President Donald Trump has responded to growing concerns about his administration’s ties to Russia — by trolling Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a series of tweets.
On Friday, Trump first tweeted out this picture of the Democratic senator from New York sharing donuts and coffee with Russian President Vladimir Putin:
The picture is apparently from a Russian-owned gas station opening in Manhattan in 2003. The photo circulated far-right blogs before Trump tweeted it, and the far-right Gateway Pundit took credit on Twitter for Trump’s tweet.
Trump followed up on the Schumer tweet later in the afternoon, linking to a Politico article about Pelosi previously meeting with the current Russian ambassador despite recently saying she never had:
I hereby demand a second investigation, after Schumer, of Pelosi for her close ties to Russia, and lying about it. https://t.co/qCDljfF3wN— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 3, 2017
Schumer, for his part, responded to Trump with his own tweet:
Happily talk re: my contact w Mr. Putin & his associates, took place in '03 in full view of press & public under oath. Would you &your team? https://t.co/yXgw3U8tmQ— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) March 3, 2017
Of course, there is a difference between a senator publicly meeting with a world leader and the multiple Russia scandals that Trump is facing. The question is not merely whether Trump and his team met in public with Russian officials, but if they actively worked with the Russian government to support Russian interests and tried to cover it up.
Most recently, it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who heads Trump’s Department of Justice, misled — under oath — the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings when he said, “I did not have communications with the Russians.” A Washington Post report this week found that Sessions had in fact communicated twice with the Russian ambassador last year, including “at the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.” That has led Schumer — and other Democratic lawmakers — to call on Sessions to resign.
Last month, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after it was revealed that he talked to a Russian envoy in December and may have suggested that Trump would lift sanctions against Russia — a potential violation of the Logan Act, which bans people outside the executive branch from making foreign policy on behalf of the US administration. (Flynn and Trump were not in office at the time of the call.) And in general, there have been questions about just how involved Trump’s team was with Russia’s hacks of the Clinton campaign’s and Democrats’ emails.
At face value, that seems much worse than merely sharing some donuts and coffee with Putin during the opening of a Russian-owned gas station or having a public meal with Russian officials.
And at any rate, responding to serious allegations with trolls on Twitter is not the kind of response one would normally expect from the president of the United States.
For more on the Trump-Russia scandals, read Vox’s explainer.