There are times when even the highest officials of the government pass the mask of responsibility and show that they are also human beings able to react normally to unexpected events. How else to explain the response of Daniel Coats, director of national intelligence, at the time he heard that President Trump had invited Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet in Washington this fall?
Coats was caught off guard by Andrea Mitchell reported the news in the middle of a television interview at the Aspen Security Forum that he did what the rest of the world did at that At that moment, responding with alarm, "Say it again?" There was no effort to hide the fact that he was as much in the dark as anyone outside the government. "Did I hear you correctly?" He says laughing and laughing a lot of the audience. And then this about the possible meeting: "This is going to be special."
It was a moment of lightness, but for all the wrong reasons. That the highest intelligence official of the nation did not know that an invitation to Putin, a foreign foe, was highlighting the apparent dysfunctions of the government among the most sensitive. Coats' reaction summed up a week when, for the first time, disturbing questions were raised about the ability of the administration and in particular the White House to function effectively for the country
. between Trump and Putin produced a stealthy statement after the other, leaving the experts in government scrambling and the world at large to ask exactly what happened during the period when the two leaders were together. It has been a nonstop example of a president operating against the tide with his staff and some officials operating in ignorance.
Recall that before the Trump-Putin session, expectations were moderated by the administration. Jon Huntsman Jr., the US ambassador to Russia, explained that this event should not be considered a summit, but only as a "meeting". The president was also discreet in describing the meeting. He said that there was no particular agenda for Helsinki, that it would be a "free meeting" and that his goal was really just to get to know Putin better. He told Jeff Glor, CBS News presenter: "I'm going with low expectations."
But after Robert S. Mueller III, the special advocate overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, filed the indictment July 13, while Trump was in London to clean up a small mess of an interview in which he criticized the British Prime Minister Theresa May, the "free meeting" suddenly had a purpose – and certainly not one that the president liked.  President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin shake hands at the beginning of their meeting Monday at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)
Still, the impact barely penetrated his conscience, or so it seemed that CBS's Glor asked if Trump would push Putin to surrender the 12 officers charged. "Well I could," he replied, adding, "I did not really think about it."
and criticism after the president's action tended to be brutal. He and Putin met for two hours, joined only by their translators. In public, the president refused to criticize the Russians for interference and said that he was more in agreement with the denial of Putin than the conclusion of the US intelligence of the harmful Russian actions in 2016.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) Called it "one of the most shameful representations by an American president in the memory." George Shultz, who was secretary of state in the Reagan administration, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he associated with McCain's evaluation
For Trump, the things did not improve, or clearer, quickly. The presidential return of his press conference was slow to happen, reluctantly and awkwardly in his final message. He said that he had accepted the conclusion of the intelligence community that the Russians had interfered in 2016, and then exclaimed the scenario to add: "Maybe also other people; This is not exactly what the intelligence community said.
The next morning there was another tumult when Trump answered "no" to a question of whether he believed, as Coats had said week, that the Russians were still targeting the American electoral system. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders later said that he was refusing further questions during the photo shoot.
These are not the only confused aspects of the post-summit news. After the departure of the two leaders of Helsinki, the Russians indicated that the meeting had resulted in important agreements. Exactly what has been or has not been accepted by Trump and Putin remains a mystery. Other officials have had trouble explaining what Putin could talk about or why the president had called a low-hanging-day meeting without a particular program of such success. When Mitchell asked Coats if he knew what had happened during the two hours of personal talk between the two leaders, he said no.
Adding to the mystery, the president tweeted after returning to the United States. While the NATO meeting in Brussels was a recognized triumph, with billions more dollars being put in place by member countries at a faster pace, the meeting with Russia could prove, to long term, an even bigger success. Trump, in an interview with Tucker Carlson of Fox News, questions the US commitment to NATO Article 5, the requirement of NATO's joint defense.
There was also the bizarre treatment of Putin's cynical "offer" to invite US and Russian officials to cooperate in coming to Russia to interrogate the military officers charged. It also included a call from the Russians to interrogate or interrogate some American officials that the Russians claim to have interfered in their country, including Michael McFaul, the former ambassador to Russia.
When Putin mentioned it at the press conference, Trump responded by saying, "He proposed that people working on the case come to work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think it's an amazing offer. "
Sanders was later pressed by reporters when everyone was back in Washington." The president will meet his team, and we'll keep you posted when we get an announcement about it, "he said. She replied, giving the impression that the offer was being handled seriously.In the meantime, State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, called this idea "absolutely absurd"
On Thursday, the Senate declared publicly, 98-0 against such an exchange and a few moments before Sanders issued a statement to clarify it., Although even that statement was formulated from way that seemed designed to give Putin the least offense. "This is a proposal that was made in all sincerity by President Putin," said the statement, "but President is not in agreement. I hope that President Putin will bring the 12 identified Russians to the United States to prove their innocence or guilt. "
McFaul, for the record, does not consider the offer as" sincere "and believes that it would be desirable that the administration be much more energetic in warning that such efforts of the Russians will seriously undermine the relations between the two countries.
The story continues.Also in abeyance, the autumn visit of the Russian president to Washington, scheduled for the next weeks of the year. one of the most important mid-term elections, will remain in suspense.What process produced this invitation? It appeared, even before there can be a full evaluation of what happened in Helsinki and probably not the time for the President's National Security Team to weigh the pros and cons of Trump's desire for a second meeting.He reacted quickly after the President's comments in Helsinki, stating that He was standing aside from the conclusi the intelligence community and that he would continue to provide the President with unvarnished assessments. His comments to Mitchell in Aspen on Thursday, beyond his reactions to Putin's invitation to come to Washington, underscored a willingness to publicly disapprove but politely with the President while trying to remain true to his commitment to serve the country. It is not alone
It is another measure of these times, of a president and members of the executive power operating on separate tracks and a White House staff fighting to coerce a president determined to make his own rules, whatever his advisor thinks.