A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, May 14, 2016.
Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP

New questions surround Putin’s interest in Trump’s election

In his first public remarks as a vice presidential candidate, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) took some time to highlight Donald Trump’s ugly rhetorical record. “Donald Trump trash talks folks with disabilities,” Kaine noted, “trash talks Mexican Americans and Latinos, whether they’re new immigrants or governors or federal judges; trash talks women; trash talks our allies; and calls the military a disaster.”
 
After someone in the Miami audience made a comment that was hard to hear, Kaine paused and said, “Oh, you’re right, he doesn’t trash talk everybody – he likes Vladimir Putin.”
 
Interest in the Republican presidential candidate’s ties to – and affection for – Russia’s autocratic leader have been simmering for months, but what was once a relatively obscure issue is making its way from the back-burner to the front. ABC News had this report yesterday:
Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook said candidate Donald was pushing for a “pro-Russian” platform and cited experts who say that Russian state actors were behind the recent leak of Democratic National Committee emails in an attempt to help Trump win.
 
“Experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke into the DNC, took all these emails, and now are leaking them out through these websites,” Mook told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “It’s troubling that some experts are now telling us that this was done by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump.”
 
Mook also suggested that the GOP nominee altered the Republican party platform to make it more attractive to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime. “It was concerning last week that Donald Trump changed the Republican platform to become what some experts would regard as pro-Russian,” Mook said.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, called the allegations “pure obfuscation,” which (a) is an odd way to phrase a denial; and (b) dubious given Manafort’s own ties to Putin’s regime.
 
Team Trump’s credibility problems notwithstanding, it’s not overstating matters to suggest Russia’s alleged interference in the U.S. presidential election may be the biggest political bombshell of the year – or in several years. I realize there are plenty of shiny objects on the political landscape, but this is becoming an issue that shouldn’t be ignored.
 
The evidence is not yet conclusive. The available information, however, points in an alarming direction:
 
* The New York Times reports today, “[R]esearchers have concluded that the national committee was breached by two Russian intelligence agencies, which were the same attackers behind previous Russian cyberoperations at the White House, the State Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff last year. And metadata from the released emails suggests that the documents passed through Russian computers….. Whether the thefts were ordered by Mr. Putin, or just carried out by apparatchiks who thought they might please him, is anyone’s guess.”
 
* The Washington Post reported overnight, “In the past 24 hours, cybersecurity experts have said that the email cache released by WikiLeaks on Friday appears to have been given to the anti-secrecy group by Russian intelligence.”
 
* The Washington Post also reported the other day that the Trump campaign, which generally took no interest in the Republican Party’s official platform, took special care to add language about U.S. policy towards Ukraine – a new position that contradicts GOP foreign-policy orthodoxy – that brings the platform in line with the policies of the Russian government.
 
* The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, reporting last week from the Republican convention, said he’d spoken to a GOP congressman who believes the “most under-covered story of convention” is Team Trump’s efforts to change the party platform “to be more pro-Putin.”
 
* Noting Trump’s anti-NATO posture – another break with decades of Republican thought on foreign policy – The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, a center-right observer, noted last week, “Trump is making it clear that, as president, he would allow Russia to advance its hegemonic interests across Europe and the Middle East.”
 
* TPM’s Josh Marshall had a lengthy piece over the weekend, highlighting Trump’s financial ties to Russia.
 
* The Weekly Standard’s Bill Kristol, an anti-Trump Republican, wrote, “If Trump and Manafort don’t act to allay these concerns by releasing their tax returns (or in other ways), wouldn’t it be advisable for a Republican member of Congress to lead an urgent investigation into whether Putin is interfering in the current American election? Trump and Manafort may be Putin’s chumps. Will other Republicans sit by as the whole Republican party becomes Putin’s party?”
 
* While some have suggested that these questions lend credence to conspiracy theories, the Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum raised an important point: conspiracy theories tend to focus on allegations of secret misconduct; many of Trump’s ties to Putin are already out in the open.
 
It’s often hard to predict how Americans will respond to political developments and whether voters will care about assorted controversies. But we’re dealing with circumstances that defy easy explanation: a party that has largely defined its foreign policy by its anti-Russia attitudes has nominated a presidential candidate who sees Russia’s autocratic president as an ally, possibly worthy of emulation.
 
For GOP leaders who’ve grudgingly thrown their support behind Trump, shouldn’t Trump’s Putin ties – substantive, financial, political – give them serious pause? If Russia is trying to influence the outcome of an American presidential election, doesn’t the political world have a responsibility to pause and ask why?
 
 
 

Donald Trump, Russia and Vladimir Putin

New questions surround Putin's interest in Trump's election