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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, is in a terrible, but entirely predictable, situation: Days after Huntsman spoke about the need to hold Russian government officials accountable for interfering in the 2016 election, his boss, President Donald Trump, stood alongside Vladimir Putin on Monday and told the world he believed the Russian president's denial of any wrongdoing. Trump made a muddled attempt to walk back those comments on Tuesday, but the damage had been done. Huntsman's former colleagues and even family members suggested the ambassador was wasting his time trying to represent U.S. interests in Russia under Trump. "Resign, if you have any honor," John Weaver, a political consultant who worked on Huntsman's 2012 Republican presidential campaign, tweeted. "You work for a pawn, not a president. It's time to come home," wrote a columnist at the Salt Lake Tribune -- a paper owned and published by Huntsman's brother Paul.


Speaking of Republicans incapable of blushing -- those with the peculiar strength that comes from being incapable of embarrassment -- consider Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), who for years enjoyed derivative gravitas from his association with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.). Graham tweeted about Helsinki: "Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections." A "missed opportunity" by a man who had not acknowledged the meddling? Contrast Graham's mush with this on Monday from McCain, still vinegary: "Today's press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." Or this from Arizona's other senator, Jeff Flake (R): "I never thought I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression."


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The corporate owners of the Mandalay Bay casino filed suit against the victims of last year's Las Vegas concert mass shooting, claiming it has no liability for the massacre, according to a published report on Monday. MGM Resorts International went to federal courts in Nevada and California and took on more than 1,000 shooting victims, saying claims against the hotel giant "must be dismissed." "Plaintiffs have no liability of any kind to defendants," the complaints argue, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.


There are exactly two possible explanations for the shameful performance the world witnessed on Monday, from a serving American president. Either Donald Trump is flat-out an agent of Russian interests -- maybe witting, maybe unwitting, from fear of blackmail, in hope of future deals, out of manly respect for Vladimir Putin, out of gratitude for Russia's help during the election, out of pathetic inability to see beyond his 306 electoral votes. Whatever the exact mixture of motives might be, it doesn't really matter. Or he is so profoundly ignorant, insecure, and narcissistic that he did not realize that, at every step, he was advancing the line that Putin hoped he would advance, and the line that the American intelligence, defense, and law-enforcement agencies most dreaded. Conscious tool. Useful idiot. Those are the choices, though both are possibly true, so that the main question is the proportions.


Donald Trump's much-anticipated meeting with Vladimir Putin on Monday offered him yet another opportunity to defy those who've criticized his coziness with the Russian leader. But on a global stage, Trump didn't just cower; he actively cemented an image of submissiveness to his Russian counterpart. "I honestly had little to no good expectations for this," said a senior Trump political appointee who works on issues surrounding Russian disinformation efforts, adding that the event "went about as well as I expected." "Trump looked incredibly weak up there. Putin looks like a champion," the official continued. "I'd like to say I'm shocked, but this is the world in which we live now."


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