Russia probe: Robert Mueller's offers Trump a choice - take on Putin or be branded a coward

 smh.com.au  7/14/2018 12:52:47 PM  4
US President Donald Trump, right, and Russia President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang last year.

US President Donald Trump, right, and Russia President Vladimir Putin talk during the family photo session at the APEC Summit in Danang last year.

Photo: Sputnik/AP

Republicans who believe the Mueller probe is overly politicised and biased against the President will only have their view enforced.

The release of the charges dramatically heightens the pressure on Trump to get tough on Putin. He can no longer brush away Russian election meddling as ancient history or a hoax.

Until now, Trump's stance on Russia has been remarkably placid, the antithesis of his belligerent approach to traditional allies like Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada.

When told in February 2017 that Putin was a "killer", Trump replied: “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”

Earlier this month Trump told a rally of supporters in Michigan: "Putin’s fine. He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people."

The release of the charges dramatically heightens the pressure on Trump to get tough on Putin.

Then, at the NATO summit in Brussels, Trump said he still hoped to be "a friend" of Putin's one day. He added there would be little value in pressing Putin about his meddling in the 2016 poll.

“All I can do is say, ‘Did you?’ And, ‘Don’t do it again’. But he may deny it.”

Remarkably, this last statement came after Trump was briefed by his Department of Justice about the looming indictment. The advance warning he received before jetting off to Europe gave Trump the chance to beef up his language. But, so far, he has stuck to the same friendly script.

And since the indictment's release Trump has been uncharacteristically quiet with no updates to his usually hyper-active Twitter account in the ensuing 17 hours.

There are three reasons why it will be difficult for Trump to confront Putin in any meaningful way in Helsinki.

First, he seems to share a mystical affinity with the strongman who rules his nation with apparent impunity. Putin doesn't have to deal with inconveniences like a free and lively press or elections you might conceivably lose.

Second, Trump was the beneficiary of Russia's meddling. Accepting the existence of election interference calls into question the legitimacy of his narrow victory - a concession too psychologically wounding for Trump to bear.

Third, interpersonal conflict doesn't come naturally to Trump. This may be surprising given his penchant for starting fights. But Trump's stoushes are usually initiated via media interviews or tweets; rarely does he confront a fellow leader face-to-face. This week Trump bagged German leader Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May behind their back, only to turn docile when they got in the same room. He also famously avoids firing people himself (ironically, considering he became famous for doing exactly that on The Apprentice).

But even if it's tricky, the fact remains: the latest Mueller indictment shows it is well past time for the Trump-Putin bromance to end.

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