According to Seb Gorka, when it comes to Russia, all President Trump is saying is give collaboration a chance.
Gorka appeared Thursday afternoon for a contentious interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, in which the White House deputy assistant sidestepped questions about the Russia sanctions bill and attempted to spin Trump’s reluctance to punish Russia for its election meddling as the act of a strong “pragmatist.”
Asked whether Trump would veto a new Russia sanctions bill over a provision that gives congressional review power over Trump before he can lift sanctions on the Kremlin, Gorka dodged: “I’ll leave the president to make that decision,” he said.
“Let’s not prejudge, let’s not steal anybody’s thunder,” he warned Tapper. “These are the two most powerful nuclear nations in the world as [Secretary of State] Rex Tillerson has said just last week, we should have better relations, let’s see if it’s possible and not prejudge.”
Tapper then brought up the fact that the White House is considering handing back to the Russians a set of diplomatic compounds President Obama shut down in December 2016, claiming they were used for “intelligence-related purposes.” Asked why Trump would look at such a move, Gorka replied: “We want to give collaboration, cooperation, a chance.”
The White House aide twice suggested the ceasefire agreement for southern Syria as an example of a “good faith act to come out of the Kremlin” that proves the two countries have “some issues of common concern” and can thus improve relations.
Tapper, however, reminded Gorka of the bipartisan concerns over why the administration even considers the “possibility of a reward when there is still this issue, this cloud of Russia’s election interference hanging over the relationship.”
The CNN host cited leading Trump intelligence officials (“not Obama holdovers”) definitively declaring the Kremlin interfered in the U.S. election. “Why does president Trump continue to second-guess the assertions being made by his own intelligence chiefs?”
Gorka deflected by asking an accusatory question: “Do you wish us to have bad or deteriorating relations with the nuclear power that is the Russian federation? In whose interest is that?”
“The United States doesn’t dole out rewards to countries because they possess a nuclear weapon,” Tapper shot back. “We’re not going to reward China or Pakistan.”
In return, Gorka explained: “We’re not looking to create new enemies. That’s a very dangerous way to look at the world.” He called Trump a “pragmatist” for his desire to improve Russian relations, adding that his reputation as “the most successful real-estate magnate in New York” proves he “looks at the world as it is.”
“You don’t think it’s weak at all to let Russia go after having interfered in the 2016 election with no punishment at all?” Tapper asked.
Gorka let out a hearty laugh. “The last thing you could say about Donald J. Trump after the last 35 weeks is that he’s weak.”
“So what’s the punishment?” Tapper persisted.
“Look at what we did at the G-20,” Gorka answered. “Let’s talk about facts.”
“So what’s the punishment for Russia? I’m asking about Russia.”
Gorka sidestepped the question, boasting to the host that Trump sat down for 135 minutes with Putin and grilled the Russian leader on election tampering. “[Trump] pressed, he pressed, the president of the Russian Federation denied, and, at that point, you have to move on.”
“Because people are dying in Syria,” Gorka said, much to Tapper’s bafflement. “That’s why, Jake. Do you not care about the devastation, the half-a-million people killed?”
“Russia is killing some of those people,” the CNN host replied.
Gorka ignored the remark to praise Trump and Putin’s collaborative effort yet again.
“I want to move on to the ceasefire,” Tapper agreed, “but I will say: just because you say you have to move on and not punish Russia doesn’t mean that you actually have to do it.”