Donald Trump has arrived in Japan for the G-20 summit, and has told Vladimir Putin, “don’t mess with our election.” So that’s all solved now. No further need to worry about election security.
This demand came after Trump dodged other world leaders to join Putin, walking into the opening ceremony with his hand on the Russian dictator’s back, and talking with him as the pair went in for the traditional group picture. Though separated during the actual photo, Trump wasn’t apart from Putin for long, as the pair soon met again—a meeting that Trump had said would be much more relaxed now that he doesn’t have to worry about the investigation into the 2016 election.
Trump opened by telling everyone what an honor it was to meet with Putin, making no mention of the election interference. In fact, he didn’t bring up the issue at all. It was a reporter speaking from the audience who asked, “Will you tell Russia not to meddle in the 2020 election?” At that point, Trump smirked, rolled his eyes, and made his mocking request of Putin.
The Russian autocrat, for his part, played along. He laughed during Trump’s finger-wagging statement, then returned his own broad smile as he answered, “Of course I won’t.”
Since the last time Trump and Putin got together, the Mueller report has been released, detailing the systematic effort in which Russia deployed both military and civilian assets to interfere in the U.S. election in every way it could. That included using hackers to not just steal information from American citizens, but directly—and with at least some level of success—to attempt to affect operations of state and local election officials. It included a social media effort that was far more extensive, and far more effective, than previously realized, with a multitier network of human and semi-automated sources that made deep inroads into the election discourse. It included the targeted purchase of ads not just on Facebook or Twitter, but also in traditional media. And it included initiating protests and rallies that involved Russian agents operating directly inside the United States.
None of that mattered to Trump. Or if it did, it certainly didn’t upset him.
Trump went on to reassure everyone that he had a "very, very good relationship" with the Russian autocrat, and that "many positive things are going to come out of the relationship.” All of which made it seem as if the only thing Trump had learned in the last two-plus years is that no matter how blatantly disgusting his behavior may be, he can get away with it. For Trump, winning the White House was like collecting the greatest permission slip in history.
ABC has reported that Trump was “under pressure” to show that he could have a meeting with Putin that reflected the actual state of the relationship between the U.S. and Russia. Trump apparently did not get the memo. If he felt any pressure to conduct a serious discussion with Putin, or to seriously warn against further Russian actions in the U.S., that pressure was allowed to just … slip away. Instead, Trump declared they were going to spend some “very good time together.”
How much attention is Russian election interference going to receive? It appears that the joke was the beginning and the end of the topic.