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Editorial

Alternative fact: Putin likes Clinton better

Our view: Contradicting his own son’s email, President Trump says top Russians didn’t want him to win; their heart belonged to the woman they hacked

During a week in which Donald Trump Jr.'s story about meeting with a Russian government representative last summer (along with his brother-in-law and his father's campaign chief) evolved from "no, it didn't happen" to "yes, but we discussed adoption" to "absolutely, but we didn't get much dirt on Hillary Clinton," the Trump camp somehow managed to further strain credibility. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump taped an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network's Pat Robertson in which he suggested that it was Ms. Clinton, and not him, who Russian President Vladimir Putin was really trying to get elected.

"As an example, if Hillary had won, our military would be decimated," President Trump insisted. "Our energy would be much more expensive. That's what Putin doesn't like about me. And that's why I say 'why would he want me?' Because from day one I wanted a strong military. He doesn't want to see that."

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Now, there's a logic there, we have to grant the president that. It just doesn't happen to fit reality. We know this not because Mr. Putin has confessed to any wrongdoing (he hasn't, of course), but because there's a mountain of testimony from experts in the United States, including many on the federal payroll, who say just the opposite is true — the heads of the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation among them. And they hardly needed some real-life James Bond to uncover that reality either; it was the email accounts of Ms. Clinton's campaign manager and the Democratic National Committee that got hacked and helped provide the Russians with material to manipulate the electorate (along with some "fake news" spread via Twitter-bots, all of it attacking Ms. Clinton). It also doesn't help Mr. Trump's claim that he's been sweet-talking Mr. Putin from afar since about Day 1 of his campaign for president, including a now-famous open invitation to hack Ms. Clinton's emails.

One can understand why Mr. Trump wants a Putin-Clinton love affair to be true. It's just a lot more convenient for a president who doesn't want to be seen as illegitimate. But coming up with alternative facts that are so clearly untrue isn't even much of a smokescreen. It only underscores the Russia-like disinformation campaign coming out of the White House. Say what you will about Donald Jr.'s inexperience and naivete, but the emails he released this week make it pretty darn clear he expected a "Russian government attorney" to produce some damaging "very high level and sensitive" and incriminating material about the Democratic nominee, not about his own dad. You simply can't read the correspondence any other way — it's explicit.

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The better argument would be for Mr. Trump to have claimed that Mr. Putin's real agenda is to sow dissent and distrust in the U.S. and other western democracies. That's been the former KGB agent's pattern in other elections and he appears to be succeeding with the help of an inexperienced, egotistical and increasingly isolated U.S. president who lies so frequently and so outrageously that you have to wonder if he understands the difference between reality and his alternative fact universe. In fairness to the president, however, it's not Mr. Trump's fault that Mr. Putin hates Ms. Clinton so. That's likely a product of Ms. Clinton's strong criticisms of the Putin regime when she was secretary of state and her support for trade limits imposed by the Magnitsky Act approved in 2012, incidentally, at the urging of Maryland's own Sen. Ben Cardin after the death in a Russian prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who had been investigating incidents of fraud by Russian tax officials.

A lot has been written this week about how damning Donald Jr.'s emails may turn out to be for all involved. We will have to wait and see what special counsel Robert Mueller makes of them. But there's at least a certain irony in President Trump's reaction to the bombshell. He congratulated his son for "transparency" in releasing the material. That's pretty rich considering how little transparency and disclosure — not to mention truth — is coming out of the White House regarding Russia and Mr. Putin these days.

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