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Leading Dems highlight how Trump was compromised by the Kremlin

One of the core questions has always been whether, and to what degree, Trump was compromised by his Russian benefactors. The answer is coming into focus.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/LatinContent/Getty)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is seen during a press conference at Los Pinos on Aug. 31, 2016 in Mexico City, Mexico.

On "Meet the Press" yesterday, NBC News' Chuck Todd did a nice job summarizing the latest revelations about Donald Trump and Russia, posing a pointed question to Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who'll soon become the #3 Republican in the U.S. Senate.

"I want to ask you, quickly, on the revelation from the Kremlin over the weekend confirming Michael Cohen's account, essentially, that yes, there were some interactions between Donald Trump's organization and the Kremlin. We don't find out about it until now.... Basically, we now know they might have had leverage over this president. They knew information that we, in the public, did not know. They confirmed it over the weekend. Is that not cause for concern?"

Barrasso, sadly but predictably, largely sidestepped the question, instead saying of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, "We need to come to completion on that. And it should be done quickly."

The GOP senator didn't elaborate as to why the Mueller probe should wrap up -- a common position among Republican lawmakers -- but in this case, the question was probably more interesting that the answer.

The Russia scandal has always been a multi-faceted controversy, but one of the core questions has always been whether, and to what degree, Donald Trump was compromised by his Russian benefactors. The Kremlin's efforts to help put the Republican in power are well documented and no longer in dispute, but coming to terms with Moscow's possible hold over Trump has long been a separate piece of the puzzle.

Which is one of the reason's last week's revelations from Michael Cohen are so important. Indeed, Chuck Todd's question dovetailed nicely with Rachel's segment on this from Friday night: Trump lied during his campaign about business dealings with Putin's government, Putin's government knew at the time that Trump was lying, so the resulting dynamic gave the Kremlin leverage over the then-candidate.

In case this isn't obvious, it created circumstances in which officials in Moscow were in a position to tell Trump, "Follow our instructions or we'll tell everyone what you've been lying about."

It's an element of the scandal some members of Congress are starting to take quite seriously, as we saw yesterday.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who'll soon become the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on "Meet the Press" yesterday, "There certainly was leverage during the campaign period and until recently. Because they knew that [Trump] was lying.... One question has always been, why was the president so obsequious to Putin from the beginning of the campaign up to the present day? And it may be that it's because the Kremlin has leverage over the president, which is a terrible thing, if true."

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who'll soon become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, raised a similar point on ABC's "This Week."  telling George Stephanopoulos:

"In order for this Trump Tower deal to go through, sanctions had to be lifted on a Russian state bank. At the same time, Donald Trump is out there pushing to lift sanctions on Russia and this bank.... It means that the president, whether he won or lost, was hoping to make money from Russia, was seeking at the same time to enlist the support of the Kremlin to make that money."And once more, when this came to light, the Kremlin intervened, Mr. Peskov, the spokesman for the Kremlin intervened to help Donald Trump and his business in the cover up."That is so deeply compromising and we have to remember what the Mueller investigation began as the Comey investigation was a counterintelligence investigation. That is an investigation into whether Donald Trump and his organization were compromised. And now, via Michael Cohen, we find out that yes, there was compromise and that puts our country at risk."

If you saw Rachel's A block on Friday, much of this will sound familiar. If you didn't see the segment, I strongly urge you to take the time to watch it. (For the record, I had literally nothing to do with the production of this segment.)

The thesis may seem complex, but there's a straightforward and linear narrative to consider: Trump, as a presidential candidate, was negotiating a major real-estate deal with Moscow -- a deal he lied about and kept secret from American voters. All the while, Trump endorsed ending U.S. sanctions that had been imposed on Russia -- a position that put him well outside the American mainstream -- which would've made his secret deal possible.

The Kremlin not only knew Trump was lying at the time, officials inside Putin's government even helped the Republican keep the truth under wraps, which naturally had the effort of further compromising Trump.

On the exact day that the American public learned about Russia stealing Democratic materials, members of Trump's inner circle halted their Trump Tower Moscow plans. Why would the election-related revelation lead to the collapse of an unrelated real-estate deal?

Because maybe they weren't unrelated after all.