When it comes to Putin, Trump has a blind spot


When it comes to Putin, Trump has a blind spot
  1. When it comes to Putin, Trump has a blind spot
    startribune.com
    Analysis: The president has no unkind words for Russia's…
    Politics

BRIDGEWATER, N.J. – The roster of villains in President Donald Trump’s world is legion. The list of people he has been willing, even eager, to publicly attack includes not just Sen. Mitch McConnell, his latest target, but Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Sen. Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. John McCain, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton and former President Barack Obama.

And don’t forget former FBI Director James Comey, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rosie O’Donnell, Meryl Streep, the mayor of London and the cast of “Saturday Night Live.” The countries he has assailed include not just North Korea and Iran but also Germany, Canada, Mexico, China and Sweden.

But for all of that feistiness, there is one person who is not on Trump’s target list: President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Ever since Trump jumped into political life, Washington has scratched its collective head over his curious affinity for the strongman of the Kremlin. But the president’s determination to avoid saying anything even remotely critical of Putin was brought home in stark relief Thursday when he twisted himself into a knot over a question about the Russian leader’s decision to order the U.S. Embassy to slash its staff by more than half. Rather than complain, Trump expressed gratitude.

“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down on payroll,” Trump told reporters. “I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll.”

On Twitter, many initially assumed that quote was from The Onion, the ripped-from-the-headlines satirical newspaper that has long mocked presidents and politicians by exaggerating their better-known traits. But even the cutting-edge Onion has a hard time keeping up with today’s head-spinning news events.

In an e-mail Friday morning, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said that Trump meant his comment to be funny. “He was being sarcastic,” she said. On Friday evening, Trump said that Sanders’ characterization was accurate.

Trump has long expressed admiration for Putin even as U.S. politicians of both parties have denounced the Russian leader for fomenting a separatist war in Ukraine, trying to destabilize the West, bolstering President Bashar Assad in Syria and collaborating with Iran. In the years leading up to his election, Trump expressed repeated praise for Putin, calling him “so nice” and a “strong leader” who was doing an “amazing job.”

Trump’s latest praise came just a week after he posted a message on Twitter blaming the deterioration in relations with Moscow on Congress for passing sanctions on Russia. The sanctions were passed to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and seizing its neighbor’s territory by annexing Crimea, but Trump made no mention of those actions.

Putin’s response to the sanctions was to seize two U.S. diplomatic properties and order the United States to cut 755 positions from its embassy and consulates by Sept. 1, the most sweeping such action against U.S. interests in Russia in decades.

“It is outrageous that he would thank Putin for anything, given everything Putin has done to attack American sovereignty and how poorly the Russian government has treated American personnel posted in Russia,” said Evelyn Farkas, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a former deputy assistant defense secretary under Obama.

“The president appears completely determined to find no fault with anything Putin does,” she added. “What if Putin threatened Guam with a military attack?”

David Kramer, a former assistant secretary of state under President George W. Bush and now a senior fellow at Florida International University, noted that Obama expelled 35 diplomats and seized two compounds before leaving office in retaliation for the election meddling.

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