A dark cloud of illegitimacy hangs over the pending presidency of Donald Trump.
Bad enough that Trump rejects the conclusions of the CIA, FBI and other U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia intervened in the 2016 campaign to help him become president. Even worse that Trump publicly sides with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue.
Last week, Putin claimed that Democrats fabricated the charge of Russian meddling because Democrats “are losing on all fronts and looking elsewhere for things to blame. In my view, this, how shall I say it, degrades their own dignity. You have to know how to lose with dignity.”
Hours later, Trump praised Putin’s statement, tweeting: “Vladimir Putin said today about Hillary and Dems: ‘In my opinion, it is humiliating. One must be able to lose with dignity.’ So true!”
You might expect that a president-elect who was defeated in the popular vote by a startling 2.86 million votes — the largest popular defeat ever suffered by a candidate elevated to the presidency by the Electoral College — would be a bit more circumspect.
Yet Trump continues to lie about what occurred Nov. 8.
Soon after the election, he claimed on Twitter that “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” There is absolutely no evidence that millions of people voted illegally.
Of the CIA report about Russian intervention in the campaign on his behalf, Trump said “I don’t believe it,” and he called it “ridiculous” and “just another excuse.”
Yet political leaders from both sides of the aisle are taking the report seriously. Republican John McCain, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is surprised Trump has repudiated the CIA’s claims. “I don’t know what to make of it because it’s clear the Russians interfered,” McCain said.
In addition, there are several possible reasons why Putin wanted to hand the election to Trump.
Putin might have financial leverage over him. Trump has close business ties to Russian oligarchs, friends of Putin, who have financed his projects and, presumably, lent billions of dollars to Trump’s enterprises.
In 2008, Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. …We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Several of Trump’s key campaign aides have close ties to Putin, including his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, a longtime consultant to Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian-backed president of Ukraine who was overthrown in 2014 and who has executed huge business deals with Russian oligarchs.
Trump’s foreign policy advisor, Michael Flynn, flew to Moscow last year to attend a banquet celebrating Russia Today, the Kremlin’s propaganda channel, and was even seated at the head table near Putin.
Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, is close to Putin. In 2013, Putin awarded Tillerson the Order of Friendship, one of the highest honors Russia gives to foreign citizens. Tillerson came up through the ranks at Exxon by managing the company’s Russia account.
After Tillerson became CEO, Exxon bet billions on Russia’s vast oil resources through a partnership with Russian oil giant Rosneft, owned partly by the Kremlin. Putin himself attended the 2011 signing ceremony for the deal. Russia has already indicated it would welcome Tillerson being named America’s top diplomat.
None of these points taken separately undermines the legitimacy of the Trump presidency.
But taken together, they suggest a troubling pattern — of Trump deceitfulness about the election, of Putin’s role in helping Trump get elected, and the possible motives of both men for colluding in the election.
The dark cloud of illegitimacy continues to grow darker.