President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin have become one.
The cover comes amid walkbacks, clarifications and contradictions by Trump following his joint news conference with Putin on Monday in Helsinki. Standing next to Putin inside Finland's Presidential Palace, Trump failed to support the collective finding of his own intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
“My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia,” Trump told reporters. “I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
Facing criticism, including from members of his own party, the president on Tuesday said he misspoke during the news conference. He meant to say, “I don’t see any reason it wouldn’t be Russia.” A double negative, the president added.
But on Wednesday, Trump appeared to suggest that Russia is no longer targeting U.S. elections, again contradicting the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies. Hours later, the White House asserted that Trump's response to a question had been misconstrued.
In the story accompanying the Time cover, senior White House correspondent Brian Bennett raised this question: “Who did Trump trust more?” The Helsinki news conference, Bennett wrote, was a moment for Trump to forcefully rebuke a long-standing U.S. adversary. Instead, the president seemed to equate the credibility of his intelligence agencies with that of Putin, who, according to Trump, was “extremely strong and powerful” in denying Russia’s role.
“A year and a half into his presidency, Trump’s puzzling affinity for Putin has yet to be explained,” Bennett wrote. “Trump is bruised by the idea that Russian election meddling taints his victory, those close to him say, and can’t concede the fact that Russia did try to interfere in the election, regardless of whether it impacted the outcome.”
Time’s July 30 issue would be the sixth time this year that the magazine featured Trump — or a likeness of him — on its covers.
Still, Trump had relished being on the cover, “maybe more than almost any supermodel,” he once said. A fake Time cover featuring him had been on display at several Trump properties. He had also shown a preoccupation with the magazine’s annual Person of the Year, tweeting in November that he will “PROBABLY” be the one but that he opted out. Time promptly corrected him, saying the magazine does not comment on its choice ahead of publication.
The magazine stirred some controversy last month when it unveiled a cover featuring the president looking down at Yanela, a 2-year-old Honduran girl whose image had become a symbol of families separated by the Trump administration's “zero-tolerance” policy at the border. “Welcome to America,” says the cover’s text.
But Yanela was not, in fact, separated from her mother, who arrived at the border in Texas with her. The revelation prompted criticisms from the White House and conservatives, who accused Time of exploiting the girl’s photo. Time ultimately decided to stand by its cover, saying Yanela’s photo, captured by award-winning Getty Images photographer John Moore, is the “most visible symbol” of the immigration debate.