What did everyone think was going to happen?
There’s nothing we learned from Donald Trump’s meeting in Helsinki on Monday with Vladimir Putin that we didn’t already know. Seeing the president of the United States praise a foreign adversary to his face while insulting his own intelligence services carries some remaining power to shock, but nothing about Trump’s past statements, including his tweets in the days leading up to the summit, suggested anything very different was in store. We certainly should have been prepared for the likelihood that Trump would flatter Putin, denounce the media, and generally humiliate the United States for no discernible reason.
On the one hand, it’s healthy that the public is capable of expressing outrage. It’s reassuring that Trump’s appalling behavior and flagrant corruption haven’t been completely normalized. And yet there’s something empty about this reaction every time it occurs. The fact that Trump is unfit for office isn’t news.
Here’s what is news: Last Friday, just days before the Trump-Putin summit, Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers, charging them with hacking, identity theft, and conspiracy to launder money. Allegedly, these officers were behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the e-mails of Clinton campaign officials in 2016 and released stolen e-mails via Guccifer 2.0, the entity that furnished them to WikiLeaks in order to spread chaos and distrust among Democrats.
As Putin made clear in the joint press conference on Monday, Russia has no intention of extraditing any of these officers to stand trial in the United States, but that’s not the point of the indictments. More likely, Mueller intended to send a message to several figures not named but whose identities are strongly implied. One individual, described as “a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump,” is almost certainly longtime GOP operative and dirty trickster Roger Stone. The indictment describes this individual’s discussions with Russian agents regarding the release of stolen documents, citing language that precisely matches Stone’s previously reported August 2016 discussions with Guccifer. It’s easy to see how Stone himself could be charged with conspiring with foreign hackers, and how the mere threat of such charges could pressure him to flip on Trump.