There's no end to the ways Trump's White House is willing to embarrass itself.
It turns out Trump’s congratulations to Vladimir Putin for his election “victory” last month, despite explicit instructions from his advisers not to do that, was not the most embarrassing part of their phone call.
Russian media reported Monday that Trump also invited the Russia strongman to the White House for a meeting in the near future.
It’s a striking statement, inviting the man universally blasted by the U.S. intelligence community for interfering in the 2016 election.
After all, Trump wouldn’t even invite Jewish lawmakers to the White House last December for the annual Hanukkah party. But Putin gets a warm invitation?
Or maybe not.
Marshall Cohen, a CNN reporter who covers Trump and Russia, reported that according to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, the story about the invitation is not correct.
“Contacts on the issue are yet to start,” he said. “If ever.”
But you know who isn’t denying the story? The White House.
Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement confirming that the two leaders “had discussed a bilateral meeting in the ‘not-too-distant future’ at a number of venues, including the White House.”
So did the Kremlin release the story to embarrass Trump, and then further embarrass him by denying it? It wouldn’t be the first time Russia made Trump look like Putin’s chump.
When the two leaders met last July, Russia immediately announced that Trump had agreed to cooperate with Russia on, of all things, cybersecurity.
Then in November, during a summit in Vietnam, Trump claimed he had asked whether Putin interfered in the election, and Putin assured him he hadn’t. Trump was globally mocked for taking the Russian leader at his word. But Putin rubbed salt in the wound and made Trump look like an even bigger fool by then denying the conversation ever took place.
So what’s the truth? Did Trump invite Putin to the White House? Who can say? Neither the White House nor Russian media are reliable news sources.
But it isn’t impossible to imagine such an invitation in Trump’s ongoing efforts to suck up to Putin, even as he tries to look like he’s getting tough on Russia.
It also isn’t impossible to imagine that if Trump does invite Putin to the White House, and he accepts, Putin and his media will have no problem embarrassing Trump yet again. But while Trump is quick to lash out at just about anyone who makes him look foolish, it seems even now, Putin is still the one person in the world who can get away with it.