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Several members of Trump's inner circle share a curious connection

As Trump's sense of desperation grows, he's assembled a new inner circle of "misfits," several of whom have Russian connections.
Image: TOPSHOT-FINLAND-US-RUSSIA-POLITICS-DIPLOMACY-SUMMIT
Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump shake hands before a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, on July 16, 2018.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images file

As Donald Trump grows increasingly desperate about nullifying his own country's election results, a new inner circle has the flailing president's ear. As the Washington Post reported, Trump "has turned to a ragtag group of conspiracy theorists, media-hungry lawyers and other political misfits in a desperate attempt to hold on to power after his election loss."

The article added that there have been officials who've tried to level with Trump, suggesting he acknowledge reality, but the president "sidelines" those who tell him the truth, instead embracing fringe figures with radical ideas about seizing illegitimate political power.

Some of the names are familiar, but one of the figures gathered around the Resolute Desk on Friday was Patrick Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock. And why was that? From the Post's report:

[Byrne] resigned from the retailer in August 2019, after revealing that he had engaged in a multiyear romantic relationship with Maria Butina, the Russian graduate student who pleaded guilty in April 2019 to conspiring to act as a Russian agent and trying to build inroads on behalf of the Kremlin with prominent Republican politicians and conservative organizations, including the National Rifle Association. Butina served five months in federal prison and was deported to Russia in October 2019.

Byrne apparently concluded that the U.S. charges against Butina were really an anti-Trump "deep state" plot -- a conspiracy theory he shared on Overstock letterhead, leading the company to suffer and oust Byrne as CEO.

He went on to start echoing the kind of bonkers conspiracy theories espoused by Sidney Powell -- another new member of Trump's inner circle -- and sharing his strange ideas with the likes of Glenn Beck.

Joking about Byrne's circuitous path, Jon Chait added yesterday, "There was once a time, years ago, when 'CEO falls for Russian spy, goes mad, gets fired, becomes presidential strategist' would have been a major story in itself, not merely a colorful side plot."

That's funny, but it's also a reminder of just how many members of Trump's new informal advisory panel have Russian connections. There's Patrick Byrne, who dated a Russian spy. There's former foreign agent Michael Flynn, who (twice) pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russia, in which he tried to undermine U.S. foreign policy in the wake of a Russian attack.

And then, of course, there's Rudy Giuliani, who, among other things, recently partnered with an active Russian agent.

Each of these players are helping steer Donald Trump, who recently downplayed an apparent Russian cyberattack that has more serious U.S. officials terrified.

Just for a laugh, maybe Trump can tell us, once more before leaving office, how no one's ever been tougher on Russia than him?