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Russian confirmations complicate dubious White House denials

The official White House line on pre-election contacts between Team Trump and Russia has been consistent for months: there were no communications. Any suggestions to the contrary, Donald Trump and his aides have insisted, are completely wrong.
There are some problems with this posture. For one thing, many U.S. intelligence officials have suggested Team Trump’s claims aren’t true. For another, some Russian officials have confirmedthat Team Trump’s claims aren’t true.

The New York Times picks up today on a story I’ve been emphasizing for months: despite the White House’s denials, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak have both said, on the record, that Vladimir Putin’s government was in communications with the Trump campaign before Election Day in the U.S.

As the Times’ report makes clear, the communications wouldn’t necessarily have to be seen as scandalous.
It is not uncommon for a presidential campaign to speak to foreign officials, which makes the dispute particularly unusual. […]

Under ordinary circumstances, few in Washington would blink at the statements by Mr. Ryabkov or Mr. Kislyak. It is common for foreign governments to reach out to American presidential candidates, and many foreign diplomats believe it is part of their job to get to know people who may soon be crucial to maintaining alliances or repairing broken relationships.
That’s entirely correct. Team Trump could’ve said from the beginning, “Sure, during the campaign, we heard from foreign officials from all kinds of countries around the globe, but the communications were always routine and part of standard diplomacy.”

But no. Instead, the president and his aides said the opposite, insisting that there were literally no talks until after Election Day. In other words, Team Trump would have us believe the Russian officials are lying – even though they have no incentive to lie.

What would motivate Trump World to stick to a story that wasn’t true? It’s probably because they felt stuck: Putin’s government was illegally intervening in the American election, in the hopes of putting Trump in the White House, and the Republican and his aides probably wanted to avoid the appearance of collusion. In other words, if Moscow’s espionage operation helped Team Trump, Team Trump had a reason to tell the public it had no contact with Russian officials.

But given the evidence – from U.S. intelligence agencies and Russian officials themselves – it now looks like Trump and his staff have put themselves out on a branch that’s cracking loudly.

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