Here's The Latest Big News On Russia And The U.S. Election

Eight days to go.
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A whirlwind of news on Monday strongly suggests that Donald Trump has deep ties to Russia. Or that there’s no evidence of a link between the GOP nominee and the Russian government.

The contradictory reports do make clear that Justice Department officials have been investigating Trump and his associates to see whether they have ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin or Russian banks.

What they have found, according to The New York Times, is no smoking gun. Though Trump has said Putin “likes” him and has praised the Russian president as “a leader far more than our president has been,” it’s unclear whether their relationship goes further.

For example, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, may be acts of political sabotage aimed at disrupting the U.S. election ― and not intended to boost Trump, according to the Times. (The report didn’t explain why an attempt by Russia to undermine American democracy would only involve targeting one party.)

Trump has asserted that he doesn’t “know Putin” and is “no puppet” of the Russian president. The Times story says investigators have found no strings by which he’s being directed.

But other news published on Monday raises questions, and underscores a Trump coziness with Russia that is unconventional for a modern presidential candidate during a time of heightened tension between the superpowers.

Here are some of the revelations.

1. Computer Scientists Believe A Trump Server Was Communicating With A Russian Bank

Credit: Gleb Garanich / Reuters

This article is contradicted by the Times’ reporting.

Slate’s Franklin Foer spoke to nearly a dozen computer scientists about a strange connection between a computer server tied to the Trump Organization that appeared to be communicating with two others registered to a Russian entity called Alfa Bank. Alfa Bank was founded by a Ukrainian oligarch with ties to Putin and has large investments in Uber and the U.S. health care industry.

The purpose of the servers is unclear, according to the article, and it’s unknown whether they exchanged data sent by humans or anything else. Foer reported the communication appeared to resemble “the pattern of human conversation” and took place during normal working hours in both New York and Moscow.

The Times says FBI officials looked into the data and concluded “there could be an innocuous explanation.”

Foer acknowledges in his piece that “what the scientists amassed wasn’t a smoking gun.” But he does note the “suggestive” evidence.

The Trump Organization shuttered the server once reporters began asking about it. Another server set up over the same pathway four days later was again closed after questions.

Read the full Slate story here.

2. FBI Investigates Ex-Trump Campaign Manager’s Foreign Ties

Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The FBI has been conducting a preliminary investigation into Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, for alleged ties to foreign powers, NBC News reported.

Manafort came under intense scrutiny earlier this year for work for pro-Russian forces in the Ukrainian government.

The New York Times found his name in a secret ledger that designated $12.7 million in undisclosed payments as part of what it described as an “illegal off-the-books system” conducted by the political party of Ukraine’s former president.

Manafort also was found to have helped orchestrate an American lobbying effort on behalf of the country without registering as a foreign agent, as required by law.

Manafort, who resigned from Trump’s campaign in August, told NBC that “none of it” was true. “There’s no investigation going on by the FBI that I’m aware of.”

But The New York Times reports that the FBI has looked into Manafort’s “ties with a kleptocratic government in Ukraine — and whether he had declared the income in the United States — and not necessarily on any Russian influence over Mr. Trump’s campaign.”

Read the full story here.

3. FBI Head James Comey Opposed Naming Russia As An Election Meddler

Credit: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

FBI Director James Comey argued against releasing a statement that accused the Russian government of trying to influence the U.S. election, saying it would be too close to the election and may influence voters, according to CNBC.

That would appear to contradict the director’s reason for his widely lambasted decision to send a letter to lawmakers last week about new emails found on a computer seized from former Congressman Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin. Comey said he “cannot yet assess” whether the emails are “significant” and has left voters in the dark.

The Clinton camp on Monday declared that Comey’s refusal to sign the Russia statement was a “double standard” and “nothing short of jaw dropping.”

Read the full story here.

4. A Veteran Spy Apparently Tried To Tip The FBI That Russia Was Cultivating Trump

Credit: Yuri Kochetkov/Reuters

This is the wildest story of the day.

Mother Jones reported that in June, a “former Western intelligence officer who spent almost two decades on Russian intelligence matters and who now works with a U.S. firm that gathers information on Russia for corporate clients,” compiled a dossier on whether Trump was compromised by Putin.

What this “veteran spy” found was something out of a political thriller, the gist being that Trump is apparently deeply indebted to Russian businesses and has been endorsed by Putin and may be a Manchurian candidate.

It is an extraordinary story, attributed to a single source. And it seems to be at odds with what what FBI officials have found, according to The New York Times report.

Read the full story here.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

Sam Stein contributed reporting.

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