The discussions suggest a worrying level of collusion between a key figure in the new administration and the Kremlin. "Why would [Flynn] conceal the nature of the call unless he was conscious of wrongdoing?" asked Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, in an interview with Post columnist David Ignatius.
While many things about the call remain unknown, it's clear that Flynn's position in the White House is vulnerable. Before the weekend, Trump pretended not to know about the intrigue surrounding Flynn. Sources made clear to my colleagues that this was not true.
While repeating a slew of falsehoods about voter fraud on national television on Sunday, Trump adviser Stephen Miller conspicuously shied away from defending Flynn, even when pressed on the matter multiple times. The stream of leaks coming out of the White House paint the picture of an increasingly fractious administration, marked by rivalries and enmities within Trump's inner circle that fester while the president's approval ratings sink at historic speed.
Flynn's dealings with Russia aside, there are even deeper ties that connect the current administration to the Kremlin.
First, there surely is more to come on the extent of Russian involvement in last year's election, with law enforcement agencies in the United States increasingly certain that Moscow actively worked to help Trump win. The Russian establishment, including close Putin allies, publicly basked in Trump's victory. Now, some Pentagon officials say they have "assumed that the Kremlin has ears" inside the White House ever since Trump's inauguration, according to controversial former counterintelligence official John Schindler.
Beyond the intrigues of spies, though, there's also a clear ideological affinity. Long gone are the days when Communist Moscow backed leftist movements around the world. Instead, Putin's post-Soviet ideologues see Russia at the vanguard of global Christian nationalist conservatism. In this struggle, they've found common cause with Europe's far-right parties as well as key figures within the Trump administration.
In 2014, current White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon told a gathering of European conservatives that "we, the Judeo-Christian West, really have to look at what [Putin]’s talking about as far as traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism." That same year, a group of fringe American white nationalists joined a conference in Hungary that featured Russian nationalist Alexander Dugin, a philosopher sometimes dubbed "Putin's Rasputin." Dugin hailed Trump as "the American Putin" last year.
American journalist Casey Michel has assiduously tracked the connections between right-wing American evangelicals and kindred spirits in Russia, who both champion anti-gay laws and the primacy of Christianity in the identity of Western nations.
"In the same sense that Russia’s [anti-LGBT] laws came about in 2013, we’ve seen similar sorts of laws proposed in Tennessee, for example," said Cole Parke, an LGBT researcher with Political Research Associates, to Michel last week. "It’s difficult to say in a chicken-and-egg sort of way who’s inspiring whom, but there’s definitely a correlation between the two movements."
Western "traditionalists," whether in the U.S. or Europe, now style themselves as Putin's fellow travelers.
"Putin may be seeing the future with more clarity than Americans still caught in a Cold War paradigm," wrote Patrick Buchanan, the right-wing, ethno-nationalist American politician, in 2013. He went on to suggest that the new fault line in global politics would be between "conservatives and traditionalists in every country arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite."
The specter of a "globalist" elite was a common theme in Trump's election campaign. Now in power, Trump has gone on to defend Putin's shadowy, authoritarian record, while pouring scorn on his perceived adversaries inside the Beltway.
But the fallout over the Flynn scandal and the ongoing tumult within the White House may complicate the picture. Beyond a basic level of cooperation in resolving the conflict in Syria and working to defeat the Islamic State, there are not many other arenas in which Trump's America and Putin's Russia would be obvious partners. That's particularly true in Europe, where Washington's traditional interests clash with Moscow's clear enmity toward NATO and the European liberal establishment.
This past week's Economist cover featured a lipstick-wearing Trump puckering up for Putin — and warned against cozying up to Russia. "The quest for a grand bargain with Mr Putin is delusional," declared the British magazine. "No matter how great a negotiator Mr Trump is, no good deal is to be had."
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