Juan Williams: What does Putin have on Trump?

Here’s a sentence I never thought I’d write: The majority of American voters now believe the President of Russia has compromising information on the President of the United States.

In other words, they think our president is being blackmailed.

That shocking political reality comes from a Quinnipiac University poll published last week. Fifty-one percent of American voters said yes, Russia has kompromat, or compromising material, that allows them to control Trump.

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The precise nature of the blackmail remains a mystery.

 

But the critical point here — less than four months before the midterm elections — is that a majority of American voters say the only way to make sense of Trump’s submissive behavior toward Vladimir Putin is that Trump is under Russian control for some mysterious reason.

Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdJuan Williams: What does Putin have on Trump? GOP lawmaker: Trump was ‘manipulated’ by Putin Schiff: Trump is acting like someone who is compromised MORE (R-Texas) wrote last week that as a former CIA agent, he has seen Russian intelligence officers manipulate people but “I never thought I would see the day when an American president is one of them.”

The prime example of why Americans are pointing to blackmail is Trump’s incredible statement — as he was standing next to Putin at the recent Helsinki summit — that he had no reason to doubt Putin’s denials of Russian interference in the 2016 campaign.

That docile performance in Helsinki required Trump to turn his back on American intelligence officials who have briefed him on the overwhelming evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

And there is more.

What else but blackmail can explain why Trump would exclude his own staff from his two-hour meeting with Putin?

Blackmail also seems the best explanation for why Trump has yet to tell his fellow Americans what happened in that encounter.

USA Today’s editorial board noted last week that Russian-controlled media outlets are reporting Trump agreed to help pay for the reconstruction of Syria while President Bashar Assad — a Russian pawn who has used chemical weapons on his own people — remains in power. Is that true?

Is it true, as the Russian media suggest, that Trump is open to allowing Putin, the man behind interference in the 2016 U.S. election, to stage a referendum in the Ukraine in order to claim that nation as Russian territory?

Maybe that is why a new NBC News/Marist Poll, conducted from July 19-22, found that 53 percent of voters say Trump has done something either “unethical” or “illegal” in his relationship with Russia.

Blackmail is also the easiest explanation for Trump’s stumbling effort to invite Putin to the White House this fall without consulting his key national security and foreign policy advisers.

Other than blackmail, what reason is there for Trump to have White House aides denigrate Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsStudy: 3 of every 10 House candidate websites vulnerable to hacks West Virginia set to allow smartphone voting for those serving overseas GOP congressional candidate: Trump focused on providing 'digital and physical' security to U.S. MORE, his Director of National Intelligence, as having “gone rogue”? All Coats did was react with genuine surprise at being told Trump wanted to invite Putin onto American soil.

“Did I hear you right?” Coats asked NBC’s Andrea Mitchell when she read news of the invitation out loud while conducting a public interview with him in Aspen. “OK, that’s going to be special,” Coats added with a laugh.

Honorable men like Coats are in an impossible situation serving this president. But respectfully, Mr. Coats, this is no joke. Any other national security official in the nation’s history would have resigned in protest.

Blackmail also might explain why Trump threatened former U.S. intelligence officials with loss of their security clearances for being critical of his dealings with Russia.

Trump’s attack on those critics sent a warning to Coats and others now serving in the administration that if they speak out, they too will have their good names dragged through the mud with charges that they are part of the fictional “deep state conspiracy.”

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerGOP leaders: No talk of inviting Russia delegation to Capitol Collins and Murkowski face recess pressure cooker on Supreme Court Tougher Russia sanctions face skepticism from Senate Republicans MORE (R-Tenn.) slammed Trump’s threat against former intelligence officials as a “banana republic” tactic and likened it to the actions of the corrupt regime in Venezuela.

“I can't say it more forcefully. We really need a clear understanding as to what is going on, what our president is agreeing to, and what our strategy is on a number of issues," said Corker, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump heads to New York to shore-up GOP districts Turkish president: US set deadline to release detained pastor Pompeo discusses new sanctions in call with Russian counterpart MORE came to brief the panel.

Pompeo asked the senators to close their eyes to Trump’s actions in Helsinki and pledged that Trump “accepts our intelligence community's conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 election.”

Really? If that is true, then why does the president seem incapable of saying that in front of Putin?

Last week, Trump told his supporters: “Stick with us. Don’t believe the crap you see from these people [journalists].” He also advised: “What you are seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that Trump’s cult of remaining supporters revel in their willful ignorance.

Even so, a majority of Americans now suspect the answer to the puzzle of Trump’s relationship with Russia is simple: blackmail.

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.