Trump and Russia: What do we really know?
The full story of President Trump’s cozy connections to Russia has yet to be revealed, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com, but the available evidence is damning. We know that Russia tried to swing the 2016 election to Trump by hacking the Clinton campaign’s emails and distributing them via WikiLeaks. We know Trump adviser Roger Stone boasted of “advance knowledge” of WikiLeaks’ schedule for publishing the hacked emails and even who would be targeted. We know that many of Trump’s inner circle—including former campaign chief Paul Manafort—have business ties to Russia. We know that J.D. Gordon, a Trump campaign official, now admits he engineered a change in the Republican Party platform to remove a recommendation that the U.S. send weapons to anti-Russian forces in Ukraine. And we know that despite earlier, blanket denials of contact between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, at least four Trump insiders—Carter Page, Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, and Jeff Sessions—did in fact meet with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak last year, and then “repeatedly lied or contradicted themselves” to keep the meetings secret. Then there are Trump’s own business ties to Russia, about which he’s given conflicting stories. It all points to a disturbing conclusion: For some combination of reasons, the president and his cronies “cooperated with the undermining of American democracy by a hostile foreign power.”
The truth is, “we know nothing,” said Byron York in Washington Examiner.com. Despite the campaign to undermine Trump’s presidency with a steady flow of intelligence leaks, no smoking gun has emerged. “The most definitive statement” about this situation came from James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence under President Obama, who said in a TV interview last weekend that there was “no evidence” of any “collusion between members of the Trump administration and the Russians.” The Trump team’s covert contacts with Russia could have a perfectly “benign explanation,” said Perry Bacon Jr. in FiveThirtyEight.com. Trump has openly stated he wants better relations with Russia. What if these meetings were “the start of an attempt at a kind of détente,” like the Obama administration’s secret talks with Iran and Cuba that preceded a formal thawing of relations?
Then why all the lying? asked Jennifer Rubin in WashingtonPost.com. Before he was forced to resign, national security adviser Michael Flynn denied discussing lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia in his phone conversations with Kislyak in December. A leaked CIA wiretap of Kislyak proved that was untrue. Sessions, a selfdescribed Trump “surrogate,” claimed in his attorney general confirmation hearings that he’d had no contact with Russia; he now admits he had a private meeting with Kislyak in his Senate office. If there was nothing going on here but innocent diplomacy, “why has the Trump team gone to pains to conceal, deny, and distance themselves” from their contacts with Russia?
“Democratic fantasies about smoking guns might come true,” said Jonathan Tobin in TheFederalist.com. But intelligence agencies have already been leaking what they know about Trump contacts with Russia, and so far, it’s all been murky, with no proof “there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.” The Democratic obsession with proving that Trump is a “Russian pawn” may well turn out to be a dead end that will only distract attention from the president’s real shortcomings—and make Democrats look unhinged by Trump hatred. “If Democrats aren’t careful,” this issue “could become their Benghazi.” ■