Here’s What Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump Talk About When No One Else Is Listening

Someone is being gamed here.

Vladimir Putin

Metzel Mikhail/TASS via ZUMA Press

What do President Donald Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin talk about during their occasional phone calls? According to a sobering piece from the Washington Post, it’s exactly what you’d expect—fake news, the deep state, and…friendship:

Some White House officials worry that Putin, who has held several calls with Trump, plays on the president’s inexperience and lack of detailed knowledge about issues while stoking Trump’s grievances.

The Russian president complains to Trump about “fake news” and laments that the U.S. foreign policy establishment—the “deep state,” in Putin’s words—is conspiring against them, the first senior U.S. official said.

“It’s not us,” Putin has told Trump, the official summarized. “It’s the subordinates fighting against our friendship.”

Appealing to the president’s vanity is 101-level stuff for heads of state and members of Congress. But it also speaks to the remarkable success of Putin’s own efforts that the language with which he strokes the president’s ego is itself a byproduct of Russia’s own election interference. “Fake news” was a Russian propaganda effort and the “deep state,” in Trump-speak, refers to the ongoing investigation into how Team Trump reacted to that meddling. It’s a disinformation feedback loop and we’re all stuck in it.