Indictment of Russian officers puts pressure on Trump

When asked at a news conference in Britain whether he would tell Russian President Vladimir Putin to stay out of the US elections, US President Donald Trump said "yes".
When asked at a news conference in Britain whether he would tell Russian President Vladimir Putin to stay out of the US elections, US President Donald Trump said "yes".PHOTO: AFP

US President asked if he will raise issue of election meddling at Monday's summit with Russian leader Putin

GLASGOW • If US President Donald Trump was inclined to be tentative when raising election meddling with Russian President Vladimir Putin tomorrow, the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking in 2016 has made that approach a much harder sell.

A federal grand jury last Friday alleged that officers of Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, secretly monitored computers and stole data from the campaign of Mr Trump's rival in the presidential election, Mrs Hillary Clinton, a Democrat.

The charges put an even greater spotlight on Mr Trump's treatment of Mr Putin, who has denied trying to intervene in the US election that Mr Trump, a Republican, unexpectedly won.

Mr Trump has called the probe into whether his campaign colluded with Moscow a "witch hunt" and has shown an eagerness to get along with Mr Putin, repeatedly referring to the former KGB leader's denials of such behaviour.

Mr Trump has said he plans to raise the issue. When asked at a news conference in Britain last Friday whether he would tell Mr Putin to stay out of US elections, Mr Trump said "yes".

But he also indicated he did not expect much progress on the issue. "I will absolutely bring that up," he said. "I don't think you'll have any 'Gee, I did it. I did it. You got me'."

Some critics said they were sceptical Mr Trump would press the issue, despite the indictments.

"Trump has maybe a little less room to manoeuvre if he wants to downplay the issue or pretend that it's not real," said Mr Jeffrey Mankoff, a Russia expert at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Mr Ned Price, a former national security council spokesman for president Barack Obama, said: "Even with today's news, we can expect Trump to raise Putin's attack on our democracy in a passing, perfunctory way before again taking - or at least claiming to take - Putin's denials at face value."

Democratic lawmakers have urged Mr Trump to cancel the get-together with Mr Putin in Helsinki.

The White House said the release of the charges would not affect the summit. "The announcement has no impact on Monday's meeting," said Mr Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council.

But the meeting, and the extent of Mr Trump's emphasis on election meddling, could highlight a divide between him and his own advisers, not to mention other Republicans, about the seriousness of Russia's activities.

Defence Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser John Bolton, at least prior to joining the White House, have both been more critical of Moscow than the president they serve.

And the administration's broader policy towards Russia is harsher than the rhetoric employed by Mr Trump, who recently suggested that Moscow be readmitted to what is now the Group of Seven, since Russia was kicked out of the bloc of industrialised countries for annexing Crimea from Ukraine.

In Moscow last Friday, the Kremlin hailed Mr Trump as a " partner" ahead of his first summit with President Putin. "We consider Trump a negotiating partner," Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov said at a briefing on Monday's summit in Finland.

"The state of bilateral relations is very bad," said Mr Ushakov. "We have to start to set them right."

Rival roles in the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts and other disputes have driven relations between Moscow and Washington to their lowest point since the Cold War. The US has passed a series of sanctions against Russia since 2014 over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and alleged meddling in the US elections, which it denies.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 15, 2018, with the headline 'Indictment of Russian officers puts pressure on Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe