A new revelation about Trump team’s Russian outreach
Scrutiny of President Trump’s ties to Russia took a surprising new turn this week, when The New York Times reported that the president’s personal lawyer and a former business associate secretly concocted and delivered to the White House a peace plan for Ukraine that would give Russia long-term control over Crimea and lift U.S. sanctions on Moscow. The proposal was drafted by Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, along with businessman Felix Sater and a pro-Moscow Ukrainian lawmaker. It was handed to then–national security adviser Michael Flynn in February. Flynn later resigned over a phone call he made to Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. in December, on the same day the Obama administration imposed new sanctions on Moscow for intervening in the 2016 presidential election.
FBI Director James Comey met with the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors last week to discuss Russian interference in the election. The FBI is now pursuing three separate investigations into the matter—including a probe into financial transactions by Russians believed to have links to Trump associates. Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said reports of Kremlin-Trump connections were “total baloney.” House and Senate Democrats called for an independent special prosecutor, saying Trump’s Justice Department can’t be trusted.
What the columnists said
“Trump can’t seem to shake those Russia problems,” said Timothy O’Brien in Bloomberg.com. As if Flynn’s resignation and the FBI investigations into the Kremlin weren’t toxic enough, amateur Trump-linked diplomats have now been caught trying to forge a peace deal that rewards Putin for seizing Crimea. One would-be peacemaker is mob-connected businessman Sater, who helped the Trump Organization scout deals in Russia. Yet congressional Republicans refuse to hear the alarm bells, said Michael Cohen in The Boston Globe. “The same group that spent years investigating Benghazi seems utterly indifferent to what is an exponentially greater national security crisis.”
Let’s call off the “Cold War hysteria,” said Katrina vanden Heuvel in WashingtonPost.com. There’s no evidence that Trump is plotting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. True, Flynn was caught speaking with the Russians about sanctions before Trump took office. But “to suggest better relations are in the offing with a new president” is hardly treason. And if Trump does pursue a closer relationship with Putin over issues like ISIS, so what? He’s only doing what he promised during the campaign.
Still, a huge question remains, said John Cassidy in NewYorker.com: “What lies at the bottom of Trump’s Putinophilia?” The benign answer is that Trump thinks working with Putin serves U.S. interests—though most foreign policy experts would disagree. A darker explanation is that Trump “sees the authoritarian Putin as a role model.” The third theory is the most worrying: that “the Russian government has some kind of hold over Trump.” As long as this question remains unanswered, “the only way to clear things up is to hold a proper independent investigation.”