In a New York Times op-ed - headlined "Trump Is Being Manipulated by Putin. What Should We Do?" - Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd writes of this week's summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin:
"The president's failure to defend the United States intelligence community's unanimous conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and condemn Russian covert counterinfluence campaigns and his standing idle on the world stage while a Russian dictator spouted lies confused many but should concern all Americans. By playing into Vladimir Putin's hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad."
That's a wow. Even Republicans with a long record of criticism directed at Trump - which is a near-total overlay with members who are retiring - haven't gone as far as Hurd does here, suggesting that Trump is being worked as an asset to Russia. The American president. Being actively manipulated by a foreign government with something short of altruistic goals.
Hurd's op-ed is all the more chilling because before he came to Congress in 2014, he was a CIA operative from 2002 to 2009. This isn't some random House member spouting off to get some attention and distance himself from Trump in a swing district. This is a guy who knows of what he speaks. And he is now convinced of what was totally unthinkable even a year ago. (Worth noting: Hurd is in a very swing-y district; Hillary Clinton won it by 4 points by 2016 and he is a major target for Democrats this fall.)
Writes Hurd: "Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the C.I.A., I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people. I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them."
Don't fool yourself into thinking that Hurd's words will change Trump's approach to Russia. They won't. In fact, it's more likely that Hurd's op-ed will trigger a tweet from Trump blasting the Texas Republican as a hater and a loser.
But, Hurd's target audience for the op-ed isn't President Trump. It's his colleagues in the House Republican conference. Hurd makes this point clearly in the piece, writing:
"As a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, I strongly believe in the importance of Congress's oversight responsibilities and will work with my colleagues to ensure that the administration is taking the Russian threat seriously.
"Without action, we risk losing further credibility in international negotiations with both our friends and foes on critical trade deals, military alliances and nuclear arms."
Read between the lines even a little bit and Hurd's message becomes clear: Republicans, it's time for us to do more than say we disagree with Trump's fence-sitting on whether or not Russia meddled in the 2016 election. There are real consequences to sitting on the sidelines here. A possible reorganizing of geopolitics in ways that are both disadvantageous to Republicans but dangerous to the country as a whole.
Hurd's op-ed then is meant as a clanging alarm, a wake-up call for his Republican colleagues. Now is not the time to cower in political fear, Hurd is saying. Now is not the time to think of parochial concerns when we have a President in the White House who is being actively manipulated by the president of Russia.
Congressional Republicans have played the ostrich for too long, burying their heads in the sand every time Trump says or does something that concerns them. That approach is not only no longer acceptable but has the potential to do lasting damage to the country, according to Hurd.
After this week, it's hard to argue with Hurd's logic in the piece. The question is whether any Republicans will listen.
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