On Tuesday, Trump called Putin to discuss the Russian leader’s victory in a highly suspect election that has been criticized for a number of irregularities, including ballot stuffing and coercion. Because of international criticism of the election, Trump’s national security advisers apparently wrote “DO NOT CONGRATULATE”—in all-caps—in Trump’s briefing materials. And what did Trump do? Congratulate Putin, naturally. In the call, Trump also deviated from his briefing book by failing to address the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.
Trump’s decision to congratulate Putin against the advice of, well, pretty much everyone, captures many of the pathologies of this administration. The fact that the details of their conversation leaked almost immediately suggests that the White House is just as porous as it was last January, when Trump’s phone calls with world leaders landed in the press within minutes of the president hanging up the phone.
Then, there’s Trump’s clear disregard for his aides, many of whom are expending an enormous amount of energy just trying to get him to follow rudimentary norms. “DO NOT CONGRATULATE” shows that advising the president is a hopeless task.
But the biggest problem is that Trump has a penchant for legitimizing dictators and strongmen. His affection for Putin is obvious. Given the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, you’d think that, for political reasons, Trump would try to score some easy points by distancing himself from Putin. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, Trump has dragged his feet on imposing congressionally mandated sanctions and taken nearly every opportunity to cozy up to Putin.