With a wag of his finger, President Donald Trump on Friday mocked nearly 40 percent of Americans who believe his 2016 campaign colluded with Russia — and the 25 percent who think it’s possible it did.
Trump’s latest defiant move came as he met one on one Friday at a G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He had ignored a question last week from CQ Roll Call in the Oval Office about whether he planned to discuss Russia’s election 2016 meddling and warn Putin to avoid a repeat next year. But he was asked again Friday and took the question — then once again went where previous American chief executives would not.
“Mr. President, will you tell Russia not to meddle in the 2020 election?” a reporter asked Trump as he sat alongside the Russian leader.
“Yes, of course, I will,” Trump responded.
Then, however, the unlikely U.S. president could not help but let his disdain show for the investigation into Russia’s interference in the election — which he for years has dubbed a “witch hunt” and a “hoax.”
“Don’t meddle in the election, President,” a finger-wagging Trump said. “Don’t meddle in the election.”
Putin appeared to chuckle as he nervously grabbed his left ear and said something to an aide seated nearby as he continued to laugh.
Collectively, a recent Hill.TV-HarrisX survey found 64 percent of Americans believe or have not ruled out that former Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller’s final report contains proof Trump and his campaign associates worked with Russians during the last U.S. presidential campaign.
After the exchange with the reporter, Trump leaned over and said something to Putin that caused both men to chuckle. Audio and video technicians who were allowed in the room at the start of the meeting did not pick up that quip, nor did a U.S. government stenographer on a transcript released by the White House.
The American real estate mogul and reality television host-turned-president has long contended he merely wants the United States to have a warmer relationship with Russia. On June 12, during a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda at the White House, Trump said this: “But I hope that Poland is going to have a great relationship with Russia. I hope we’re going to have a great relationship with Russia and, by the way, China and many other countries.”
During the president’s answer that day, he also mentioned North Korea.
Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un all have been accused of murdering, starving and otherwise mistreating their own populations. Trump and his team have tried to fight off criticism that he gravitates toward hardline leaders more so than his Western counterparts.
Trump has only reluctantly said he agrees with Mueller, all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and multiple congressional committees, which all found independently of one another that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election on his behalf. He also, at times, has dismissed those findings and tried to blame others, from a random guy in his mother’s basement to Chinese officials.
A growing list of House Democrats, including powerful Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York — a longtime Trump nemesis — want Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California to green light impeachment proceedings against Trump over the Russia matter and Mueller’s finding that Trump did at times obstruct or attempt to obstruct justice. (The latter attempts were foiled by senior aides who merely ignored his orders.)
After announcing that, following the issuance of a subpoena, Mueller will testify July 17 before his committee and the House Intelligence Committee, Nadle told CNN that the former FBI director “found that the Russians attacked our election, he found that … there were plenty of — I think 170 — contacts between the Russians and the people in the Trump campaign.
“He found that the Trump campaign welcomed the intervention of the Russians and the assistance of the Russians,” Nadler said. “He found plenty of obstruction of justice and the president trying to obstruct his investigation, and all of that has to be stated publicly.”
Trump’s finger-wagging mockery in Osaka will only further inflame impeachment-minded Democrats — and ramp up pressure on Pelosi.