What’s the scoop with Russia and the U.S. election?

There is ample circumstantial evidence that Russia is interfering in the U.S. presidential election in order to boost Donald Trump, who not only displays reverence for Russian President Vladimir Putin but also has advocated policies that would pay big dividends for Moscow (e.g. backing away from NATO, letting Russia and Iran have their ways in Syria, ending defensive arms to Ukraine).

Numerous news reports citing cyber experts say there are telltale signs of Russia’s involvement in the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails and the all-too-convenient leak at the onset of the Democrats’ convention.

The Trump campaign has an astonishing number of connections to Russia, as many analysts have discovered. Max Boot writes:

Trump has sought and received funding from Russian investors for his business ventures, especially after most American banks stopped lending to him following his multiple bankruptcies. Trump’s de facto campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was a longtime consultant to Viktor Yanukovich, the Russian-backed president of Ukraine who was overthrown in 2014. Manafort also has done multimillion-dollar business deals with Russian oligarchs.

Trump’s foreign policy advisor Carter Page has his own business ties to the state-controlled Russian oil giant Gazprom. He recently delivered a speech in Moscow slamming the United States for its “hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization” and praising Russia for a foreign policy supposedly built on “noninterference,” “tolerance” and “respect.” (Try telling that to Ukraine.) Another Trump foreign policy advisor, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, flew to Moscow last year to attend a gala banquet celebrating Russia Today, the Kremlin’s propaganda channel, and was seated at the head table near Putin. Flynn is a regular guest on Russia Today; he refuses to say whether he gets paid.

Indeed, Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak’s attendance at Trump’s first big foreign policy speech in the spring raised eyebrows.

This is a big deal, folks. The journalist(s) who could confirm a foreign government’s plot to install a friendly American president would be the biggest scoop in American politics in decades, maybe ever. So where are the media? And frankly, while the FBI is investigating, Congress should hold hearings when it returns. In previous cases, Republicans (e.g. regarding the Hillary Clinton emails) and Democrats (e.g. Valerie Plame) have jealously guarded their power to conduct their own parallel investigations while law enforcement investigates potential crimes.

At least some senators are concerned enough to ask questions:

The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee are raising alarms over the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, saying if it was a Russian intelligence operation such activity is worse than everyday espionage.

Senators Charles Grassley (R., Iowa) and Patrick Leahy (D., Vt.) wrote a letter to the heads of the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation Tuesday seeking more details about the hacking, which led to the release of embarrassing emails, the resignation of the head of the DNC and a public apology.

Likewise, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) put out a statement: “Every American, without regard to political party, must face this grim reality: While the Obama Administration idles with empty platitudes and fantasy resets, Mr. Putin’s Soviet-style aggression has escalated to levels that were unimaginable just a week ago. America is digitally exposed. The United States must take serious offensive and defensive actions now. Russia must face real consequences.”

Unless, of course, they fear it would reflect poorly on their presidential nominee, you’d think all Republicans — who have been demanding strong action on cyberterrorism — would join with Democrats to get to the nub of this as soon as possible. Senate and House committees do, of course, have the power of subpoena.

As for the media, they should be demanding at every opportunity the release of tax returns from Trump, Manafort, Page and Flynn to see if they have financial connections to the Russian government, Russian-controlled entities or officials friendly to the Russian government. Trump says he has “zero” investments in Russia, but there is no way to know whether he is telling the truth — or whether his top advisers have Russian financial conflicts. If they won’t turn over the tax returns, why not give them to a third party who can determine whether any financial connection to Russia exists? (By the way, why hasn’t Trump put his business in a blind trust by now?)
Will Donald Trump ever release his tax returns?
Play Video1:55
Donald Trump’s stance on presidential candidates has changed significantly over the years. Here’s how. (Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

Instead of asking merely what financial connections the campaign may have to Putin, the media should be asking what connections Trump and the top Trump aides have had, including but not limited to financial interests. Have they consulted (directly or through intermediaries) or met with Russian officials or oligarchs about the U.S.-Russia relationship? About the presidential campaign? If so, what has been discussed?

Opinions newsletter

Thought-provoking opinions and commentary, in your inbox daily.

It’s quite weird, as well, that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus told Andrea Mitchell that he thinks more leaks are coming. Why does he think so? Why does he suspect only leaks from the DNC are coming? Has the RNC or the Trump campaign been attacked?

When they next interview Trump, journalists should be asking hard questions, such as why he praises a corrupt autocrat, why Putin is so enthralled with Trump’s foreign policy and why Trump seems so unconcerned about Russian occupation of its neighbors.

This is not a trivial matter. As Jack Goldsmith remarks, “The legitimacy of a presidential election might be called into question, with catastrophic consequences. The DNC hack is just the first wave of possible threats to electoral integrity in the United States—by foreign intelligence services, and others.” Given the implications of Russian tampering, it is worth digging into — well before the November election.

UPDATE: At a bizarre press conference, Trump declared that he has “zero” to do with Russia. (His son has said differently and Trump admitted in the presser that he has sold properties to Russians.) He, however, went into his Putin-adoration act, insisting he wants better relations with him. Then, in the same breath, he declared, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” referring to Clinton’s emails. In other words, he would gladly take Putin’s help. And as if to sweeten the pot, he added, “I think you will probably be mightily rewarded by our press.” He is now, it seems, asking for the intervention of a hostile foreign government to help elect him. Good to know.

Trump also reiterated his insistence that NATO needs to be renegotiated, and he would at least threaten to pull support from countries that are below the 2 percent funding agreement. No wonder Russia loves this guy, right? Trump insists Putin respects him more, but it’s evident he sees him as an easy mark.