Editorial: Subverting democracy – on many levels

York Dispatch

The July 13 indictments of 12 Russian military officers on charges of conspiring to subvert our democracy should have been the most grievous headline the Trump White House had to weather this month.

More:State election officials in U.S. meet amid Russian indictments

But by the time President Trump got done with his disastrous “Kiss and Tell” European tour last week — kissing up to American adversary Vladimir Putin while telling off erstwhile allies at the NATO summit — it barely cracked the top 10.

More:Trump rattles NATO, questioning its value, assailing Germany

While the announcement was eclipsed in the public consciousness by subsequent events, its substance remains significant.

The indictments, coming out of special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, weren’t the result of a simple social media campaign. Or the planting of a false story.

More:Mueller examining Cambridge Analytica, Trump campaign ties

They provide direct and damning evidence of Russian hacking into Democratic Party computer accounts and into state election commission systems.

This is profoundly serious — and remains so, as there is every indication that Russia is again poised to meddle in the upcoming midterm elections, Or, as Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told an audience in Washington, D.C., the same day the Mueller indictments were being unsealed, “the warning lights are blinking red again.”

The president’s response to the indictments should have been to cancel his pending meeting with Russian leader Putin.

More:Trump sets expectations low for Helsinki summit with Putin

Indeed, he was already coming off an embarrassing performance at that week’s NATO summit, at which he scolded our closest allies about their contributions to the agency, claimed Germany was beholden to Russia owing to a gas-pipeline deal between the nations, then announced at a closing press conference that member nations agreed to pay more (they didn’t) and everything was hunky-dory (it was not).

More:Trump’s claim that NATO will boost defense spending disputed

His subsequent weekend visit to the United Kingdom, preceded by a newspaper interview in which he criticized English Prime Minister Theresa May, was only marginally more successful.

More:After NATO chaos, Trump met by protest, pomp in Britain

Instead, as we know, Trump went through with the Russia summit — with disastrous results. Did he raise the indictments with Putin? Highly doubtful but, really, who knows — their two-hour conversation was one on one (other than interpreters).

More:Trump questions US intel, not Putin, on Russia 2016 meddling

In fact, one week out, there has been no explanation from the White House as to what this “summit” was all about. No word on what was discussed in private. No announcement of any deals (although Putin’s government, concerningly, has been touting verbal agreements).

What it didn’t include — judging by the excruciating press conference that followed — was any effort by Trump to seriously raise the issue of Russian interference in U.S. elections, neither the indictments nor anything else.

More:Lawmakers call Trump’s performance ‘bizarre,’ ‘shameful’

Instead, Trump cast doubt on his own intelligence agencies, demurring to Putin’s “powerful” denial. It was a painful and cowardly performance.

Though it didn’t seem possible, the week got worse: One day later, Trump claimed — hilariously — that a simple misstated word was to blame for the impression that he didn’t defend U.S. intelligence in the company of Russia’s leader. Then he did another 180 and defended his performance. He then told a reporter “no” when asked during a press briefing if he thought Russia was still targeting the U.S. Another tortured explanation followed (he said “no” to answering the question, not to the question itself, maintained White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders).

More:Trump corrects his quote, says misspoke on Russian meddling

Oh, and to top off the week, Trump unveiled plans to invite Putin to Washington this fall — an announcement that caught Intelligence Director Coats, onstage at the Aspen Security Forum, entirely off guard.

More:Trump invites Putin to White House get-together

Will Putin be coming for an up-close look at how his country’s elections-meddling machinations are working this go-around? 

In this photo taken on Sunday, April 21, 2013, Maria Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization in Russia, speaks to a crowd during a rally in support of legalizing the possession of handguns in Moscow, Russia. Butina, a 29-year-old gun-rights activist, served as a covert Russian agent while living in Washington, gathering intelligence on American officials and political organizations and working to establish back-channel lines of communications for the Kremlin, federal prosecutors charged Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo)

Again, hard to say. As usual, there has been precious little clarity from Trump and company.

More:AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s week of unreal claims on Russia, NATO

Despite serious new indictments, public and political opposition both at home and abroad, any semblance of explanation, and a growing cloud of suspicion, Trump continues to court Putin in ways his own top aides are seemingly powerless to influence.

More:Trump returns from summit with Putin to forceful criticism

Meanwhile, Election Day draws near. The GOP-led House last week refused to authorize additional spending for elections security. And the warning lights continue to blink red.