Trump shook hands with Putin, winked at him, and then pointedly ignored reporters' questions about whether the two men would discuss Russia's election interference during their summit in Helsinki.
With a one-two punch that hit America hard on Monday, Trump first blamed the United States for supposedly wrecking its relationship with Russia — and then made it clear that he won't hold Russia accountable for hijacking the 2016 U.S. election during his summit with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland.
During opening remarks outlining the goals for the bilateral meeting, Trump said he and Putin have a “lot of good things to talk about, and things to talk about,” including trade, military issues, nuclear proliferation, and China.
Conspicuously absent from Trump's list, however, was Russia's orchestrated effort to undermine American elections.
According to a White House press pool report, Trump ignored several shouted questions from reporters about Russian interference, and Putin "appeared to smirk" when he heard them.
Trump also referred to Chinese President Xi Jinping as "our mutual friend" — and at one point, actually winked at Putin.
— Mark Stone (@Stone_SkyNews) July 16, 2018
The obvious and glaring omission of election interference comes just three days after 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted for a computer hacking conspiracy to steal private Democratic communications and publicize them to damage Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Refusing to call out or even question Putin has now become a hallmark of the Trump presidency.
In November, after Trump met privately with Putin at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, he vigorously defended his Russian pal.
“He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump stressed to reporters.
On the same day that the summit with Putin was announced in late June, Trump went further by actually defending Russia against election meddling charges. “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!” he tweeted.
Last week, Trump argued that since Putin was likely to deny involvement in attacking U.S. elections, Trump simply shouldn't press him on the subject.
"What am I going to do?" Trump asked incredulously. "He may deny it, it’s one of those things. All I can do is say ‘Did you?’ and 'Don’t do it again,' but he may deny — you’ll be the first to know, OK?"
Later, Trump mocked the idea that there would be a "Perry Mason" TV moment of revelation where Putin suddenly admitted his guilt.
Meanwhile, Monday's summit has all the hallmarks of a disaster for the U.S. The two men met alone, with no one else present other than interpreters, for more than two hours.
Not only did Trump spend Monday morning trashing America, a narrative the Russian press gleefully echoed — but he also showed his entire hand prior to meeting with Putin.
During his opening remarks, Trump stressed that good relations with Russia were a top priority for the U.S., giving the impression he was willing to do whatever was necessary to achieve that.
“Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump said, adding that the “world wants to see us getting along.”
Trump's continued deference to Putin comes at a time when Russian aggression — including the murder of journalists and dissidents and the illegal annexation of Crimea — goes nearly unchecked by the U.S.
Perhaps Trump just doesn't want to know the truth about Putin — or perhaps he knows and just doesn't care.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.