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Cokie and Steven V. Roberts: Have I got a bridge for you

By Cokie Roberts and Steven V. Roberts

“Dear Donald: If you really believe me, if you think us Russians didn’t try to tilt the election in your favor, then I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. It’s in Brooklyn. Yours faithfully, Vlad.”

That note could well have been waiting for President Trump as he returned from his lengthy trip to Asia, where he continued to pursue his deranged and dangerous attempts to deny Russian involvement in last year’s election. His statements reveal a man deeply committed to a post-truth world — a place where facts and fact-finders don’t matter, and he alone, the Twitter King, gets to define reality.

Even worse, his attempts at denial are profoundly un-American, rejecting the consensus view of his own intelligence agencies while swallowing the disinformation spread by the Russian ruler, a tyrant who has repeatedly demonstrated his disdain for democratic values and exceeds even Trump in assaulting his media and political critics.

Putin lies. Trump believes. And the world laughs.  On what planet does this Make America Great Again?

As Sen. John McCain said: “There’s nothing ‘America First’ about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community. … Vladimir Putin does not have America’s interests at heart. To believe otherwise is not only naive but also places our national security at risk.”

Last January, America’s intelligence agencies issued a joint report concluding that Moscow had tried to influence the U.S. election. Special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to probe those influences more deeply.

“The president was given clear and indisputable evidence” of Russia’s role, says James R. Clapper Jr., the former director of national intelligence, and yet Trump continues to reject that evidence, fearing it could undermine the legitimacy of his election. He fired FBI Director James Comey in a failed attempt to sidetrack ongoing investigations, and during his Asia trip, returned yet again to a topic that clearly burns him to the core.

That “clear and indisputable evidence” is really an “artificial Democratic hit job,” he told reporters, adding that the intelligence chiefs who produced the report are “political hacks.” His critics are all “haters and fools” who don’t understand the importance of refurbishing relations with Russia.

Putin vehemently denies any knowledge of election meddling, and Trump believes his denials. The reaction was so negative that Trump backtracked slightly, saying he accepted the findings of the intelligence agencies, but he clearly doesn’t. His ego is so huge and so fragile that he denies any fact that contradicts his world view.

Putin knows and exploits this character flaw. The former KGB officer is a “trained liar and manipulator,” said former deputy CIA Director Michael Morell to the Washington Post, and Trump is swallowing his propaganda “hook, line and sinker.”

Trump knows Putin helped him and is grateful for the boost in defeating “crooked Hillary.” But because Putin denies the help, and Trump gratefully accepts the denial — bolstering the argument he won on his own — the president is even further in Putin’s debt. A brilliant KGB double play.

And that’s what has intelligence experts so worried. “I think Mr. Putin is very clever in terms of playing to Mr. Trump’s interest in being flattered,” former CIA Director John Brennan told CNN. “And I also think Mr. Trump is, for whatever reason, either intimidated by Mr. Putin, afraid of what he could do or what might come out as a result of these investigations.”

The president’s refusal to confront Putin, while eagerly embracing the Russian leader’s lies, “demonstrates to Mr. Putin that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders who are going to appeal to his ego and to try to play upon his insecurities, which is very, very worrisome from a national security standpoint,” says Brennan.

In Trump’s view, the “artificial Democratic hit job” is hindering his ability to forge a new relationship with Russia and solve a range of problems, including North Korea’s nuclear threat. “It’s a shame because people will die because of it,” he complained.

And normally, improving relationships with Moscow would certainly advance America’s interests. But these are not normal times. Putin has proven, over and over again, from Ukraine to Syria, that he is no friend to America or to democratic values.

“I don’t know why the ambiguity about this,” said Brennan. “Putin is committed to undermining our system, our democracy and our whole process. And to try to paint it in any other way is, I think is astounding, and in fact, poses a peril to this country.”

So Donald, about that bridge …

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at stevecokie@gmail.com.

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