Why The Russian Connection Matters

“So what? What’s the big deal? Wouldn’t it be good if we got along with Russia?”

Those seem to be general responses I see in a lot of places when Russia gets brought up. It could be brushed off in favor of looking at other issues, but I believe the connection to Russia is crucial to understanding the way President-Elect Trump has acted.

It might look like him innocently trying to build foreign relations, but that’s just not enough. That could explain a few small actions, but the totality of the evidence makes it clear that there is more to this. If we’re not careful, we’ll see the Russian version of The Man in the High Castle get way too real. We’ll end up being The Soviet States of America.

As citizens who exercise our right to vote for a democratically elected leader, we have the right to expect them to put the interest of America first when making decisions. That’s Trump’s whole thing, right? America first? Why, then, does he appear more worried about cozying up to Russia than he is about healing wounds internally within the United States? It certainly seems like Trump is putting Russia first, and any manner of decisions made during his presidency using such a premise could be catastrophic for our nation.

What makes Putin so bad?

Okay, this one almost seems rhetorical, but I know some people really don’t see an issue here. We’ve had issues with Russia in the past, but that’s far from the only reason Putin is “not our friend” as even Fox News contributer Julie Roginsky explained.

Whether you agree the actions of Russia influenced the outcome of the election or not, the evidence shows that they were trying to tip the scales in favor of President-Elect Trump. They also sought to undermine our democratic process. Not just Russia in general, but Vladimir Putin himself was directly involved.

As Senator Marco Rubio outlined while questioning Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO who has been tapped as Trump’s Secretary of State, Vladimir Putin is a war criminal. His transgressions are vast, and his views and actions do not line up with American values. No good can come from this.

Some Lies About Russia

So, it often seems like President-Elect Trump’s favorite pastime is lying. He may like to call it “truthful hyperbole,” but I’m not interested in covering bullshit with a layer of political correctness. A lie, is a lie, is a lie. Now, let’s cover just four of the Russia-related lies.

Lie #1: At a campaign event, Trump said Putin “called [him] a genius.”

Truth: Putin called Trump “very flamboyant, very talented.” This was the way it was reported by Reuters, and basis behind the miscommunication seemed to be a bad translation. However, innocent as this one may seem, it shows Trump’s desire to believe Putin was complimentary to him.

Lie #2: On Twitter, said Russian hacking wasn’t brought up before the election.

Truth: So, this one is so baffling. Trump was essentially continuing to brush off claims about Russian hacking as if no one knew anything, but he also said, “why wasn’t this brought up before [the] election?” It’s an interesting question…since this was brought up before the election.

He was asked TO HIS FACE during the third presidential debate about the hacks. That’s because, even before the election, 17 intelligence agencies agreed that Russia was behind election-related hacking. This was also during his infamous “no puppet, you’re the puppet” retort where he tapped into his inner toddler and denied knowing Putin or having anything to do with Russia, the latter of which is also a lie.

Lie #3: Continued to claim “nobody knows” who was behind the election hacks. Because if you say it enough, it becomes true, right? WRONG.

Truth: I could just refer you to the above answer, but since this lie came later, I’ll go with the something slightly more recent. Only two days before Trump said again that nobody knows what happened, The Atlantic featured an in-depth article focusing on discussions with Congressman Adam Schiff about the reports they’d received before the election.

Lie #4: On Twitter, stated that intelligence indicated there was “absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results.”

Truth: This is one that some people might want to debate about. It is up for debate how much impact the actions had, and whether or not they actually tipped the scales. However, this was a specific statement that Trump gave immediately after meeting with the heads of the intelligence community. The actual report explicitly stated: ‘We did not make an assessment of the impact Russian activities had on the outcome of the election.’ So, that’s gonna be a straight up lie from the President-Elect.

Trump, Putin, and Twitter

Since Twitter continues to be the President-Elect’s favorite medium, let’s take a look at some of the things he’s said about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Believe it or not, he was not always a fan.

During the lead up to the 2012 Presidential Election, Trump was very vocal in his support of Mitt Romney. More accurately, he was vocal in his disapproval of President Obama.

To give some context, this was a time when Russia was increasing their influence in Syria to support the Assad regime. Today, the atrocities taking place in Syria continue to be a hotly debated issue. Trump seemed to show belief at the time that Russia needed to be taught a lesson, or at the very least dealt with in a stern manner.

This continued his desire to support Romney’s view on Russia, and criticize the actions that President Obama and his administration had taken in regards to Russia. This was the last time Trump mentions Putin for nearly a year, but everything appeared to change after Trump made a deal to bring the Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow.

From that point on, Trump’s tone regarding Putin tends to shift. He rarely says anything directly critical of Putin, and if he does there’s more spin on it criticizing President Obama. It’s almost as if he excuses every negative action Putin makes by laying blame on Obama for letting him.

This last tweet stands as an interesting excerpt showing Trump’s tendency to toss praise in the direction of Putin. The tweet came shortly after an episode of 60 Minutes that featured separate interviews with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in the same episode.

Now, you might be wondering if they got to know each other as a result of this 60 Minutes episode. Luckily, Trump already answered that back in the Republican Presidential Debate in November of 2015.

“I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates,” Trump said about the experience. Except…what was it he said in a later debate after he got over the “you’re the puppet” nonsense?

“Now we can talk about Putin. I don’t know Putin. He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good.”

Is it just me, or do those statements not add up? Now, for clarification, there was no direct contact between Trump and Putin during the production of the 60 Minutes episode, contrary to the way he spoke about it. They were interviewed separately, but were featured on the same episode. The contradictions continue, as a report from Yahoo News today outlines a recently discovered audio tape from a radio show where Trump explicitly states that he has met Vladimir Putin.

President-Elect Trump’s on-again, off-again relationship with the truth muddies the waters between these comments. Going back to the original tweet, I’m curious as to why Trump chose to quote this specific tweet. I’m sure he had plenty of complimentary tweets to choose from, but he decided on the one that commended Putin, as well as Trump.

This last one is especially unsettling. It may seem like a simple jab at President Obama, but putting stock in Putin’s popularity is bothersome. More than a year later, Trump brought up Putin’s approval ratings during the Commander-in-Chief Forum hosted by Matt Lauer.

Putting any stock in these numbers is disturbing because of the nature of Russia’s relationship with the media. Freedom of the press does not exist in Russia. President Putin and his administration have a firm grip on the press and essentially silence any opinions that don’t support Putin.

This connects directly to the issues Trump has had with the media here, including his misunderstanding of the definition of “fake news,” scolding of reporters, desire to open up libel laws and threaten the First Amendment, and willingness to ban outlets that don’t agree with him.

The Russian Connection Matters

There is a vast array of evidence that President-Elect Trump’s connections and relationship to Russia and President Vladimir Putin have a lot more to them than he would like us to think.

Just today, Vladimir Putin came to Trump’s defense and dismissed claims from the recently released (though unverified) dossier that allege Russia has leverage on Trump and that they were in contact with his campaign. President Putin went even further and accused the Obama administration of attempting to “undermine the legitimacy” of President-Elect Trump.

Plus, since we’ll probably never see Trump’s tax returns, we’ll never know the extent of his business ties to Russia. Despite Trump’s claims that no one cares, we absolutely do care. As the days go by, Trump doesn’t ease concerns about conflicts of interest. He doesn’t calm tensions between an increasingly divided country. He doesn’t care.

There could be plenty of reasons that Trump wants to stay friendly with Putin. Trump could have a key relationship with Putin that he wants to pay back by creating policies favorable to Russia. He could literally be paying back Russia, or Putin, with his actions.

It is our job, as citizens, to hold him accountable. That includes not forgetting about his tax returns. That includes paying close attention to his connections with Russia and Vladimir Putin. I know it’s tempting to arrive at the “all smoke, but no fire” conclusion for some, but I’d much rather we find a way to put out the fire before Trump starts it. Especially if that fire is nuclear in nature.

If not, Trump gets his way. Putin gets his way. We’ll be the Soviet States of America. They’ll make the world “great again,” but chances are their definition of “great” isn’t one that we’re going to appreciate.

A billboard showing a pictures of President-elect Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen through pedestrians in Danilovgrad, Montenegro. REUTERS/Stevo Vasiljevic