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The president knew all along.

The president gained access to secret intelligence reports the day he took office. He got a full briefing on Russian election hacking even earlier, on Jan. 6, 2017. Now the public knows much of what was in that briefing.

Last week's indictment of 12 Russian military intelligence officers spills the secrets. Our hackers watched Vladimir Putin's hackers at work in 2016, while the president was still a candidate. Yet the president has cried "hoax" about this investigation hundreds of times since. He still only admits some reality when pressured.

However biased special counsel Robert Mueller could possibly be, he is no fool. If the evidence behind the indictments was flimsy or fabricated, then he sent a federal judge false indictments packed with rich detail. Imagine the foolishness of such a move while the president's small, loud band of true believers in Congress waits and wishes passionately for such a blunder. Whether the indicted Russians ever face trial or not, this indictment will get pressure-tested to find any cracks in related cases in court, in Congress and in the partisan echo chamber.

Even with Russian hacking, there was "no collusion," the president insists -- constantly.

So?

Colluding before the election may or may not have happened. Mueller will get to the bottom of that soon enough. Lying, blowing smoke and turning the blind eye to Watergate redux after taking office is something else entirely, whether legal or not.

On Monday, with these indictments still fresh, the president stood next to Putin and in front of the whole world. He said the Russian president gave an "extremely strong and powerful" denial of messing with our election.

Wow. No kidding.

KGB veteran Putin is an "extremely strong and powerful" liar.

If anyone cannot believe this farce is as bad as "the media" makes it look, here is video of the news conference: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaymlbmVwbc. Here is a link to a transcript: www.npr.org/2018/07/16/629462401/transcript-president-trump-and-russian-president-putins-joint-press-conference.

The president seems torn. On one hand, he does not want any question about the credibility of his win. For what it is worth, even I do not believe Putin's scale-tipping changed the outcome. But the president also acts like he is not so sure. He certainly talks to and about Putin like a man in debt.

Feeling obliged to Putin while not wanting to admit it would explain a lot. Monday's news conference certainly displayed fawning gratitude for something the president does not willingly admit to have happened.

Once he was under different pressure back home on Tuesday, the president tried to walk back his remarks. It was embarrassing. But worst of all, his administration admitted Wednesday he thought about letting Russian investigators question a former U.S. ambassador along with two other U.S. citizens, one of them a congressional aide. Again, he relented only when faced with outrage.

Even entertaining Putin's interrogation request is a national humiliation. Spare me the "Oh yeah, well so-and-so did worse" retort. This president was elected to make "America great again," remember?

Besides gratitude, I think the president panders to Putin for money: future hotels and condominiums in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Crimea and along the Black Sea coast perhaps. Maybe the offer includes Russian natural gas contracts or a number of things in that vast country. After all, Russian oligarch money flows into Trump family properties already. Putin can make the president's family as rich as they want everyone to think they are.

Other people I respect think the president's motive is pure vanity. Neither he nor his followers want to believe they did not win all on his own. Others I know are convinced blackmail is involved. Maybe it is some combination, or something else. The reason makes no difference.

"We still do not know what hold Vladimir Putin has on President Trump, but the whole world has now witnessed the power of its grip," David Frum of the Atlantic magazine wisely wrote Monday.

Then-candidate Donald Trump made his infamous "Russia, if you're listening" request for more hacking on July 27, 2016. Something was clearly rotten then. As I put in print in my first column after that, three days later:

"Trump promises to 'make America great again.' There's no good answer to why the Russian government would help someone who could deliver on that promise."

This will not end well.

Commentary on 07/21/2018

Print Headline: The president knew all along

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