Opinion » Letter From The Editor

The Only Two Questions That Matter



Another Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is behind us, a weekend in which his life and his dream of equality for all were celebrated with speeches, marches, and good works in the community. It's easy to forget that this is a relatively recent development. It took 31 years — until 1999 — for the U.S. to officially designate an MLK holiday. Eighteen years later, there are still many in this country who can't bring themselves to pay respects to the civil rights leader who came to Memphis in support of a sanitation workers strike, gave one of the great speeches in American history, and then was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.

President-elect Trump's tweet-trashing of civil rights icon, Congressman John Lewis, makes one wonder how King's activism would be received in 2017. For one, I've no doubt that those iconic "I Am A Man" signs would have caused legions of angry white folks to create signs reading "I Am A Man, Too." King, who was disparaged in his own lifetime as a rabble-rouser and communist, would certainly be labeled a "race hustler" by Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. And if King had dared criticize Trump, is there any question that he would have gotten the same childish response from him that Lewis got?

Trump announced over the weekend that he would retain his personal Twitter account during his presidency, which means we will likely be treated to the continuing spectacle of the leader of the free world using social media to personally respond to every slight he receives. It's unseemly and juvenile and potentially dangerous. It's one thing to disparage Meryl Streep and Saturday Night Live, quite another to impulsively insult China or Angela Merkel or NATO.

But there are only two questions that matter at this point: 1) Did the president-elect and/or his campaign operatives know about Russian interference in our election? 2) Does Russia have compromising information on Trump? Trump has admitted that "Russia probably did it," referring to hacking DNC emails and other cyber materials to influence the election. His new CIA chief-designate, Mike Pompeo, was less equivocal in his Senate confirmation hearing, calling the hacking "an aggressive action taken by senior leadership inside of Russia," which is encouraging.

But last week we learned that Trump's security chief Mike Flynn called the Russian ambassador several times on the day President Obama announced sanctions on Russia for the hacking. Putin then declined to respond to the U.S. sanctions, causing Trump to tweet that he "always knew Putin was smart." Trump has since said that he would reconsider the sanctions, once in office. Welcome to international diplomacy, Trump-style.

Flynn has a cozy relationship to the Russian government, including with Vladimir Putin. Several other Trump campaign operatives have similar close connections with ranking Russian officials and oligarchs, as does secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerman. If any of them were aware of the hacking operation during the election cycle, or, more troublingly, if they were somehow communicating about it, the country is facing a grave threat to our democracy: the corrupting of our national election by a hostile foreign power. Is it possible? Certainly. I, for one, find it difficult to believe that Flynn was never in touch with his pals in Russia during the election cycle. But nothing's been proven.

Outgoing CIA director William Brennan indicated last weekend that an investigation into Trump operatives' possible involvement in the hacking operation was ongoing. But here's the rub: If solid evidence of such election tampering (or personal Kompromat on Trump) is uncovered by the FBI after Trump is in office, to whom do they give the information? Trump and Flynn? That's not going to work. Vice President Mike Pence? Congressional leaders?

Trump has made it clear that he supports policies favored by Putin — the weakening of NATO and European alliances, Russia's aggressive Syrian intervention, and removing the sanctions put forth by Obama. Does Putin have some secret leverage on the president-elect? No one knows for sure, but it sure is a cozy bromance. Trump has often expressed his admiration of Putin, saying it's "a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond."

Spoken like a true patriot. Nyet.

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