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Trump undercutting ambassador plays right into Comey's tease about the worst Russia narrative

If there is one subject (just one!), on which, you'd think the President would be doing everything in his power to ma...

Posted: Apr 18, 2018 2:39 PM
Updated: Apr 18, 2018 2:39 PM

If there is one subject (just one!), on which, you'd think the President would be doing everything in his power to make sure the world knew he was tough, resolved and independent, it would be Russia.

But the White House and the President continue to act on Russia and Vladimir Putin in a way that can only be described as strange. Everything Trump does on Russia is viewed through the smoke of the Russia investigation.

Why then, in the days after fired FBI Director James Comey used innuendo to imply, without evidence, that maybe the Russians do have kompromat on the US President, would Trump undercut his own ambassador to the UN specifically on the subject of getting tough on Russia?

On Sunday, Haley said new sanctions against Russia would be coming to target the companies that produced weapons of war for Syria.

As CNN has reported, Haley and others walked away from a Friday meeting believing new sanctions against Russian entities tied to Syria were imminent.

But by the time she went on TV Sunday and said the new sanctions were coming, the thinking at the White House had changed.

This could be for any number of valid reasons, although the inability of the White House to keep its high-profile UN ambassador briefed before a TV appearance is troubling.

Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said clearly there was some confusion. Haley shot back in a statement that "I don't get confused."

The New York Times reported that Trump saw Haley refer to sanctions on TV on Sunday morning and grew angry because he had made no decision about sanctions. But it's clear that as of Friday Haley thought the sanctions were a done deal.

There are a number of well-reported items trying to figure out exactly what happened, including CNN's, but the fact remains that the Haley dustup comes at an inopportune time for the President on Russia, after the fired and scorned former FBI director lit off a new smoke bomb television and said maybe Russia does have compromising information about the President. Probably not. But maybe.

Comey knew exactly what he was doing with the innuendo; he has done it multiple times during the media blitz to sell his new book that is pegged to his famous firing by the President.

"I think it's possible, I don't know," he said to George Stephanopoulos' question about whether Comey thinks the President has been compromised by the Russians. "Unlikely," he later said, but still possible.

He put it a little differently in an interview with USA Today, saying, "There's a non-zero possibility that the Russians have some, some sway over him that is rooted in his personal experience, and I don't know whether that's the business about the activity in a Moscow hotel room or finances or something else." Comey.

Comey also went there on the most salacious rumors in the infamous dossier prepared by a former British spy for the President's political opponents in the US, and which, also without hard evidence, started the idea the Russians could have something on Trump.

"Honestly, I never thought these words would come out of my mouth, but I don't know whether the current President of the United States was with prostitutes peeing on each other in Moscow in 2013," Comey said in a clip of an interview with ABC News that aired last Friday on "Good Morning America." "It's possible, but I don't know."

Again, there's no evidence of such a tape. None at all.

But that's the former FBI director saying on television that there could be a tape like the one described in the so-called Steele memo. It's a Trump-level troll. He's not confirming it, but he's not disputing it either. Far from it. Could be, says Comey, who we should say has an ax to grind with the President over firing him and impugning his integrity.

We know that Trump knows what Comey has been tweeting repeatedly about the former FBI director in recent days.

So why then walk back Haley's announcement unless it absolutely needed to be walked back and why not deal with it much more carefully? Certainly the White House is aware of the narrative about Trump and Russia. Why play into it?

Trump has taken actions against Russia, including expelling Russian diplomats in tandem with European nations last month. Except it was later reported by The Washington Post that he was fuming after that move and felt misled by his national security team.

His hard-to-follow policy in Syria and possible withdrawal of US troops there has Republicans like Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker fretting about a vacuum for Russia to step in.

He ignored a "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" note on his briefing materials and congratulated Putin for an unbelievably large election victory that drew skepticism from the international community.

He has failed to push Putin on the issue of Russian election meddling in their meetings and phone calls and has accepted Putin's word Russia didn't do it.

He wants to meet with Putin and thinks they'd get along.

"Getting along with Russia is a good thing," he said earlier this month.

This is conflating a lot of different story lines -- US election meddling, Syria strategy, military strikes against Syria, the relationship of his national security team and the book tour of James Comey.

But the problem for Trump is that because US authorities are convinced Russia tried to meddle in the US election and because there is a special counsel investigation into whether his campaign colluded and because James Comey said, without evidence, that it's possible the Russians have compromising information on the President ... everything the President does (or doesn't do) on Russia is going to be viewed through that lens.

The White House must know that, but they aren't acting like it.

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