Responding to both of these reports Monday morning, Trump denied outright he had ever worked for Russia.
“Not only did I never work for Russia, I think it’s a disgrace that you ever asked that question,” he told reporters in a meandering response outside the White House. “Because it’s a whole big, fat hoax. It’s just a hoax. ...”
Reenter Hillary Clinton, stage left.
The former secretary of state and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee crafted a much more concise response to the latest news reports questioning Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin.
“Like I said,” Clinton tweeted Monday morning. “A puppet.”
With those five words, Clinton resurrected a clip of a widely shared exchange from the third and final presidential debate in 2016:
“Look, Putin, from everything I see, has no respect for this person,” Trump said then.
“Well, that’s because he’d rather have a puppet as president,” Clinton retorted.
As Clinton was still talking, Trump shook his head and shot back with a line that became a meme: “No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet!”
“It’s pretty clear you won’t admit . . . " Clinton continued.
“No, you’re the puppet,” Trump interjected again.
Clinton pressed on: “… that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do.
“And that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race,” Clinton concluded.
The clip went viral at the time, in part because of the inherent GIF-ability of Trump repeatedly intoning “No puppet” into a microphone. But the specific accusations made in the video have stayed relevant because of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump, of course, would go on to win that election — and has done little since taking office to disabuse people of the notion that he “is willing to spout the Putin line,” as Clinton put it.
— Trump has refused to consistently acknowledge that Russia interfered in the U.S. election or mobilize a government-wide effort to stop future interference. He has accepted Putin’s protestations that the Russians did not meddle in the election over the “high confidence” assessment of the U.S. intelligence community that they did.
— Like no previous president, Trump attacks and undermines the Justice Department and the FBI (“a cancer in our country”) — two institutions that stand on the front lines of combating Russian espionage and influence operations in the United States.
On Monday, Trump once again sidestepped a reporter’s question about Russia, this time about whether he would share the interpreter’s notes from his two-hour meeting with Putin in Helsinki.
“I have those meetings one-on-one with all leaders, including the president of China, including prime minister of Japan,” Trump said. “We have those meetings all the time. No big deal.”