the Russians tried to interfere: “I agree with the intel’s community assessment. Full stop. Any attack on our democracy, which is what that was, whether it’s successful or unsuccessful, is unacceptable. It is an attack on our democracy. Election security is national security.” You go, girl!

More attention will be focused on Trump and Russia next week when Paul Manafort goes to trial—unless he cuts a deal in the next few days. By the standards of a Russian oligarch, Paul Manafort is something of a piker. But it can’t be said that he wasn’t trying hard to reach the next echelon of conspicuous consumption. His belongings, including a $21,000 Bijan watch and some of the bespoke suits he purchased from the House of Bijan, an establishment on Rodeo Drive that places monogrammed linen coasters under crystal water glasses for its customers, will go on display during his trial as evidence of his cupidity. Maybe he can sell some of his habiliments at auction to defray his legal costs.

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