The USA’s current relationship with Russia is an ambiguous one at best – and President Trump isn’t doing much to cut through that foggy connection. The country has been a mainstay of recent news reports as well as throughout Trump’s campaign and now-presidency. Trump is excessively complimentary about the nation’s controversial leader, President Vladimir Putin. He also claims there to be no foul play occurring between the two nations. But should we all be so sure?
Over the past few months intelligence agencies have been uncovering information about the relationship – and much of what they’ve found is alarming. All of that has come to a head this week after President Trump’s national security advisor Michael Flynn resigned late Monday over reports surfaced of Flynn’s potentially illegal ties with Russian officials. Additionally, a New York Times report claims Trump’s team has been in frequent communication with Russia for months.
So, seriously, WT actual F is going on here? If you’re looking to jump into the loop without tripping over the multiple storylines happening, read on for a straightforward rundown on all that’s going down in Washington DC right now that’s related to Russia.
A BRIeF BACKSTORY
If you were to categorize Russia and the US as a Facebook relationship, they’d definitely be listed as “it’s complicated.” The on-again-off-again story has been playing out for years, but recently it goes a little something like this: Throughout the presidential election, Trump established himself as a candidate who wanted to be close with Russia. He made that clear during the presidential debates. Donald Trump went on to win the election. After he won, the CIA revealed they had proof that Russia interfered with the presidential election to help tip the scales in Trump’s favor via a cyber hack on email accounts of top ranking members of the Democratic National Committee. Despite the these findings, Trump dismissed the CIA’s allegations against Russia, which is a bold move considering that renouncing the information essentially means discrediting one of the country’s top intelligence agencies.
After that storm settled, another hit. This time, it was centered around a 35-page Russian dossier released by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. The unconfirmed dossier claims that Russia possesses embarrassing and damaging information about the new president. It also reports on alleged sexual and financial dealings Trump has been involved within Russia. Additionally, (this one is important to note) the dossier claimed there had been multiple instances of communication between Russian officials and members of Trump’s team. Again, Trump dismissed these findings deeming them as “fake news.”
MICHAEL FLYNN’S RESIGNATION
Fast forward a little over a month and amidst a few other political fires the White House is working on putting out, news broke Monday that after just 24 days on the job, President Trump’s national security advisor Michael Flynn was abruptly asked to resign from his new position.
His dismissal came after news broke that Flynn discussed US sanctions on Russia with Russian intelligence while he was still a private citizen. Here’s where things get sticky: The Department of Justice found out about these conversations weeks ago and notified the White House then, telling them Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail. It’s not clear why the WH allowed for that time gap between when they were informed of this news and when he was asked to resign.
Additionally, Flynn straight up lied to the Vice President about those conversations he had with Russia, telling Mike Pence he had not discussed the US sanctions with them when in fact he had.
In a press conference Sean Spicer held yesterday, he remained adamant that Flynn was pushed out because of trust issues, not due to illegal actions, but that might not be entirely true. While investigating Russia’s interference in the presidential election, the FBI interviewed Flynn and asked him about his communication with Russia. If it turns out he lied to the FBI, that could very well result in a legal violation.
THAT NEW YORK TIMES REPORT
The news everyone is talking about today stems from a report that was published late last night by the New York Times. Throughout the story, four unnamed intelligence officials revealed that Trump’s team had repeated contact with senior Russian intelligence officials before and during his campaign. (Remember a similar claim reported in that Russian dossier?)
The Intelligence Community has known about the communication since the election hacking investigation began, but they dug deeper into phone records and intercepted calls in an attempt to uncover whether Trump’s team was “colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.”
As of now, here’s what we do know: It was conducted by those close to Trump and occurred frequently. Two main players who aided in that relationship were Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn (hence, his swift exit).
Here’s what we don’t know: what was discussed during the calls (although the NSA is said to have the transcripts), the identity of the Russian intelligence officials who were involved, and exactly how many of Trump’s advisers were talking to the Russians.
THE COMMON THREAD
Trump’s flowing compliments toward Putin, Russia’s cyber hack into the emails of DNC members, Flynn’s resignation and these new NYT findings all spew out variations of the same tale: there’s something going on between Russia and Trump’s team. The details of each story and investigation vary, but a continuous theme remains strong throughout. There has been extensive communication between WH and Russian officials. Whether those conversations involved backdoor deals or a potentially dangerous exchange of information remains unclear. But certainly has many of Trump’s critics talking about he possibility of impeachment — and even a charge of treason for Flynn.
In a Facebook post yesterday, Veteran reporter Dan Rather compared this scandal to Nixon’s Watergate. He writes, “Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now. It was the closest we came to a debilitating Constitutional crisis, until maybe now. On a 10 scale of armageddon for our form of government, I would put Watergate at a 9. This Russia scandal is currently somewhere around a 5 or 6, in my opinion, but it is cascading in intensity seemingly by the hour. And we may look back and see, in the end, that it is at least as big as Watergate. It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged. It has all the necessary ingredients, and that is chilling.”
What’s your reaction to to this murky relationship? Share with us on Twitter @britandco.
(Photos via Getty)