Donald J. Trump, also known as John Miller and John Baron, may have been telling the truth. Donald Trump, who according to one of his sons gets all the funding for his business interests from Russian banks, may not have been lying. Rex Tillerson, also known as Wayne Tracker, became very, very wealthy off ExxonMobil's Russia operations, also may have been telling the truth.
Trump characterized his meeting in Hamburg on Friday with President Putin as "tremendous," which may mean only that no one dropped dead during the discussions, or tremendous for Moscow. And according to The Hill, "Putin denied Russian involvement, Tillerson said, but Trump 'pressed' him on the matter on more than one occasion.”
One man's "pressed" may be another man's "asked politely." Unfortunately, the meeting may have been over before it even started. Characteristically, Putin came in prepared, Trump unprepared.
His advance men (or women) did no better, evidently unaware of the importance (unless you're the indisputable head of your own business) of the set up for any meeting, whether the Paris Peace Talks or Trump-Putin. Therefore, the Americans evidently agreed the encounter would be
small-circle- just Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with Putin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. And translators for both sides.
The tight arrangement — known to be favored by Putin, who likes to keep meetings intimate — cuts out the White House officials with significant government experience. Putin has spent his life on the public payroll, first as a KGB officer, later as the preeminent leader of Russia for the past 17 years. Lavrov is a veteran and wily diplomat, known for twisting his opponents into knots. Both have haggled with dozens, maybe hundreds, of world leaders.
Neither Trump nor Tillerson, meanwhile, held public office or engaged in diplomacy until January. In previous administrations, such meetings, particularly first encounters, would more typically be bolstered with the national security adviser and the relevant strategist on the National Security Council.
Nonetheless, as CNN reports
Trump opened the session by "raising the concerns of the American people regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election," US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an off-camera briefing after the meeting. Russia asked for "proof and evidence" it was involved, which the US did not produce in the meeting.
Trump pressed Putin on election meddling and then moved on, Tillerson said. "I think what the two presidents, I think rightly, focused on is how do we move forward," he said. "How do we move forward from here?" There was little "relitigating of the past."
The two sides agreed on a framework to discuss Ukraine, counter-intelligence, and prevention of future political interference, the latter Putin being enabled to spin as collaborating to prevent interference in "the internal affairs of other countries." (And don't even mention the murder of journalists.) But former CIA agent and 2015 Independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin recognizes "There is no need for a framework of understanding. Vladimir Putin undersands what this diplo-feculence means: The Trump Administration will not punish him in any way for his attempts to interfere in the 2016 election."
Even by Tillerson's accounting, all the President could muster in the face-off was reminding Putin that the "American people (have) concerns" because, well, Trump does not, and the American people do, so no lie there. But "if Trump only raised "American concerns about meddling,'" McMullin notes, "without promising consequences, he signaled weakness, if not consent, to Putin."
A better strategy for the free world, traditionally but no longer headed by the American president, would have been no meeting at all. Alternatively, Trump could have summarized his position most succinctly with "You ruthlessly interfered with our presidential election. And by the way, thank you.'"