Is the Trump administration afflicted with 'Moscow memory'?
For so many people who are close to Donald Trump, Russia is the Bermuda Triangle of their memory. Conversations and meetings seem to pass through this mysterious quadrant of their brains and simply disappear. Even when the wreckage is found on some server or other, they profess ignorance, confusion or innocence. And sometimes all three at once.
On Tuesday the synapses inside the skull of attorney general Jeff Sessions magically reconnected around a March 2016 campaign meeting in which he heard Trump’s point man on Russian policy discuss how the candidate could get together with one Vladimir Putin.
This is kind of awkward since Sessions had sworn, like the honorable southern gentleman that he is, that there were no absolutely no such contacts with the Russians, no siree.
Fortunately for the former senator, his amnesia has recovered enough to remember that he poohpoohed the idea of a Trump-Putin meeting. Somehow he could remember none of the other sordid details of what normal people would call collusion.
“I had no recollection of this meeting until I saw these news reports,” Sessions told the House judiciary committee, before he recalled only the details of the meeting that made him look good.
Sadly this sickness may have started inside the Trump family itself, in which case Sessions is just a hapless victim of some braincorroding virus. After all, Donald Trump Jr, the president’s son, shows repeated symptoms of Moscow Memory.
It is only five long months since we learned about the slick-haired son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer. Luckily his father was on hand to draft a press statement saying the meeting was no big deal: just a casual chat about Russian adoptions.
But then there were all those leaked emails from Trump Jr himself in which he set up the “adoptions” meeting. “I love it,” he wrote, when offered a Russian government trove of “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary”.
Once the emails were public, Trump Jr denounced the leaks and claimed he was being wonderfully transparent after all.
This makes the latest leaks – involving WikiLeaks, no less – all the more conclusive in diagnosing this Putin-induced amnesia. It also makes them more exquisitely ironic.
As reported by the Atlantic, in the final stages of last year’s presi-
dential election, our forgetful protagonist was coordinating campaign efforts and tweets with WikiLeaks.
This was at a time when WikiLeaks was publishing vast gob-loads of hacked emails from the Clinton campaign. It was also at a time when US intelligence agencies had already identified Russia as the source of the hacked emails peddled by WikiLeaks.
A week later, Trump Jr received a direct message from WikiLeaks thanking his father for saying “I love WikiLeaks!” at a campaign rally. The message encouraged him to publicize a search tool for the massive dump of hacked emails. Just 15 minutes later, Trump himself tweeted about the “very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks”.
And then two days later, Trump Jr obliged by posting a tweet directing everyone to the search tool so helpfully suggested by WikiLeaks.
For his part, Trump Jr laments the leaking of his messages with WikiLeaks about their leaks. Being radically transparent himself, he published the thread that was already published, and tried to crack a joke about “my whopping 3 responses”.
Whopping is indeed one way to describe his version of events.
But to really put the whole thing into context, you should probably listen to Mike Pompeo, Trump’s director of the CIA, who said this in April: “It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
The slow reawakening of the Trump campaign’s recollections about Russia is something of a mystery to those of us who are forced to listen to the man who led the campaign and now purports to lead the nation.
According to Donald J Trump himself, he has “one of the great memories of all time”. Unfortunately his great memory somehow failed him when it came to recalling the existence of his point man on Russia, George Papadopoulos.
Since so much of TrumpWorld is a legacy of the 1980s, this seems to be a good time to recall that classic line in The Bonfire of the Vanities about grand juries indicting ham sandwiches.
Now that we have Robert Mueller’s team engaged with grand juries, we seem to have stumbled on a bumper delivery of quite delicious sandwiches.
There’s the president’s son who coordinated campaign activities with a hostile intelligence service and met with Russian nationals offering stolen information.
There’s the president’s foreign policy aide who has already admitted his guilt in lying to federal officials about coordinating with the Russians.
And there’s the president himself actively promoting the work of the hostile intelligence service, and encouraging its Russian backers to hack some more. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” the candidate said at a press conference in July 2016.
Now, as president, the same man says he believes Putin when he says he didn’t meddle with his own election. “Every time he sees me, he says ‘I didn’t do that’ and I really believe that when he tells me that,” Trump told reporters on Saturday.
The next day, he said he believed his intelligence agencies, which flatly contradict Putin.
We could spend years examining the brain scans of the Trump family, and its closest aides, to understand how they could so confidently assert that it is simultaneously both night and day. We could search through endless medical literature for the root causes of this debilitating amnesia that only gets triggered by the words “Putin” and “Russia”.
Or we could leave it to the grand juries to enjoy their ham sandwiches.
‘Sessions had sworn, like the honorable southern gentleman that he is, that there were no absolutely no such contacts with the Russians, no siree.’ Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA