Jonathan Chait writes: Over the last several days, the Russia scandal has taken a darker turn. Friday night, the Washington Post reported that Jared Kushner tried during the presidential transition period to set up a secret communications channel with Moscow. Tuesday morning, CNN reported that, during the 2016 campaign, Russian officials discussed having leverage of a financial nature over Trump, which could be used to manipulate the Republican nominee. The exact nature of this relationship remains as yet unknown, but its parameters have shifted. The most innocent explanations of Donald Trump’s shadowy relationship with Russia have grown increasingly fanciful, while the most paranoid interpretations have grown increasingly more plausible.
Indeed, in another one of dramatic juxtapositions that would have seemed ham-handed in a spy thriller, the latest scandalous revelations came out just as Trump could be seen carrying out what looks for all the world like his end of a pact with Moscow. If the president did have an objective on his trip to Europe — a premise that, it goes without saying, cannot be assumed — it was to crack up the American alliance with Western Europe. That happens to have been Russia’s primary diplomatic objective since the end of World War II. In Brussels, Trump refused to publicly affirm the Article 5 guarantee of the NATO charter — the foundation of the anti-Russian alliance, and the basis for Europe’s defense against Russian aggression. He directed his trademark wild diatribes against Germany, accusing it repeatedly of abusive trade relations, despite the fact that the United States does not have bilateral trade relations with that country. Amazingly, he kept up the abuse on Twitter after returning Stateside, while simultaneously defending Russia over its intervention in the American election.
The White House’s account of Kushner’s back-channel talks with Russia, as Will Saletan shrewdly points out, does not square with what the administration has said in the past, or what Russia says now. [Continue reading…]