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Putin had a motive for helping put Trump in the White House

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting to discuss the Ukrainian peace process at the German federal Chancellery on Oct. 19, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Adam Berry/Getty)
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting to discuss the Ukrainian peace process at the German federal Chancellery on Oct. 19, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. 
Reading the New York Times' opus on Russia's intervention in the U.S. elections raises all kinds of questions -- about the DNC's lax practices, the FBI's underwhelming response, the White House's trepidation, etc. -- but it also leaves little doubt about Russia's guilt. The publicly available evidence effectively excludes any other possibility.NBC News had a related report over the weekend, noting that 17 U.S. intelligence agencies agree that Vladimir Putin's government was responsible for the cyber-attacks.

[T]he question of motive -- why the Russians allegedly meddled in the election -- is entirely separate from the more basic question of whether the U.S. has strong evidence that the Russian government sponsored the covert campaign.On that score, every intelligence agency in the government agrees: The Russians did it.

That matters, of course. Donald Trump and his allies have raised a variety of alternative explanations, ranging from blaming China to arguing that the hack of Democratic computers may not have happened at all, as if we all just imagined it.But if we accept the most obvious explanation as true, the issue of motive is the next question to consider in detail. It's not enough to know Russia launched the attack; there's value in knowing why.One of the more common explanations is that Putin's government recognized the geo-political benefits of having Trump in the White House: the more the United States looks ridiculous, having an unprepared and unqualified television personality leading a global superpower, the easier it will be for Russia to exploit America's self-inflicted wound.Putin's intervention, in other words, created an opportunity for Russia to tell officials the world over, "You obviously can't count on the United States to be a credible global leader anymore; just look at who the Americans chose as their president."And while there may be something to this, let's not forget that Russia has a financial incentive as well.The more Putin's government became a source of hostility and instability in the region, the more President Obama imposed economic sanctions that did real harm to Russia. In fact, the combination of falling oil prices and U.S. sanctions have taken a severe toll on Russia's economy.What does this have to do with interference in the American presidential election? Perhaps everything: as Politico noted, now that Trump is poised to take office, the sanctions may be eased or eliminated.

Senate Democrats are powerless to stop Donald Trump from easing sanctions against Russia after he takes office. But they're determined to make Trump and the GOP pay a political price if he does. [...]If Trump chooses to lift sanctions against Moscow to help cement that partnership, there’s not much Democrats can do to block him.

Note, Trump has chosen ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, a close Putin ally, as his Secretary of State nominee -- and Tillerson has publicly criticized U.S. sanctions on Russia for years.Asked on MSNBC yesterday whether the Trump administration will roll back these sanctions, incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus wouldn't give a position, saying Americans will "have to just wait and see."As the controversy surrounding Russia's interference in the U.S. elections has intensified, many have asked what Russia had to gain. Isn't money a powerful motive?