A few years ago, Donald Trump asked via Twitter whether Russian President Vladimir Putin might be willing to become his "new best friend."The answer, it turns out, is yes.Asked last week about reports that Russia launched an espionage operation to subvert the U.S. presidential election and help put him in the White House, Trump told reporters, "I think we ought to get on with our lives." On Friday, after the Obama administration announced new sanctions against Russia, Trump once again sided with Putin's government, saying in a written statement, "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things."As we discussed the other day, the president-elect is effectively declaring that he does not care about a foreign adversary's attack on our democracy. For all of Trump's rhetoric about "peace through strength," the Republican is signaling weakness to the world: launch an attack on the United States, and the incoming president would rather "move on" than act.When Putin announced over the holiday weekend that Russia would not impose fresh sanctions of its own in retaliation, Trump gushed over the autocratic leader, calling the decision a "great move," and adding, "I always knew he was very smart!" (Trump pinned the tweet so it would be the first thing readers saw on his Twitter profile.)It was as if Trump were going to cringe-worthy lengths to prepare to become president ... of Vladimir Putin's fan club. The foreign foe appears to have launched an attack against the United States, which Trump isn't just inclined to ignore, but which also leads Trump to praise Putin's intellect. The president-elect was vastly angrier with "Saturday Night Live" and the cast of "Hamilton" than the foreign adversary who allegedly interfered with an American election.On New Year's Eve, Trump reiterated his skepticism about the information from U.S. intelligence agencies, and claimed to have relevant information they lacked.
"I just want them to be sure, because it's a pretty serious charge, and I want them to be sure," Trump said of assessments that Russia, and possibly its president Vladimir Putin, was involved in the campaign of cyber-attacks and attempted interference in the electoral process."And I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove," Trump said. "So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don't know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation."Trump did not elaborate, but when asked what things he knows he replied, "you'll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday."
Oh my.First, Trump doesn't have any working understanding of cyber-crimes. Second, 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, by all accounts, are already sure. And third, for Trump to claim he has secret information "that other people don't know" raises all kinds of concerns about the president-elect relying on information from Russia, fringe websites and tabloids he inexplicably believes, or made-up nonsense Trump creates by way of his own overactive imagination.A couple of weeks before Election Day, Mike Pence told NBC News' Chuck Todd, "I think there's more and more evidence that, that implicates Russia. And there should be serious consequences." Two months later, Trump doesn't care about the evidence, doesn't want consequences, and has no use for his own running mate's stated position.Over the weekend, Trump added that, after his inauguration, sensitive information may not be sent electronically. "If you have something really important, write it out and have it delivered by courier, the old fashioned way because I'll tell you what, no computer is safe," Trump said.It appears his vast expertise in this field does not extend to encryption.As for Trump's increasingly creepy affection for Putin -- I don't know if Americans have ever heard a president (or president-elect) gush quite this much about a foreign head of state, even from allied countries -- it's hard not to wonder why the Republican is so loyal and deferential towards an adversary of the United States. The editorial board of the Washington Post, in a surprising piece over the weekend, raised the prospect of "darker suspicions.""Mr. Trump has steadfastly refused to be transparent about his multibillion-dollar business empire," the editorial noted. "Are there loans or deals with Russian businesses or the state that were concealed during the campaign? Are there hidden communications with Mr. Putin or his representatives? We would be thrilled to see all the doubts dispelled, but Mr. Trump's odd behavior in the face of a clear threat from Russia, matched by Mr. Putin's evident enthusiasm for the president-elect, cannot be easily explained."The more Trump dots the "i" in "Putin" with little hearts, the more these questions will persist.