A former White House communications director and spokeswoman for the State Department under President Barack Obama blasted President Donald Trump on Saturday for naïvely walking right into Russian President Putin's "trap" at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.
"The Russians just played the President. It was predictable. And he let it happen," wrote Jen Psaki in an op-ed piece at CNN.com.
Putin's incursions into Crimea and the Russian effort to meddle in the 2016 election should have served, Psaki said, as bulwarks against Putin coming into the meeting with the upper hand.
In December, President Barack Obama seized two Russian diplomatic compounds which he alleged were part of the hacking effort and imposed new rounds of sanctions against Russia.
Psaki said that Putin and his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov are seasoned political and diplomatic operators who are adept at media manipulation. Putin may not be as charming to Russian media as Lavrov, but he is skilled at setting "traps" for unwary foreign officials.
"And set a trap is what he did," she wrote. "The Russians telegraphed in advance of the meeting that their agenda was to 1) publicly mend the relationship, 2) gain a better understanding of US policy, and 3) discuss joint concerns over terrorism. They scored on all three."
The U.S. on the other hand, she said, telegraphed its ineptness when National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster said the meeting will have "no specific agenda -- it's really going to be whatever the President wants to talk about."
This was the worst thing the administration could have said, Psaki wrote. Announcing a meeting agenda ahead of time "sends the message about what the United States expects to accomplish, how prepared we are for the engagement and also puts the difficult topics on the table that are the core purpose of these meetings."
The Trump administration, she said, failed on all counts.
Trump's acceptance of Putin's denial about election interference and the overall warm and fuzzy feeling of the meeting blew the administration's chance to exert diplomatic pressure on Russia.
"You don't get a lot of shots at pressure in diplomacy. And after you've let your adversary off the hook, you certainly don't get to apply that pressure again. As far as the Russians are concerned, the public case is closed," she said.
Instead of drawing a line in the sand about election hacking, she said, "Trump accepted the assurances of Putin all while smiling in front of the cameras. And the Russians have photos -- that they are already expertly spreading around the Internet -- to prove it."