Published July 25, 2018 / Updated August 6, 2020
Trump, Putin Collude to Rewrite History
The White House and the Kremlin are trying to change what happened in Helsinki
Editor’s Note: Since this piece was published the White House has updated the transcript to align it with what was actually said. While it took the White House more than 24 hours to set the record straight, that they did so is a heartening sign.
The piece below predates this correction:
Rachel Maddow did a fantastic treatment of this on her show but the Kremlin’s involvement brings things to the next level. Buckle up; we’re taking a trip down the memory hole.
This is an excerpt from the Trump/Putin press conference in Helsinki. This particular screen-grab was taken from Vox but you can find other copies elsewhere.
Here’s the same question from kremlin.ru (that’s the Russian government), helpfully tossed through Google Translate
And here is it, again, on the White House website
Notice the differences? In the original text the question contains two parts, highlighted here in bold.
President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?
The White House version omits the first question. Putin’s support of Trump is a political liability, especially since Trump wants to cast the Russian shadow over any Democratic gains in the midterms.
The Washington Post posits that this is an innocent mistake — that the White House used same transcript source as the Post did, which missed the first half of the question. That explanation would be quite satisfying under normal circumstances — people, even in the White House, do make mistakes — but Trump and his staff have spent the last week walking back the President’s comments in Helsinki by claiming that he “misspoke” and was misinterpreted by reporters. Given the attention this is getting, you would think they would check both audio channels.
The Kremlin version, meanwhile, omits the second half of the question (despite the first half being asked, in English, on an apparently easily-overlooked audio channel). Given the implication of Putin’s answer if the first half is included— admitting to a cyber-attack on the United States in full view of the man who, just a few minutes later, would cite your denial of that attack as reason to distrust his own intelligence agencies — it’s not hard to imagine why.
So we have to ask ourselves, who are we to believe? Trump? Putin? Or our own eyes?
The White House has an answer for that too. As President Trump said to the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention in Kansas City, Missouri: “Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
Tell Congress What You Think
Foreign policy is the domain of the Executive Branch but this is historic ground. The White House has been opaque in nearly every aspect of foreign relations. White House visitor logs are largely unavailable and the details of the Presidents’ conversations with foreign leaders are restricted to official use only. Congress could, if it chose, challenge that unnecessary secrecy. You can write to your Representatives and Senators by sending the word Resist to Resistbot on Facebook Messenger, Telegram, or as a Twitter direct message. If none of those work for you, Resistbot also supports old fashioned SMS: text RESIST to 50409 to get started. It takes 2 minutes to save the Republic.