Donald Trump's refusal to stand up to Vladimir Putin don't just signal dangerous permissiveness to Russia — it also shows North Korea that "direct attacks on [our] homeland" will go unpunished.
To no one's surprise but everyone's disgust, Donald Trump once again showed his subservience to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin during his trip across Asia.
But Trump's disturbing unwillingness to stand up to Putin — indeed, to take the side of the U.S. intelligence community, and the nation as a whole, against a hostile foreign adversary — sends dangerous signals that go further than the Kremlin.
Aboard Air Force One on Saturday, Trump told reporters that he doesn't believe the overwhelming consensus from the intelligence community, which confirms that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Instead, he believes Putin, simply because Putin keeps telling him what he wants to hear.
"He said he didn't meddle. He said he didn't meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times," Trump rambled.
"Every time he sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that,'" he continued. "And I believe, I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it."
Trump went on to lash out at members of the intelligence community, including retired Lt. Gen. James Clapper, a distinguished combat veteran whom Trump smeared as a "political hack."
And he was humiliated almost immediately when the Kremlin denied Trump's accounts of his conversation with Putin.
Even so, his comments about Putin, and specifically the clear implication that a massive and unprecedented attack on our democracy will go unpunished and in fact disbelieved, simply because the mastermind behind it offers Trump a super special promise that he really truly didn't do it, is even more damaging than it may seem at first blush.
As Samantha Vinograd, a national security analyst for CNN and a former National Security Council official, noted troublingly, Putin is not the only volatile dictator hearing Trump's words.
SANCHEZ: And part of the reason that this trip to Asia was so important is because the president wanted to present a united front between Asian allies and North Korea, specifically saying during a speech that he doesn't back down from conflict. But it seems like he's avoiding conflict with Vladimir Putin. What does this say to our allies in that part of the world, and really all over the world?
VINOGRAD: Well, it's ironic that just a few days ago in Seoul, President Trump said the United States does not run away from conflict or confrontation. He did exactly that today, which tells Vladimir Putin that Vladimir Putin can continue to do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, at no cost — including attack the United States again. It also tells Kim Jong Un that the United States doesn't respond to a direct attack on the homeland. That's a very dangerous messages to send to a guy that's threatened to launch missiles at the United States.
As an ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration noted recently in response to Trump tweeting threats at North Korea, "If President Kennedy had acted this way during the Cuban Missile Crisis, we would all be dead."
With each new day and new raft of mortifying statements, Trump seems determined to prove that warning true.
And it's quite possible the message is being heard loud and clear in North Korea.