Following a trip this week to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton made the rounds of Sunday news talk shows to normalize President Donald Trump’s upcoming summit with the leader behind attacks on U.S. elections.
On CBS’ Face the Nation, Bolton said Trump’s upcoming July 16 summit with the Russian president in Finland would provide Trump “an opportunity to size up Vladimir Putin to see where there are areas where we might make progress together and where there are areas where we may not.” Bolton said the two would discuss Syria, Ukraine, and election meddling, among other issues.
During Bolton’s meeting this week with Putin, the U.S. national security adviser said the Russian leader told him through a translator that “there was no meddling in 2016 by the ‘Russian state.’” The next day, in the middle of a Twitter tirade about “13 Angry Democrats” and a “Rigged Witch Hunt” by special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump tweeted that “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election! Where is the DNC Server, and why didn’t Shady James Comey and the now disgraced FBI agents take and closely examine it? Why isn’t Hillary/Russia being looked at? So many questions, so much corruption!”
After discussing North Korea and Syria, CBS’ Margaret Brennan pressed Bolton on Russia’s disruption of U.S. elections and Putin’s trustworthiness. “Did you tell Putin and his associates to knock it off?” she asked, referring to Russia’s campaign to disrupt U.S. elections and destabilize the country.
“I had meetings all throughout the day on Wednesday including with President Putin and his foreign minister and his defense minister and his diplomatic adviser for about an hour and a half. The election meddling issue was definitely something we talked about. And I thought it was significant,” Bolton said.
He reiterated Putin’s claim that the Russian “state” was not involved.
“Very little happens without Vladimir Putin’s OK,” Brennan pointed out, to which Bolton responded: “Well I think that’s that’s an interesting statement. I think it’s worth pursuing I’m sure the president will want to pursue it.”
Brennan also asked about the possibility of Trump recognizing Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, after Trump made it appear to be a possibility in comments aboard Air Force One this week. “Is the U.S. endorsing the idea that international borders can be redrawn by force. Is this actually a topic?” she asked.
Although Bolton answered “No,” he added that Trump “often says we’ll see to show that he’s willing to talk to foreign leaders about a range of issues and hear their perspective. President Putin was pretty clear with me about it and my response was we’re going to have to agree to disagree on Ukraine.”
Later, he clarified that “the president makes the policy. I don’t make policy.”
Brennan then correctly observed that Trump “is looking to be friendlier with adversaries than our allies.” That prompted a response from Bolton that is telling, one in which he repeated the Trump administration’s tactic of verbally attacking U.S. allies in Europe over NATO.
Here’s the exchange:
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: I think that’s nonsense really. I think that’s nonsense. I think what the president has said to the NATO allies, that has caused them concern is that he wants them to live up to the commitment they themselves made during the Obama administration -
MARGARET BRENNAN: In terms of spending.
AMBASSADOR BOLTON: Well it’s not just spending. But let me make the point that they committed to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic product on defense matters. It’s not just a matter of dollars and cents. This is a collective defense organization. NATO’s the most successful political military alliance in history. But if core members including Germany aren’t willing to spend what’s necessary for their own self-defense, what are we to make of that?
MARGARET BRENNAN: But U.S. intelligence believes Russia is actively trying to undermine NATO. You understand why the president’s comments spending aside, is undermining the European alliance -
Bolton added later: “The president wants a strong NATO. If you think Russia’s a threat, ask yourself this question, why is Germany spending less than 1.2 percent of its GNP. So when people talk about undermining the NATO alliance you should look at those who are carrying out steps that make NATO less effective militarily.”
In his book Collusion, journalist Luke Harding points out that ex-MI6 agent Christopher Steele, author of the infamous Steele dossier, had been told by sources that during the previous presidential campaign, the Trump team had agreed to “sideline” Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. “Instead,” wrote Harding, “and in order to ‘deflect attention,’ Trump would raise U.S.-NATO defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe. This would help Putin, ‘who needed to cauterize the subject.’”
But yeah, the Trump-Putin meeting is totally legit.