Trump’s meeting with Putin was a disaster. The aftermath is worse.

The White House lets Putin’s extraordinary comments go unchallenged.

In this Friday, July 7, 2017, file photo U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
In this Friday, July 7, 2017, file photo U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

After Russian President Vladimir Putin met with President Donald Trump for over two hours on Friday, the Russian government emerged with a stunning claim: Putin denied interfering in the 2016 president election and Trump accepted his denial.

This would mean that Trump took the word of the Russian autocrat over the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Director of National Intelligence and the unanimous opinion of his entire national security team. This includes Mike Rogers, Trump’s NSA Director; Dan Coats, Trump’s Director of National Intelligence; and Mike Pompeo, Trump’s CIA Director.

More than 24 hours later, White House officials have refused to publicly reject the Russian government’s account of the meeting.

The claim was first advanced immediately after the meeting by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the only U.S. official in the room other than Trump, gave his own readout of the meeting but pointedly refused to say whether Trump accepted Putin’s denials. Tillerson would only say that Trump was focused on “moving on.”

According to the New York Times, Trump began the meeting by asking Putin, “I’m going to get this out of the way: Did you do this?

On Saturday, Putin echoed Lavrov. Putin said that he told Trump “there is no basis to think that Russia interfered in the election process” and Trump “took it into consideration and agreed with it.” Putin suggested that reporters ask Trump exactly what he said.

But Trump, breaking with tradition, left the G-20 without holding a press conference.

Later on Air Force One, top White House officials were asked if Trump agreed with Putin’s account. They did not deny it.

The White House silence comes after an extraordinary press conference on Thursday, where Trump refused to say whether he believes Russia was responsible for hacking emails during the 2016 election, insisting it “could have been other people in other countries.”

Trump’s deference to Putin after the meeting has cemented a major propaganda victory for the Russian leader on one of the world’s biggest stages.

The aftermath to the meeting is making an already bad situation worse. In Politico, Molly McKew wrote that “Trump handed Putin a stunning victory” at the G-20 by promoting “Russia’s dark and illiberal view of the world.” She delivered a particularly striking summary of the meeting’s substance.

The readout of Trump’s lengthy meeting with Putin included several key points. First, the United States will “move on” from election hacking issues with no accountability or consequences for Russia; in fact, the U.S. will form a “framework” with Russia to cooperate on cybersecurity issues, evaluating weaknesses and assessing potential responses jointly. Second, the two presidents agreed not to meddle in “each other’s” domestic affairs — equating American activities to promote democracy with Russian aggression aimed at undermining it, in an incalculable PR victory for the Kremlin. Third, the announced, limited cease-fire in Syria will be a new basis for cooperation between the U.S. and Russia; Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went so far as to say that the Russian approach in Syria — yielding mass civilian casualties, catastrophic displacement, untold destruction and erased borders — may be “more right” than that of the United States.

Each of these points represents a significant victory for Putin.

Putin, for his part, seemed to be enjoying the spectacle. Asked by reporters about the White House silence on his account of the hacking discussion, Putin joked he would “punish them very strictly, very severely.”

UPDATE (7/9, 10 a.m.): Trump effectively confirms Putin’s account on Twitter.