Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for a press conference at the Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on March 8, 2016 in Jupiter, Fla.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty

Donald Trump sidesteps key question on Russia scandal

Did Russian officials communicate with members of Donald Trump’s team during the presidential campaign? Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says yes; the Republican transition team says no. One of them isn’t telling the truth.

CNN reported yesterday, meanwhile, that part of the intelligence dossier on the Russian hacking scandal “included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government.”

Trump was offered an opportunity to clear this up during this morning’s press conference, but his response fell short.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign. And if you do indeed believe that Russia was behind the hacking, what is your message to Vladimir Putin right now?

TRUMP: He shouldn’t be doing it. He won’t be doing it. Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading than when other people have led it. You will see that. Russia will respect our country more. He shouldn’t have done it. I don’t believe that he will be doing it more now. We have to work something out, but it’s not just Russia….
At that point, the president-elect changed the subject and, soon after, ended the press conference without taking any additional questions.

After the event, an NBC News reporter repeated the unanswered question to Trump as he approached an elevator to exit the room. The president-elect responded, “No.”

He didn’t elaborate.

As for what else we learned on the Russia scandal from this morning’s Q&A:

* Three days after Reince Priebus said Trump is “not denying that entities in Russia were behind this particular campaign,” Trump told reporters this morning, “I think it’s Russia,” though later added, “You know what, it could have been others also.”

* Instead of categorically condemning Russia’s alleged cyber-attack, Trump said this morning, “We talk about the hacking and hacking’s bad and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking.”

* He continues to blame the DNC for having been attacked, arguing this morning, “The Democratic National Committee was totally open to be hacked. They did a very poor job.” (Blaming Dems continues to be absurd.)

* Referring to himself in third person, the president-elect insisted, “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability.”

* Still focused on the campaign, Trump added, “Do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anybody in this room really believe that?” I suspect practically everyone in every room believes that – including Putin, which is probably why Moscow took so many alleged steps to help put Trump in the White House.

* Following up on his pre-event messages, Trump went on to say, “I tweeted out that I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away.” That’s not exactly true.