The week the whispers about Trump and Russia became a roar

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And for all of that time, there was a resistance within the more establishment elements of the political world to give credence to what was widely regarded as a conspiracy theory. Sure, Trump ignored the unanimous conclusion of the intelligence community that Russia interfered in the election to help him and hurt Hillary Clinton. And sure, he seemed loath to say a negative word about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

But, the thinking went, this was simply the unorthodox approach of an unorthodox politicians — not something more nefarious and more conspiratorial.

The past five days may well have changed that view for lots and lots of people — inside and outside of politics.

  1. Hours before he was set to sit down with Putin in Helsinki, Trump tweeted this out: “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” The US President blaming a special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election — an investigation run by his own Justice Department! — for the lack of good relations. Staggering.
  2. Following a two-plus-hour one-on-one meeting with Putin — Trump pushed for that format — the two men held a joint news conference. In that presser, Trump repeatedly makes clear that both sides are to blame for the Russian interference in the 2016 election — even as he continued to cast doubt on whether the Russians meddled at all. “I hold both countries responsible,” Trump said in response to a question from the American press about Russia’s interference. “I think that the United States has been foolish. We’ve all been foolish. We’re all to blame.”
  3. In the same news conference, Trump said that he didn’t “see any reason why it would be” Russia who meddled in the election. The following day, Trump tried to correct the record; “In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t,'” he explained.
  4. Then, on Wednesday, Trump was asked whether he believed Russia was still targeting US elections. “No,” he responded. But, apparently that “no” was in response to taking questions from reporters, according to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders. Of course, Trump went on to take more questions, so…
  5. On Thursday, word breaks — on Twitter natch — that Trump has invited Putin to Washington for a second summit this fall. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, on stage at the Aspen Security Conference, is clearly stunned by the news of a second summit — and acknowledges that he still doesn’t even know what happened in the first summit.

Any ONE of those things would be cause for skepticism and perhaps a deeper look at the possible ties between Trump and Russia. All of them together — in one week! — has pushed some very level-headed people over the edge.

“Over the course of my career as an undercover officer in the C.I.A., I saw Russian intelligence manipulate many people,” wrote Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd in an op-ed in The New York Times on Friday. “I never thought I would see the day when an American president would be one of them.”

Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told CNN earlier this week that “more and more I come to a conclusion after the Helsinki performance and since, that I really do wonder if the Russians have something on him.”

These are not people who are reflexive partisans. Hurd is a Republican. Clapper served under Republican presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. This is not Nancy Pelosi saying it — although she did ask this week: “What is Putin blackmailing President Trump with? Personally, politically or financially.”

Yes, there will still be hard Trump partisans who insist this is all a function of widespread Trump Derangement Syndrome. That message will be amplified to millions by Fox News Channel.
What is 'Trump Derangement Syndrome' -- and do you have it?

But go back and look at the five data points above. And remember that they all happened in the last week. And that it was a week that began with a two-hour private conversation between Trump and Putin and ended with the news of a second summit that came as a surprise to the American intelligence community.

None of that is definitive proof of anything. What it does make clear, however, is that dismissing the idea that there is something more nefarious going on here is now willfully blinding oneself to facts. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist or even an amateur sleuth to see a very, very odd pattern of behavior here. And one that has very little political upside for Trump. His party universally opposes his soft stance to Russia and Putin. Polling suggests a majority of Americans do not believe that Trump performed well in Russia.

So why does he just keep doing and saying things that make Russia smile and America grimace? You can no longer dismiss any explanation. Not after this week.

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