Andy Schmookler: Why is our commander-in-chief AWOL on Russia?

Andy Schmookler

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the indictments of 13 Russians who were part of the Russian attack on our American elections. So rich and full was the picture painted in the 37-page indictments of these Russians – and their attempts to sow discord and to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton – that whatever room there ever may have been to deny Russian meddling is gone forever.

Soon thereafter, President Trump tweeted: “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election … The Russian ‘hoax’ was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia…”

Trump seems unaware how thoroughly – in that very tweet – he is damning himself.

If Trump really has recognized that Putin’s regime has been engaging cyber-war against the heart of our constitutional order, why has this president done absolutely nothing to protect the United States from an attack?

(An attack that American intelligence tells us is continuing unchecked, as our next elections approach.)

Trump has been president for more than a year. But Trump has said nothing, and done nothing, to respond to these attacks by Putin’s regime.

Being president means being America’s commander-in-chief. Throughout our history, Americans have always been able to look to our commander-in-chief to lead us when a hostile power (like Russia) commits a hostile act (like this cyber-warfare election meddling) against the United States.

But not this time. Not from Trump, who stands aside while Putin’s regime attacks our democracy.

“Trump’s Silence Leaves Struggle Against Russia Without Leader.” That was the main headline on the New York Times website at the same time as Trump was tweeting to defend himself against the charge of collusion with our Russian attackers. Tweets that, despite the indictments, still said nothing whatever against the Russians.

Why is Trump – otherwise so combative – AWOL, leaving us leaderless, when it comes to defending the United States against Putin’s attack on the United States?

A few months back, Congress passed a law that required Trump to impose new sanctions on Russia in retaliation for their attack on this country. Not only did it pass, it passed nearly unanimously, with the support of nearly every member of both parties.

But the deadline for Trump to impose those sanctions came and went, and Trump did nothing. With that failure to act, Trump not only violated that law, but he also violated his oath of office in which the president swears he “shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”

Congress wanted to punish Russia for its cyber-war attack on America, using the sanctions to punish the hostile power attacking us. Why doesn’t Trump share that desire? Why has Trump chosen to protect Putin and his gang from Congress, rather than protect the United States from Putin’s gangster regime?

Isn’t Trump’s refusal – since he became president – to defend America against Putin’s regime in itself a form of collusion – not hidden, but in plain sight?

What explains Trump acting more like an agent of Putin’s than like the commander-in-chief of the United States?

Does Trump’s failure to lead in that  struggle against Russia  have anything to do with the fact – long known, but also clearly documented in these indictments – that the Russian regime worked hard to help Trump win the presidency?

Which raises the question, why were the Russians so interested in helping Trump?

It’s no longer possible to believe that it was just anti-Hillary, though we know that Putin hated her. We now know (also from these recent detailed indictments) that they picked Trump as their guy early on – at least early enough to help Trump defeat his Republican rivals. We know that the Russians used their propaganda tools against his main rivals for the nomination, Rubio and Cruz.

What did the Russians expect from a Trump presidency that motivated them to help him reach the White House? Were they in a position to blackmail Trump into doing their bidding? Or did Trump enter into some deal with Putin, a kind of deal with the devil where Trump got help in gaining the power he wanted in exchange for doing Putin’s bidding (in certain ways, like not interfering with the Russian attack on the United States)?

I’m sure that in most ways, Trump is not looking for direction from Putin. But it does seem that there are boundaries that Trump does not cross, and they are boundaries where Putin would have drawn them. (Boundaries like “Don’t get in the way of our attack on American democracy.” And “Don’t criticize Putin.”)

If there’s any benign explanation of Trump’s actions and inactions, I cannot imagine it.

Instead, this looks like a real-life version of the Cold War movie, “The Manchurian Candidate” –  which focuses on the danger that an agent of a hostile power might become president of the United States.

In that film, made in the aftermath of the Korean War, the “foreign agent” is pitiable rather than evil: as a POW, he was brainwashed by the Red Chinese. What excuse can Trump have for serving our nation’s enemy?

One major difference between the film and the real-world version: in the movie, America was ultimately saved from having the enemy’s man actually succeed in gaining the power of the presidency. In this real-world scenario, our enemy’s choice has actually ascended to power.

America needs its patriots to look closely at this picture of Trump acting like he’s Putin’s man. I’m sure that’s not what any patriotic Americans had in mind when they voted for the man who declared, “America First!”

Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author and former candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District, is writing a series titled “A Better Human Story,” which can be found at