The Atlantic

How Trump Thinks He Can Outsmart Putin

Mike Pompeo’s meeting with the Russian leader will help test the theory that the president’s “good cop” routine is politically useful.
Source: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Listening to President Donald Trump, he sounds like a heretic inside his own government: the lone official prepared to accept that Russian President Vladimir Putin is trustworthy and sincere.

Nikki Haley, the president’s former ambassador to the United Nations, last week called Putin an enemy. National Security Adviser John Bolton has labeled Putin a liar. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is meeting with Putin today in Sochi, Russia, recently accused Putin’s government of undermining Venezuela’s sovereignty.

Then there’s Trump, who seems hell-bent on turning the former KGB operative into a personal friend. In a phone call earlier this month, the pair amiably chewed over the finding from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report that the Trump campaign didn’t conspire with Russia during the 2016 election. In Trump’s telling, Putin “smiled” while confiding that the inquiry “started off as a mountain and it ended up being a mouse”—just a couple of intimates savoring Trump’s vindication.

It’s a mystery that has mushroomed since the 2016 campaign: What is the root of Trump’s deference toward Putin? Does the Russian leader have some sort

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