Latest Trump-Russia report lacks 'smoking gun' of illegality
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The exclusive Reuters’ report of at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russian sources potentially adds another drop of gasoline on an already roaring fire torching the Trump administration. The operative word is “potentially,” however.

The report notes that former National Security Adviser “Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpAssange meets U.S. congressman, vows to prove Russia did not leak him documents A history lesson on the Confederacy for President Trump GOP senator: Trump hasn't 'changed much' since campaign MORE’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties.” It cites both telephone calls and emails as the means of contact.

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But we simply do not know, at this point, the substance of these contacts or even the names of the contacts themselves beyond Flynn, who was fired by the Trump administration in its opening days of its tenure. The deliberately vague phrase about the contacts stated as “and others with Kremlin ties” demands clarification. Who are these shadowy figures?  

 

Anyone who knows anything about American and Russian politics knows that many self-seeking operators in both capitals boast of ties to the White House or the Kremlin with little or no credibility. It is a mark of self-enhancement for self-enrichment. One would also like to know for context how many other contacts there were between Trump officials and other non-Russian foreigners “during the last seven months or the 2016 presidential race,” as the Reuters’ story cites. 

Were there contacts between the Clinton campaign and foreigners? If so, how many and with whom? The writers of the story assert that “some contact with foreign officials during a campaign was not unusual.” They further contend nevertheless that “the number of interactions between Trump aides and Russian officials and others (again that vague reference) with links to Putin was exceptional.” By what measure or comparison were they exceptional?   

All kinds of campaign officials and nonofficials inhabit the ramshackle world of elections, particularly one as bitterly fought as the one in 2016. Did these hangers-on really speak for their principles? Can their assertions be forensically linked to Trump or his top aides? 

But despite the startling revelation of a “least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians,” there is no smoking gun of illegality in the Reuters’ story. In fact, the story’s authors make plain: “The people who described the contacts to Reuters said that they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the (Trump) campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far.”  

The “people who described the contacts” between American and Russians were once again unnamed sources and identified as “current and former U.S. officials.” Were the former U.S. officials Barack ObamaBarack ObamaCongress needs to assert the war power against a dangerous president CNN's Don Lemon: Anyone supporting Trump ‘complicit' in racism DOJ warrant of Trump resistance site triggers alarm MORE appointees? Would that affiliation color their views toward Trump?

These rhetorical questions could be asked of other media coverage in the past few weeks when two or three “sources” have been cited as corroboration for media reportage as well as the Reuters’ account. In these charged times, not only is the veracity of the president and his surrogates being tested but also the accuracy and balance of the media. 

The Reuter journalists are on firm ground when they note that, “The disclosures (the 18 calls and emails) could increase the pressure on Trump and his aides to provide the FBI and Congress with a full account of interactions with Russian officials and others.”  

There is little doubt that the newly-appointed special counsel, Robert Mueller, will delve thoroughly into the 18 contacts along with much, much more in his investigation into any alleged ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.  

 

Thomas H. Henriksen is an emeritus senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he focuses on American foreign policy, international political affairs, and insurgencies.


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