Questions about Trump’s ties to Russia that the Mueller report does not answer

Anne Applebaum writes:

There is a lot inside the Mueller report, and it will all take many weeks to digest. But two things remain unexplained. One is the question of messaging. Why was Trump, all through the latter part of the 2016 campaign, repeating and using slogans that were conceived on Russian state media? Obama “founded ISIS” and Hillary Clinton will cause World War III : These were slogans first used by Sputnik and other Russian sources. We still don’t know how Trump and his campaign happened to use the same conspiracy theories that the Russians were using, or happened to be promoting the same conspiracy theories online. I speculated, at one point, that campaign data might have been shared. And, indeed, Mueller did find exactly that: Manafort and deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates were sharing data with Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the FBI believes to be a Russian intelligence operative: “Gates periodically sent such polling data to Kilimnik during the campaign.” But there is no further information about how that data might have been used — and no explanation of why the online tactics used by the Russian military intelligence agency and the Trump campaign were so similar.

The second, bigger question concerns Trump’s longer-term, and indeed present-day, relationship with Russia. The president’s business and personal links to Russia and Russians go back many decades, to the Mikhail Gorbachev era, including the Russian money “pouring in,” as Donald Trump Jr. put it, to the family’s U.S. properties. Trump Sr. was praising Putin on CNN as far back as 2013. Trump was working on business deals in Russia — which he lied about, repeatedly — through most of the 2016 campaign, as the Mueller report explains in great detail. Trump’s performance when standing next to the Russian president in Helsinki last July was bizarre: The sight of the U.S. president cringing before the Russian president was shocking. (Watch it again if you’ve forgotten.) His repeated attempts to hold secret talks with Putin, with no U.S. officials present, might not be illegal. But neither are they normal, or acceptable, or comparable to the behavior of any previous American president. [Continue reading…]

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