President Donald Trump was asked on MSNBC yesterday how he would hold Russia accountable after a new report from Dutch investigators revealed that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by a Russian-made rocket and warhead. His response was to once again ignore the findings of United States intelligence agencies, which believe "with confidence" that pro-Russian separatists shot the plane down.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a Boeing 777, was en route to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam when it was shot down over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. Russia has continued to deny any involvement in the attack, which killed all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board. The U.S. intelligence community has––in conjunction with the Dutch Safety Board, which spearheaded the investigation into the crash––concluded since 2014 that Russia had supplied the rocket to pro-Russian insurgents, and that these insurgents likely targeted the plane in error. In May, Dutch and Australian investigators were able to tie the missile battery directly to Russian military.
The president, rather than stand by this assessment, chose to contradict it.
"They say it wasn't them," Trump said. "It may have been their weapon, but they didn't use it, they didn't fire it, they even said the other side fired it to blame them. I mean to be honest with you, you'll probably never know for sure."
I think it is horrible. But they're saying it wasn't them. The other side says it is them. And we're going to go through that arguing for probably for 50 years and nobody is ever going to know. Probably was Russia.
It's a long ways away. We have to get back to making America great again. It's terrible, but we really probably won't know for sure. And you'll probably never find out. There are only a few people that know. And you know one of them could be (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, frankly, and we know one thing: He's not going to be talking about it.
Trump's remarks earned a harsh rebuke from Australians Anthony Maslin and Rin Norris, who lost their three children, Mo, Evie and Otis, and Norris' father in the crash.
Maslin took to Facebook to criticize Trump's response, saying that he has chosen to ignore "irrefutable facts," a pattern of behavior most widely seen when he condemns news reports critical of him and his administration as "fake news."
Mr Trump, you invented and speak a lot about "fake news”. But lets [sic] try talking about something thats [sic] not fake… lets [sic] call them irrefutable facts.
That passenger flight MH17 was shot out of the sky and 298 innocent people were murdered is an irrefutable fact.
That the plane was hit by a Russian missile has been proven to be an irrefutable fact.
That this killed our 3 beautiful children and their grandfather, and destroyed our life and many other lives in the process, is an irrefutable fact.
That this happened 4 years ago today… is an irrefutable fact.
That the man whose arse you’ve just been kissing did this, and continues to lie about it, is an irrefutable fact.
Maslin concluded that Trump, who has been criticized for insensitivity following major tragedies such as the mass shootings in Parkland and at the headquarters of Maryland's Capital Gazette newspaper, has "no empathy for [your] fellow man":
So you dont need to look it up, irrefutable means impossible to deny or disprove.
It's not anger that I feel towards the two of you, its something much, much worse.
You have no empathy for your fellow man, and you clearly have no idea what love is.
So you have nothing.
Norris, in a separate post on her own Facebook account, called Trump and Putin "a couple of bullies" and wrote a poetic ode to her children and "The trauma of a loss so cataclysmic that it singled us out of all Australians, and made us different":
I tell my story here to confront that fear.
To show the world who I am.
I am Grief. This is me. Grief is me.
To look at me is to see your own fear reflected back at you.
To look at me is to also see strength.
The strength of us all.
All of those who stand behind me.
The strength of my fathers and grandmothers.
An ancient strength.
The strength of my land.
My land of burnt umber and dry sand.
The strength of laterite and million year old tears.
The strength of the broken who rebuilt.
What do you see when you look at the bully?
Austalian newspapers have also criticized President Trump for his response. The Sydney Morning Herald, in an editorial titled "Trump's silence on MH17 betrays Australia," wrote that the country's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had asked for "U.S. help to persuade Mr. Putin to cooperate."
The newspaper wrote:
Mr Trump's response to this plea for help from one of its closest allies? Silence. Senior American ministers are due here next week for their regular AUSMIN security conference. Perhaps they can explain why the White House is not willing even to mention politely an issue where Australia most needs US support. Australia deserves as much respect as Russia.
Earlier this week, President Trump became the target of scathing criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike after he sided with Putin over the assessment from his own intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
“President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it should be,” he responded after he was asked if he concurred with the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russian operatives launched unprecedented cyberattacks on the democratic process.
Yesterday, the president walked back that assertion, saying he had misspoken when he appeared to accept Putin's denials that Russia interfered.
“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said. “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all, and people have seen that, and they’ve seen that strongly.”
Trump then claimed that he had intended to say the word "would" instead of "wouldn't" when he contradicted U.S. intelligence findings, as when he said, “With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”
"The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative,” Trump told reporters. “So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself. I have on numerous occasions noted our intelligence findings that Russians attempted to interfere in our elections.”