The New York Times broke the story at 9:11 pm EST.
(Obviously, the story is longer than that).
The first two paragraphs are the bombshell; the third one there is an important caveat.
In some ways, it is not news — in a largely ignored story from November, CNN reported that Russia said it was in contact with Trump campaign aides. But what might be news last night was the level of contacts.
When that is coupled with the knowledge throughout the campaign that Russia was behind the DNC hacks — well, it doesn’t look good.
It also doesn’t look good that the Trump administration has repeatedly denied these contacts. For example, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said this back in a December appearance on “Face the Nation” with John Dickerson:
DICKERSON: Did anyone involved in the Trump campaign have any contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election?
CONWAY: Absolutely not. And I discussed that with the president-elect just last night. Those conversations never happened. I hear people saying it like it’s a fact on television. That is just not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous and it does undermine our democracy.
For his part, Trump is trying to make this all about leaks, but as I’ve said in another post, that argument (coming from Trump’s White House) is laughable. As for the Russia connections, Trumps tweets call them “conspiracy theories” (again, an ironic phrase coming from Trump)
The NYT article and these series of tweets — these are historic documents. Or will be, I think.
It wasn’t just the Times. CNN also weighed in with a similar investigation, reporting that “high-level advisers close to” Trump were in “constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to U.S. intelligence.”
CNN added a new wrinkle — that Trump had been briefed on this after the election.
If that last detail is true, then it means Trump knows that intelligence officials have, indeed, concluded that this happened. Which might explain why some of his tweets today sort of function as confirmation of the stories, by blasting intel agencies for leaking classified information.
If Trump is not embedded in the wrongdoing, all this is certainly making him look stupid, childish and weak. From The Plum Line:
Indeed, the lashing out is beginning to look less and less fearsome, and more and more impulsively buffoonish and self-defeating. And there’s a broader pattern developing here, one that undermines a key narrative about the Trump presidency, in which Trump is pursuing strategic disruption and breaking all the old rules and norms to further an unconventional presidency that is designed to render the old way of doing business irrelevant. It’s obvious that all of this is now actively undermining his own designs, on multiple fronts.
Consider: The use of the White House bully pulpit by Trump and his top aides to interfere in a dispute between Nordstrom and Ivanka Trump — which seemed intended as a big middle finger to the pointy-headed ethical norms police — resulted in Republicans condemning it. The trip to Mar-a-Lago with the Japanese prime minister — another intended sign that Trump will damn well use the presidency to enrich himself if he pleases, by turning his own resort into an official court of sorts while pocketing the profits from it — ended up getting marred by the surprise North Korea ballistic missile test. This made his administration look incompetent, chaotic, unprepared and unconcerned about basic security protocol.
The administration’s handling of the Michael Flynn fiasco was a mess that was partially created by Trump himself. We now know he had been briefed three weeks ago that the Justice Department concluded Flynn had misled Vice President Pence about contacts with the Russian ambassador. Yet Flynn remained, and new reporting indicates that this was driven in part because of high-level White House skepticism about the Justice Department’s warnings — something that likely emanated from Trump himself. The botched rollout of Trump’s travel ban — the first high-level exercise in translating Trumpism into reality — was a legal and substantive disaster, largely because of a lack of concern over basic legal and process niceties that also reflected Trump’s evolving leadership style.
Meanwhile, today’s events are a reminder that the press is bearing down hard on the Russia story, which may make it harder and harder for Republicans to continue resisting a full accounting.
To be sure, Trump is getting a lot of his Cabinet nominees confirmed. It’s likely that Trump and Republicans will win a lot of victories before long, ones that will be very demoralizing to Democrats. It is also true that the White House has at its disposal a tremendous range of tools to take control of events and news cycles, thus turning things around. So all of this might change soon enough. A doubling-down on Trump’s worst policies, perhaps in the form of a newly implemented and then expanded “Muslim ban,” or in the form of stepped-up deportations, remain real possibilities. A terrorist attack could empower Trump and lead to far worse.
But right now, Trump looks weaker, less effective and even more ridiculous than anyone might have anticipated — and it happened surprisingly quickly, too.