NEW YORK – Never in recent history has a change of leadership attracted as much attention and speculation as Donald Trump’s rise to the US presidency. What this change signifies and what it portends requires unraveling three mysteries, because there are three versions of Trump.
The first Trump is the friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s enthusiasm for Putin is the most consistent part of his rhetoric. Despite a worldview that regards the United States as a victim of foreign powers – China, Mexico, Iran, the European Union – Trump’s ardor for Putin burns bright.
Depending on who is opining, Trump is either a naive admirer of strongmen like Putin or a long-time tool of Russian intelligence. There is almost surely a backstory here, one that could destroy Trump’s administration if some of the lurid rumors are confirmed. We now know that some key dates and details in the infamous “dossier” on Trump’s relations with Putin, assembled by a former British intelligence officer, have been verified.
A growing body of circumstantial evidence suggests that Trump has been backed by Russian money for decades. Russian oligarchs may have saved Trump from personal bankruptcy, and one reportedly traveled to a number of Trump’s campaign stops, perhaps acting as a go-between with the Kremlin. And many top members of Trump’s team – including his first campaign manager, Paul Manafort; recently-ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn; former ExxonMobil CEO and now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; and hedge-fund magnate and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross – all have significant business dealings with Russia or Russian oligarchs.