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Donald Trump’s rhetoric embraces ‘Putin’s Real Long Game’

James Bruno, a former U.S. diplomat, writes at the Political Animal blog, Tinker. Tailor. Mogul. Spy?

Putin-Trump-KissThe United States has just endured a carefully planned, well-orchestrated assault against its democratic form of government in the form of a grand cyber-theft of information and targeted release of that information. After a thorough scrub of available intelligence, seventeen U.S. intelligence agencies concluded unanimously that “Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.

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But if Russia’s role in the 2016 election is basically undisputed, we’re still left with a separate, more troubling question for which there isn’t yet a clear answer: Could Donald Trump actually be a Russian intel asset?

The U.S. intelligence chiefs steered clear of this hot potato conjecture. Supporting the case in favor is Trump’s bizarre screeds against the U.S. intelligence community and his equally head-scratching and consistent praise of Vladimir Putin even as his nominees to head the CIA and Defense Department describe Moscow as a threat. “In the intelligence business, we would say that Mr. Putin had recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation,” former acting CIA Director Michael Morell wrote in the New York Times. An “unwitting agent” or “asset” in spy parlance is an individual who serves the interests of a foreign government without fully realizing it, or, what Lenin liked to call, a “useful idiot.” A “witting” asset is one who knows fully what he is doing.

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The Kremlin’s candidate, Putin pal Donald Trump, has a pro-Putin inner circle

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post writes, As Trump prepares his kissy face for Putin, a glimpse into the dictator’s soul:

“Spare us the kissy-face.”

It was June 2001 and I was covering President George W. Bush’s trip to Slovenia, where he had just met Vladimir Putin for the first time. I and others were struck by Bush’s praise for the Russian leader as “trustworthy.” Said Bush: “I was able to get a sense of his soul.”

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In retrospect, that moment in Slovenia defined the Russia relationship for years to come. Putin had seduced Bush, who only slowly came to understand he had misjudged this adversary’s soul. Putin opposed Bush in Iraq and was unhelpful with Iran. He shut down independent television, sent business leaders who criticized him into exile and prison, ousted democratic parties from government, canceled the election of governors and invaded Georgia.

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Putin-Trump-KissNow it’s Donald Trump’s turn for kissy-face, and the president-elect is practically groping the Russian dictator. After Putin gloated Friday that Democrats need to learn “to lose with dignity,” Trump tweeted Putin a sloppy kiss: “So true!” he said of Putin’s comments.

Trump also celebrated a letter he received from Putin calling for more collaboration between the two countries. “His thoughts are so correct,” Trump said.

Trump’s blush-inducing embrace of the strongman has included repeated praise of Putin’s leadership, deflected questions about Putin’s political killings, and disparagement of U.S. intelligence for accusing Russia of election meddling. (See, Trump, Dismissive of Hacking, Says Americans Should ‘Get on With Our Lives’).

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The parade of horrors of Trump cabinet picks continues

President-elect Donald Trump made it official this morning. Rex Tillerson, Exxon C.E.O., Chosen as Secretary of State:

screen-shot-2016-12-13-at-10-00-13-amIn [nominating] Mr. Tillerson, the president-elect is dismissing bipartisan concerns that the globe-trotting leader of an energy giant has a too-cozy relationship with Vladimir V. Putin, the president of Russia.

A statement from Mr. Trump’s transition office early Tuesday brought to an end his public and chaotic deliberations over the nation’s top diplomat — a process that at times veered from rewarding Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of his most loyal supporters, to musing about whether Mitt Romney, one of his most outspoken critics, might be forgiven.

Instead, Mr. Trump has decided to risk what looks to be a bruising confirmation fight in the Senate.

In the past several days, Republican and Democratic lawmakers had warned that Mr. Tillerson would face intense scrutiny over his two-decade relationship with Russia, which awarded him its Order of Friendship in 2013, and with Mr. Putin.

The hearings will also put a focus on Exxon Mobil’s business dealings with Moscow. The company has billions of dollars in oil contracts that can go forward only if the United States lifts sanctions against Russia, and Mr. Tillerson’s stake in Russia’s energy industry could create a very blurry line between his interests as an oilman and his role as America’s leading diplomat.

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