There’s a Russian cloud over President-elect Trump’s head that could follow him all the way to the White House.

Even as titillation over a dossier purporting to show his ties to Russia hardened into skepticism, Trump’s relationship with President Vladimir Putin and the role Moscow may have played in the presidential campaign remained dominant themes of his first real press conference since winning the election.

Now Trump’s Cabinet nominees are being peppered with questions about Russia during their Senate confirmation hearings. The nomination of Rex Tillerson for secretary of state runs the risk of being bottled up in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a result.

Intelligence reports fingering Russia as the culprit behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee have become a flashpoint in questions about Trump’s opaque business dealings. In some cases, they have mushroomed into conspiracy theories about Trump as Manchurian candidate.

“That’s the kind of thing that has not been suspected of an American leader since the early days of the republic,” said Matthew Wilson, associate professor of political science at Southern Methodist University.

Nobody has proven more adept at weathering scandals than Trump, who believes the best defense is a good offense. He has hit back at the intelligence community, media outlets that published the suspect and salacious dossier, and the Democrats who failed to secure their emails in the first place.

Trump denounced the website that published the unsubstantiated 35-page document as a “failing pile of garbage” and sparred with another reporter by saying his cable news­­ network was peddling “fake news,” pushed by “opponents that got together, sick people” who “put that crap together.”

“Hacking’s bad and it shouldn’t be done,” Trump said after publicly admitting Russian culpability for the first time. “But look at the things that were hacked, look at what was learned from that hacking.”

Trump wasn’t able to make the controversy go away when he earlier refused to acknowledge the possibility of Russian hacking, but his combativeness toward his detractors will keep his most ardent supporters happy.

Sanders ready to work with Trump on trade, infrastructure

Also from the Washington Examiner

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Thursday he’s prepared to work with President-elect Trump on a few key issues, and said it makes no sense not to try just because he opposed Trump’s candidacy.

“I don’t think it makes sense to say, no, we’re not going to work in any way, in any form, with the Trump administration,” Sanders said on MSNBC.

“Trump has talked appropriately about a collapsing infrastructure, roads, bridges and water systems,” he said. “If he is prepared to work with us on rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure and creating millions of jobs, and doing it in a way that doesn’t privatize our infrastructure or give tax breaks to billionaires, yes, let’s worth together.

01/12/17 8:28 AM

“He perceived the story as an effort to delegitimize the election and he didn’t want to even go down that path,” Wilson said. “I think he was rightly upset when people would use loose language like ‘hacking the election,’ which implies hacking the voting machines. There is no credible allegation or evidence that this happened.”

As he did in the presidential debates against Hillary Clinton, Trump has maintained he won’t be Putin’s puppet.

“I don’t know that I’m going to get along with Vladimir Putin,” he said Wednesday. “I hope I do. But there’s a good chance I won’t. And if I don’t, do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anybody in this room really believe that? Give me a break.”

Tillerson also tried to show he could be tough on Russia, but not to the satisfaction of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who cited the nominee’s failure to call Putin a “war criminal” as an example of his lack of “moral clarity.”

If Rubio votes against Tillerson in committee, it could stall his nomination, although Senate Republican leadership could still bypass the committee and push for a floor vote.

Conway won't say if Trump trusts intel officers not to leak

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“Mr. Trump was very happy to receive that information from Mr. Clapper,” she said.

01/12/17 8:18 AM

“Tillerson is the embodiment of Trumpism,” said a Republican consultant. “He has done business on six of seven continents. That means occasionally doing business with despots” and other unsavory characters.

“If he can convince senators that his willingness to do business with Putin at Exxon Mobil is different than his willingness as secretary of state, I think he can be confirmed,” said the consultant.

But Russia looms large as an issue that makes Democrats and Republican hawks less inclined to trust Trump and some of his nominees. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was quoted as saying he didn’t think Tillerson “grew his vote today.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer argued that Trump and some of his Cabinet picks (unmistakably Tillerson) didn’t show enough willingness to stand up Putin and Iran on behalf of U.S. interests. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., pointedly told Tillerson diplomacy was different from deal-making.

This indicates Trump’s hands may be tied with regard to Russia even once he takes office. “Any warming to Russia is going to be viewed with a jaundiced eye now,” said Wilson, although he added the Obama administration’s “tepid” response to the annexation of Crimea and other Putin actions meant there is “not a lot for Trump to back down from.”

Trump won’t be the first president whose past controversies have stayed with him upon taking office. Hillary Clinton would have had her share. Whitewater broke before Bill Clinton was sworn in and blossomed into investigations that almost took down his presidency.

That’s what Trump will want to avoid when he acquires his latest piece of property on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Democrats, media reel as Donald Trump shocks the DC ecosystem

Top Story

Two days of confirmation hearings show that President-elect Trump’s Cabinet nominees are taking no prisoners.

01/12/17 12:43 AM

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