So, let’s take a moment to separate what we know from what is unclear and may be unfair. Let’s begin with Trump and Russia.
On Tuesday, CNN reported, citing multiple intelligence community sources, that both President Barack Obama and President-elect Trump received information from the most senior leadership of the intelligence community indicating that, in addition to their collectivite certainty that Russia tried to meddle in the 2016 election campaign with the intention of helping Trump, there are credible reports that the Russians were seeking to compromise Trump through his business and financial ties and as a consequence of his personal behavior. Also within this report was an assertion that members of the Trump team were in contact with representatives of the Russian government during the campaign. We have since learned, thanks to reporting in the Guardian and elsewhere, that the FBI has been investigating the latter allegation and sought permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to track the communications of select individuals affiliated with Trump.
As noted in all the responsible reporting on this development, the information regarding the nature of how Trump was compromised is either unproven, unspecific, or both.
The reports about Trump’s misbehavior have been floating around for months. The reason they have not made headlines was that no one could prove them and because some elements of one of the reports on which they were based, from a former British intelligence agent, did not, according to what one reporter for a major newspaper told me, “check out.”
Clearly, a thorough investigation is called for. Given the reluctance of the Republican congressional leadership in both houses to take prior expressions of concern regarding Trump’s ties to Russia or Moscow’s efforts to meddle in the election very seriously, and given the FBI’s own dubious recent track record, we can’t be sure we’re going to get that investigation. But experience suggests that it can’t be buried and that it is potentially going to be a major problem for Trump and for the United States in the months ahead.
First, the leadership of the intelligence community thought the allegations against Trump were important enough to include them in the briefings to the president and the president-elect. Such decisions are not taken lightly, especially in briefings delivered by the high-level officials involved. Second, at least some in the intelligence community thought it was sufficiently important that the public know about the allegations that the information was leaked by more than one person to the press. While this is not kosher, it is standard operating procedure. I can say with certainty that some within the intelligence community feel that the issues raised are real ones involving U.S. national security that they were no longer confident would be handled appropriately by the potentially compromised incoming administration.
Next, we know that these issues will not go away. We can probably expect more revelations both in the area of Trump’s personal misbehavior (many other rumors have long been circulating) and, more importantly, with regard to the collusion between Trump’s advisors and the Russians.
But, again, investigations are not conclusions. Given the stakes, we must be very careful not to accept accusations as fact — especially since we know that doing so would actually serve the Russian objectives of undercutting faith in American democracy and leadership as much as would the release of any compromising actual facts.
Those caveats firmly in place, our responsible leaders and members of the press and the intelligence and justice communities must all also recognize that the issues involved here are of enormous consequence. If collusion between the team of the next president and a hostile former power can be proved or if it can be proved that the behavior or business ties of that president may compromise him and put U.S. national interests at risk, serious, independent, nonpolitical investigation is required. We must move past partisanship when the stakes are so high.
It is now a matter of national security that Trump’s financial dealings and holdings be made public immediately. Not to do so gives power to those who would further undercut the new administration with rumor — including the Russians.
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