Russia’s Cold Decrepit Hand

Russian President Vladimir Putin, listens during a joint news conference with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following their meeting in Istanbul, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. Putin and Erdogan voiced support for ... Russian President Vladimir Putin, listens during a joint news conference with Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following their meeting in Istanbul, Monday, Oct. 10, 2016. Putin and Erdogan voiced support for the construction of a gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey, called Turkish Stream, a project that was suspended amid tensions between the two countries. The pipeline would carry Russian natural gas to Turkey and onto European Union countries. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel) MORE LESS
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Two stories were published today alleging or suggesting actual covert communication between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign and an effort to use Trump to advance Russian interests in the United States. One of these stories is about suspicious communication between a Trump controlled email server and Russia. The second story is much more specific in its accusation. According to David Corn, who is an experienced national security and intelligence reporter, a retired spy from a western country who now works for an American security contractor has provided the FBI with evidence suggesting that “the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump.” Corn further reports that this retired spy found “troubling information indicating connections between Trump and the Russian government. According to his sources, he says, ‘there was an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.'”

The retired spy, who remains anonymous, says he’s provided his evidence to the FBI and they have requested additional information from him about his sources, findings, etc. Corn knows how to do this kind of reporting. He has spoken to a US intelligence official who says this retired spy has provided credible and valuable intelligence to the US government in the past. He is considered reliable. Corn’s reporting gives me a high level of confidence this retired spy is not a crank. That doesn’t mean he’s right or even that he’s not pursuing some unknown agenda.

Is any of this meaningful or serious or something we should be concerned about since Trump has a legitimate chance of becoming President in only a few months? The activities being alleged here are incredibly serious. I was out early arguing that the confluence of connections between Trump and the Russian government required close investigation. But these are very serious charges based on unnamed sources with uncertain motives. I take it as a given that most things you hear in the final days of a brutal election are either not true, unsubstantiated or wildly overblown. Speaking for myself, the claims are too serious and the evidence so murky, that I really can’t make any judgments about them. I need a lot more evidence to believe what’s being alleged here.

If such murky and shadowy claims were being made about my candidate on the eve of an election, would I be pleased? I would have to say no.

However, it now appears fairly clear that some arm of the Russian government conducted an aggressive campaign of cyber-espionage against one US political party and used the material to assist Trump’s presidential campaign. Yes, maybe the US government is just making this up and maybe the non-governmental analysts who’ve come to the same conclusions are wrong. I’ve seen stranger things. But the Russian government is now barely making an effort to deny its involvement. Skepticism is always warranted when governments are involved. But dismissing the accusation of Russian involvement out of hand now seems more like denial than skepticism.

Such an effort to manipulate a US election by a hostile foreign government is all but unprecedented. For all the chatter about the subject, there’s been very little wrestling with the implications of this in reporting on the US presidential election. When you put it together with Trump’s close support of Russian government policies on almost every front, his financial ties to Russian, and the number of close advisors with close ties to Putin and his allies, it’s more than enough to ring every alarm bell.

Think of it this way.

If Trump is advocating for Russia in the US political arena (he is), and Russia is conducting an espionage and disruption campaign on Trump’s behalf in the US political area (highly likely), do I need to know if they’re actually talking to each other while both these things are happening? I’m not sure I do.

Isn’t this a much bigger deal than it has been made out to be?

If they are, if Russia has coopted or cultivated or compromised Trump that is a threat of the highest order. I can’t go on the word of an unnamed retired spy whose identity we don’t know, whose motives we can’t interrogate and whose evidence we can’t see. But I don’t think I need additional evidence. What’s been in plain sight for weeks, actually months, is more than enough to ring every alarm bell. And yet, with all the hints and arch remarks about Russia, the alarms have barely been rung.

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