Is the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion af­flicted with 'Moscow mem­ory'?

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Richard Wolffe

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

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