Monday, December 19, 2016

Do the Russians have leverage over Donald Trump?

Appearing on CBS, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway described concern about Russian interference with the U.S. election as lacking evidence and claimed that President Obama’s vow to retaliate against Russia is “political.”
Trump himself has publicly and repeatedly cast doubt on the intelligence community’s conclusions that Russia initiated hacks designed to damage Hillary Clinton.
“Earlier this week, I met separately with FBI [Director] James Comey and DNI [Director] Jim Clapper, and there is strong consensus among us on the scope, nature, and intent of Russian interference in our presidential election,” CIA Director John Brennan wrote to agency employees.
Trump says the hack is just as likely to have been perpetrated by a 400-pound man in New Jersey.
Trump’s posture, as he prepares to assume the presidency and assume control over the American intelligence community, cast doubts on his willingness to pursue a full investigation of Russian activity.
Appearing directly after Conway, Washington Post reporter David Ignatius expressed alarm that Trump’s disinterest in Russian interference posed a grave danger to U.S. interests. Specifically, the country will not be able to determine “whether there is any kind of leverage the Russian government has over Donald Trump.”
Ignatius said it is “crucial” that information be collected before Trump takes office, “not to attack him but to liberate him.”
Ignatius noted that Trump’s refusal the release his tax returns, as every other modern Presidential nominee has done, further complicated the process of determining possible Russian influence over Trump.
Republican leaders in Congress steered potential investigations of Russian interference to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Both of these bodies are controlled by Trump loyalists and appear unlikely to act aggressively, if at all.
Trump has appointed individuals with close relationships to Russia and Putin to key national security roles, including Gen. Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser and Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State.

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