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Mikhail Klimentyev, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

President Trump began his high-stakes Putin meeting, according to an account by the N.Y. Times' Glenn Thrush, by saying: "I'm going to get this out of the way: Did you do this?"

  • Russian hacking/propaganda ops in the 2016 election aren't a question in many minds besides Trump's. So that's certainly not a very muscular opening if you're interested in deterrence or retribution.
  • But Trump has shown little inclination for either: Not only does he not buy the extent of the Russian transgression, he has continued to call it "fake" in private.
  • Axios' Jonathan Swan texts me: "The cognitive dissonance — between his pride in his victory, and the fact that a sinister foreign force might've helped him — is too strong for him to ever fully believe it."

During an Air Force One briefing on the way home, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters: "What the President and Secretary [of State] Tillerson charged us with as they came out of the meeting is what we're going to do going forward."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, in the same gaggle, added one intriguing detail: "After a very substantive discussion on this, they reached an agreement that they would start a cyber unit to make sure that there was absolutely no interference whatsoever, that they would work on cybersecurity together."

Good luck with that! Marco Rubio tweets: "Partnering with Putin on a 'Cyber Security Unit' is akin to partnering with Assad on a 'Chemical Weapons Unit.'"

For all the back-patting among his aides as they post-gamed the trip, they were reminded of the water torture that they were returning to: While Air Force One was aloft, the N.Y. Times posted a front-page story about a meeting last June with "a Russian lawyer who has connections to the Kremlin," arranged by one of Trump's sons, Don Jr., and attended by Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Be smart: Russia is the story of this presidency. Think about the past month alone: multiple investigations of collusion in full swing ... Trump at odds with virtually every federally elected Republican over Russia sanctions ... Trump-Putin meeting overshadows G-20 ... and now our Syria strategy hinges on Russia cooperation. It's like a Trump-Putin ticket is running the world!

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Go deeper

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

2 hours ago - World

Australian PM pledges $700M for climate change-threatened Great Barrier reef

A green sea turtle is flourishing among the corals at Lady Elliot island in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Photo: Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Friday a AU$1 billion ($703 million) investment plan for the Great Barrier Reef.

Why it matters: The nine-year plan for projects including water quality improvement, reef conservation and supporting some 64,000 tourism jobs comes months ahead of this year's federal election. It has been criticized by scientists and environmental groups for failing to tackle climate change.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.