For those few voters who remain undecided a week before the 2016 presidential election, the choice between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton may come down to which potential new scandal they can look past. The FBI announced on Friday that it had discovered new emails that may be “pertinent” to its investigation of Clinton’s use of a private server while secretary of state. Meanwhile, new reports have emerged alleging “close ties” between Trump and the Russian government.
“If somebody has an issue with emails as opposed to someone who has an issue with shady dealings with a foreign government, perhaps, it may be hard to weigh,” David Corn, Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine, told Yahoo News on Tuesday.
On Monday, Corn reported that a veteran ex-spy who specializes in Russian counterintelligence told his publication he provided the FBI with a memo alleging that the Russian government “has been cultivating, supporting and assisting Trump for at least 5 years,” and that there was “an established exchange of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin of mutual benefit.”
The report came a day after Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sent a scathing letter to FBI Director James Comey, blasting his decision to publicly reveal the newly discovered Clinton emails without disclosing information the bureau may have on alleged ties between Trump’s Republican presidential campaign and the Kremlin.
“In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government,” Reid wrote. “The public has a right to know this information.”
Trump and his campaign have repeatedly denied they have any connection with Russia.
“There’s nothing wrong with a presidential candidate talking to a foreign government if he or she chooses to do so,” Corn said. But it does sort of fit into this overall picture we’ve seen in this campaign of Russian hackers targeting Democratic targets, and leaking information in a way that harms Hillary Clinton and seems to benefit Donald Trump. And we have seen Donald Trump almost inexplicably defend if not sometimes praise [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in a way no other Republican candidate ever has.”
On the campaign trail, Trump has regularly heaped praise on Putin and criticized both Clinton and President Obama for taking a hard line against the Russian strongman. Bill Browder, chief executive of Hermitage Capital and noted Putin critic, told Yahoo News on Tuesday that Trump’s affection for Putin defies logic.
“Nobody really knows what’s behind the sort of love affair of between the two men,” said Browder. “It doesn’t make sense. There is no logical reason why a presidential candidate should be praising Russia unless there’s information out there that we don’t know about.”
What we do know, Browder noted, is that Trump has “taken this very strange view that is not a Republican position, it’s not an American position.”
In Trump, Corn said, Russian intelligence found someone Putin can “bromance.”
“I think they saw Trump — who was very, very interested and eager in the 2000s and into the 2010s to do business in Russia — as somebody they could say, ‘Hey, he’s a big guy in the United States. If he’s friendly to us, that could come in handy,” Corn mused.
The questions surrounding the Trump campaign’s alleged ties to Russia were amplified by a pair of reports — published in Slate and the New York Times — about an FBI probe into possible electronic communications between the Trump Organization and servers connected to a Russian bank. Both reports, though, said the bureau failed to find a direct link between Trump and the Russian government, and according to the Times, an FBI investigation concluded the interaction could have been a coincidence.
“It’s one more tantalizing piece that is not conclusive,” Corn said, “but is certainly rather odd about an odd subject matter to begin with — Trump and Russia — in what is a very bizarre election.”