While Donald Trump makes the baffling decision to form a "Cyber Security Unit" with Russia, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley insisted that the U.S. "can't trust" and "won't ever trust" the foreign adversary.
Nikki Haley, call your office.
Once again, the messages emanating from different corners of the Trump administration are in open conflict with each other.
After Donald Trump's baffling announcement of the formation of a "Cyber Security Unit" with the nation that interfered in our election and attacked our democracy — a plan that would seem to imply a notable level of trust on our part in Russia — Haley took to the Sunday show circuit to offer her own confusing and contradictory view.
Following his meeting with Vladimir Putin, Trump tweeted that he "strongly pressed" the Russian president about that country's meddling in our election, which Putin "vehemently denied."
And when Putin told reporters that the two men "agreed" on that notion, Trump was silent — again evincing a troubling willingness to cave into Putin's viewpoint and to take the former KGB agent at his word.
On CNN's State of the Union, Haley also seemed to believe that a supposed admonishment from Trump was all it would take to abash Putin, telling host Dana Bash, "When President Trump meets with a leader, things do start to move."
And while acknowledging that Putin and Trump would "always have two different stories" on the meddling, Haley insisted that, "At the end of the day, what was most important was for President Putin to hear from President Trump, 'We know you did this, we didn't like it, don't do it again.'"
Haley repeatedly declared that "everybody knows" that Russia hacked our election, but Bash pointed out that, just days earlier, Trump himself contradicted her — as well as his present self — by stating that "Nobody really knows for sure" who precisely meddled in our election.
BASH: I want to play what the president himself said about Russian interference and casting doubt on the fact that they were really behind the election hack. Take a listen.
TRUMP: I think it was Russia, but I think it was probably other people and/or countries, and I see nothing wrong with that statement. Nobody really knows. Nobody really knows for sure.
BASH: Now, Ambassador Haley, that was just a couple of days ago. 'Nobody really knows for sure.' With statements like that, can you understand why the Russians, at least they say that they took what they took from President Trump's private statements to Vladimir Putin?
HALEY: You know, what I understand is that President Trump let him know that, 'Look, we know you did this, and cut it out.' And President Putin is never going to admit that they did it. And so they have to come back and they have to defend themselves. This is Russia trying to save face. And they can't. They can't. Everybody knows that Russia meddled in our election. Everybody knows — they're not just meddling in the United States' elections, they're doing this across multiple continents, and they're doing this in a way that they're trying to cause chaos within the countries. And it's not just going to be us saying this. I think you're going to hear other leaders come out and say, 'Cut it out. We're not going to put up with it.'
BASH: But you said 'everybody knows' that the Russians meddled in the U.S. election, and that the president said so behind closed doors to Vladimir Putin. If that's the case, why won't the president say this in public? It would put a lot of these questions and, quite frankly, the fact that a lot of your fellow Republicans are perplexed — would put it all to rest. Why won't he do it?
HALEY: I think that you can ask him.
Haley's apparent acceptance that a stern finger-wagging from Trump or other foreign leaders would be enough to cow someone like Putin into good behavior evinces a marked naivety about Putin's worldview and ambition.
As MSNBC's Richard Engel recently pointed out, Putin is someone who knows how to "manipulate, corrupt, and bully his targets" — including, distressingly, the American president.
Putin is certainly not someone who can be trusted. And despite her confidence in Trump's diplomatic salesmanship, Haley herself later said precisely that:
HALEY: From a cyber standpoint, we need to get together with Russia. We need to tell them, you know, what we think should happen, shouldn't happen. And if we talk to them about it, hopefully we can cut this out and get them to stop. It doesn't mean we ever take our eyes off of the ball —
BASH: Do you think that they can be trusted?
HALEY: It doesn't mean we ever trust Russia. We can't trust Russia, and we won't ever trust Russia. But you keep those that you don't trust closer, so that you can always keep an eye on them and keep them in check. And I think that's what we're trying to do with Russia right now.
The concept of keeping your enemies — or "those that you don't trust," to use Haley's anodyne terminology — closer in order to keep watch over them is a sound one. But it would carry more weight with this administration if Trump didn't make it clear he is keeping Putin closer to "move forward in working constructively" with him.
As for what it means to work "constructively" with a country that a representative of the administration insists "we won't ever trust," that's another issue Trump prefers to keep behind closed doors.
If Haley truly believes that we cannot trust Russia at all, perhaps she ought to share that concern with her boss — before he entrusts leadership on cyber security with the nation that engaged in cyber attacks on our democracy.