Standing next to a former KGB agent who now runs Russia, the white supremacist strongman who runs the United States on Monday signaled a change in the global order. Days after he had thrown a gathering of his supposed European allies into chaos by threatening to break with them, US President Donald Trump stood in front of media and said that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin over the findings of more than a dozen American intelligence agencies, all of which concluded that Russia had attempt to meddle in the US electoral process.

“They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia,” Trump said, at the joint press conference with Putin. “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

That was not all. Trump said that Putin had been “extremely strong and powerful” in his denial of attempting to influence America’s elections. When asked if he believed the Russian leader or his own intelligence agencies, Trump actually said there were “two thoughts” on the matter, and said he has “confidence in both parties”. And then he turned his focus to his former opponent Hilary Clinton’s emails, before slamming his own country’s attitude to Russia and the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling, calling it a “witch hunt”.

The comments prompted a host of reactions from American politicians, including many who would normally toe the Trump line. His own director of national intelligence Dan Coats put out a statement saying that it was clear Russia had meddled in the 2016 election. Senior Republican leader Newt Gingrich said the president would have to clarify his remarks. Even some Fox News commentators, who are often more Catholic than the pope on these issues, seemed distraught by the performance that more critical analysts called nearly treasonous.

Bad grammar

A day later, he attempted to explain it all away by blaming his grammar, the equivalent of putting some white ink on the answer paper and scribbling in the right word at the last minute. Seriously.

On Monday he had said:

“My people came to me. They said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”  

On Tuesday he tried to explain:

“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia,’ sort of a double negative. So you can put that in and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good.”

Is this how the Western order falls, with a double negative?

Trump’s clarification on Tuesday is probably one of the oddest things to ever emerge from a presidency that has been chock full of absurdities, not least because it was that rare occasion in which the former reality TV star admitted that he had gotten something wrong.


But the attempt to alter the transcript to suit his narrative could not change the overall impression of Trump at his summit with Putin: The sight of an American president who looked more than happy to stand next to a Russian leader who has been accused of interfering in the US electoral process. Images of the supposed great American dealmaker who calling Putin’s words “strong” and “powerful”.

This stood in sharp contrast to the images of Trump from his meeting with other leaders of NATO, the trans-Atlantic alliance built in the aftermath of World War II that essentially helped ensure America and Western Europe worked together rather than competed. At that summit, Trump seemed raucous and pugilistic, attempting to push his allies around and threatening to blow up the who alliance, all for a few assurances that those countries would spend more on defending themselves.

European countries have now made it clear that they do not expect America, or at least the White House, to stand with them. The old alliances may still exist on paper, but no one can be sure that an attack on one will be treated as an attack on all, which is the idea that underpins NATO and the Western order. Trump actively prefers summits with America’s traditional enemies, Russia and before that North Korea, than conversation with the countries that count as the US’ allies.


This might make sense. One wannabe strongman who prefers palling around with despots, usually with the sort of unbridled power that Trump wishes he had, instead of talking to democratic leaders whose leadership styles depend on building consensus. But the Trump Putin summit brought up another much-discussed potential reason why the US president is so willing to trust the former KGB agent: compromising material.

It has been rumoured for years now that Russia may have collected kompromat, the Russian word for compromising material with which someone can be blackmailed, when Trump had visited the country for business purposes. The infamous “pee tape” was first reported on in connection with this.

On Monday, Putin was asked about this. And what he offered in response wasn’t exactly a denial:

“For us this issue — and now to the compromising material. Yeah, I did heard these rumors that these allegedly collected compromising material on Mr. Trump when he was visiting Moscow.

Distinguished colleague, let me tell you this: When President Trump was in Moscow back then, I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow. I treat President Trump with utmost respect, but back then when he was a private individual, a businessman, nobody informed me that he was in Moscow.

Let’s take St. Petersburg economic forum, for instance. There were over 500 American businessmen, high-ranking, high-level ones. I don’t even remember the last names of each and every one. Do you think that we try to collect compromising material on each and every single one of them? Well, it’s difficult to imagine on a bigger scale of this. Please disregard these issues and don’t think about this anymore again.”

So there we have it. A US president who thinks a bit of white-ink and rewording can alter a press conference that some thought was treasonous and a Russian president whose response to whether he has kompromat is, ‘I probably don’t have compromising material on every American businessman who comes here.’ What could possibly go wrong?