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3/11/17

US-Russia-EU: How to Connect the Dots Between Trump and Russia - destabelizing the EU

Nicholas Kristof has written a valuable column in The New York Times, “Connecting Trump’s Dots to Russia,” in which he lists 10 “crucial” pieces of information that may indicate that Donald Trump’s inner circle colluded in some way with Moscow’s interference in the U.S. election.

I agree with most of what Kristof writes, with some significant exceptions. I also agree with his bottom line to resolve this morass: “What is desperately needed is an independent inquiry modeled on the 9/11 Commission.” (See Just Security’s Andy Wright’s work for some of the finest analysis of that point.)

1. Kristof writes that Trump has “appointed officials also friendly to Moscow.” That’s true with respect to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. It may also be true with respect to Steve Bannon in so far as his interests align with Vladimir Putin’s (from stoking the alt-right in America to destabilizing the EU).

But it is not true for a host of other important administration positions, many of which I have tracked, including Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland, plus the nominee for director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and the possible White House senior director for Russia and Europe, Fiona Hill.

Those dots do not neatly align with the others. They require, at least, a more complicated explanation.

2. Kristof wisely cautions Democrats not to descend into unfounded conspiratorial thinking (though I’m not sure why he focuses just on them since leading Republicans, including Senator Lindsey Graham, Senator John McCain and Evan McMullin, are also deeply concerned about the Russia ties).

It’s important to add a similar caution to news media. For example, David Corn, who has written some of the best pieces on the Russian scandal, also published a story on Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross’s connections to Russians: “Here’s Another Trump Cabinet Pick With Close Financial Ties to Russians—Wilbur Ross joined with a Russian oligarch and a former KGB official to run a troubled bank in Cyprus.

That article (plus Rachel Maddow’s coverage) now seems in need of significant qualification in light of more recent extraordinary reporting by The New York Times: “New Commerce Secretary Was No Friend to Russians at Cyprus Bank.”

This does not mean that reporters should stop inquiring into what role Wilbur Ross may have played in various aspects of Trump’s finances and connections back through to Russia, but it does mean: Don’t discard information that does not fit into one’s story.

3. It should be acknowledged that former and current U.S. officials have stated that there is not (at least not yet) evidence of collusion between Trump’s circle and Russia.

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Meet the Press that by the time he left office, the DNI had “no evidence of such collusion.” The mid-February blockbuster New York Times report of repeated contacts between Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence also had this important caveat:

The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election. The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.

Sor complete report: : How to Connect the Dots Between Trump and Russia

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