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Trump indicates he still believes Putin over US intelligence

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Mr Biden is currently in the United Kingdom, where he’s attending the G7 summit. After that he’s travelling to Brussels to speak with European leaders, and then to Geneva for his meeting with Putin.

The White House says the meeting with Putin is “an opportunity to raise concerns” about Russia’s behaviour and to “move towards a more stable and predictable relationship”.

Mr Trump has some thoughts.

“As President, I had a great and very productive meeting in Helsinki, Finland, with President Putin of Russia,” the former president said in a statement.

“Despite the belated Fake News portrayal of the meeting, the United States won much, including the respect of President Putin and Russia.

“Because of the phony Russia, Russia, Russia hoax, made up and paid for by the Democrats and Crooked Hillary Clinton, the United States was put at a disadvantage – a disadvantage that was nevertheless overcome by me.

“As to who do I trust, they asked, Russia or our ‘Intelligence’ from the Obama era, meaning people like Comey, McCabe, the two lovers, Brennan, Clapper and numerous other sleazebags, or Russia, the answer, after all that has been found out and written, should be obvious.

“Our government has rarely had such lowlifes as these working for it. Good luck to Biden in dealing with President Putin – don’t fall asleep during the meeting, and please give him my warmest regards!”

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[IMAGE]

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in Helsinki. Picture: Brendan Smialowski/AFPSource:AFP

There’s a bit to unpack there.

Mr Trump attended a summit with Putin in Helsinki in 2018. At a joint press conference, he said he believed Putin’s claim that Russia had not interfered in the 2016 US election.

“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be,” he said.

“I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”

This contradicted US intelligence agencies, which had already concluded with “high confidence” that Putin authorised a campaign of cyber attacks and fake news stories designed to hurt Mr Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Mr Trump was widely criticised for taking Putin’s word over that of his own country’s intelligence agencies. This criticism is presumably what he’s referring to when he mentions the “fake news portrayal” of the summit.

His statement makes it clear he hasn’t changed his mind about believing Putin.

The “phony Russia, Russia, Russia hoax” is one of Mr Trump’s favoured terms for the Mueller investigation, which examined Russia’s election interference and sought to determine whether members of the Trump campaign were involved.

When he says it was “paid for” by the Democrats and Ms Clinton, he is likely referring to the Steele dossier, a collection of opposition research on Mr Trump compiled by a former British intelligence officer named Christopher Steele.

Mr Steele later provided the dossier to the FBI. Mr Trump sometimes claims this is what started the agency’s investigation into Russia’s election interference, though it was actually sparked by information from former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer after a conversation with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

The FBI’s investigation was taken over by a special counsel, Robert Mueller, after Mr Trump fired FBI director James Comey.

Mr Comey is one of the people Mr Trump labelled “sleazebags” in his statement. The others are Andrew McCabe, who became acting FBI director after Mr Comey’s sacking; former CIA director John Brennan; and former director of national intelligence James Clapper. Naturally, all of these men are critics of Mr Trump.

The “two lovers” are Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, former FBI employees who exchanged texts privately slamming Mr Trump in 2016, when they were in a romantic relationship. Mr Strzok was initially in charge of the Russia investigation.

Finally, we have Mr Trump’s warning to Mr Biden not to “fall asleep” during his meeting with Putin. This ties in to a long-running assertion in right-wing circles that the President is senile, and also harks back to Mr Trump’s nickname for him, “sleepy Joe”.

[IMAGE]

Joe Biden and his wife, Dr Jill Biden, in Cornwall today. Picture: Ludovic Marin/AFPSource:AFP

Mr Biden’s meeting with Putin is taking place on Wednesday.

It comes amid the fallout from two recent controversies: a cyberattack on the US company JBS, which the Biden administration believes came from a “criminal organisation likely based in Russia”; and the extraordinary plot by Russia-backed autocrat Alexander Lukashenko to force a commercial plane to land in Belarus so an anti-government journalist on board, Roman Protasevich, could be arrested.

In addition, earlier this year Russia arrested and imprisoned Putin’s most visible political opponent, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was previously poisoned with a Soviet-era nerve agent.

These incidents added to a lengthy list of offences committed by Russia under Putin’s rule, including the annexation of Crimea, the destruction of MH17 and the attempts to interfere in other countries’ elections.

Republican politicians have expressed concerns that Mr Biden is “rewarding” Putin by granting him a meeting, which will inevitably benefit him politically back in Russia.

“We’re rewarding Putin with a summit?” Senator Ben Sasse said when the meeting was announced late last month.

“Putin imprisoned Alexei Navalny and his puppet Lukashenko hijacked a plane to get Roman Protasevich. Instead of treating Putin like a gangster who fears his own people, we’re giving him his treasured Nord Stream 2 pipeline and legitimising his actions with a summit.

“This is weak.”

The Biden administration waived sanctions on the company behind Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline last month.

[IMAGE]

Vladimir Putin. Picture: Sergei Ilyin/Sputnik/AFPSource:AFP

The White House has pushed back against the criticism, saying Mr Biden will use the summit to discuss a “full range of pressing issues”, including arms control, Ukraine and the incident with the plane in Belarus.

“We don’t regard the meeting with the Russian President as a reward. We regard it as a vital part of defending America’s interests,” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

“President Biden is meeting with Vladimir Putin because of our country’s differences, not in spite of them. It’s an opportunity to raise concerns where we have them and, again, to move towards a more stable and predictable relationship with the Russian government.

“This is how diplomacy works. We don’t meet with people only when we agree. It’s actually important to meet with leaders when we have a range of disagreements.”

While briefing reporters on the President’s trip on Monday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan also rejected the idea that Putin was being rewarded.

“There is simply a lot we have to work through,” Mr Sullivan said.

“We believe that President Biden is the most effective, direct communicator of American values and priorities. And we believe that hearing directly from President Putin is the most effective way to understand what Russia intends and plans.

“There is never any substitute for leader-to-leader engagement, particularly for complex relationships, but with Putin this is exponentially the case. He has a highly personalised style of decision making, and so it is important for President Biden to be able to sit down with him face-to-face, to be clear about where we are, to understand where he is, to try to manage our differences, and to identify those areas where we can work in America’s interests to make progress.”

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