And let’s not forget former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, who received a $50,000 payment from the Kremlin propaganda TV outlet RT and was purportedly caught up in surveillance of the Russian ambassador.
No other presidential campaign of which we are aware had any association with one, let alone three, people who allegedly have ties to foreign adversary of the United States. All of these people coincidentally wound up on one campaign, for a candidate who refused to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin and who publicly invited Russian hacking into his opponent’s email, in an election in which the Russians were trying to tip the race against Hillary Clinton? It’s possible this is mere happenstance but very, very unlikely.
Carter Page, Manafort and Flynn have every incentive in the world to cooperate now with the FBI. Investigators will want to know, among other things, how they all came to work for Trump, what Trump knew of their Russian connections, what contacts they and others might have had with Russian officials and how the Republican National Committee platform on Ukraine got changed. It’s hard to imagine a whole lot more won’t come out as cooperative witnesses add to whatever intelligence is already in the FBI’s hands.
Beyond all these threads and the potential for confirming secret collaboration between Trump’s team and the Russians, one uncomfortable truth remains: Overt, blatant and ongoing synchronization between Trump and Russian propagandists seems to have occurred throughout the general election. Ben Wittes, Jordan Brunner and Quinta Jurecic of the Lawfare blog write:
It included open encouragement of the Russians to hack Democratic targets; denial that they had done so; encouragement of Wikileaks, which was publicly known to be effectively a publishing arm of the Russian operation, in publishing the fruits of the hacks; and publicly trumpeting the contents of stolen emails. . . . After the Russian government had already been publicly associated with the hack, Trump urged it to conduct further hacking. . . .Trump and his associates were collaborating with the operation. That they were doing so publicly and lawfully does not make their activity any less collaboration — just, perhaps, more honest and open. And it doesn’t make it less bad.
As the authors argue, we need to know if “any laws were violated and whether anyone in the Trump orbit may be compromised by Russian intelligence.” The intelligence investigation — which FBI Director James B. Comey says includes examination of potential criminal activity — goes on. However, for those who think accepting help from and working in tandem with a foreign power to undermine U.S. democracy renders the results inherently illegitimate, no smoking gun is needed. All the information necessary to determine the moral legitimacy of this president already is known. That Trump engaged so many people with Russian sympathies doesn’t mean those people were spies or engaged in illegal activity; it simply confirms he was an easy mark, someone willing to accept help from anyone, no matter how shady or tainted.