6 questions every voter should ask about Donald Trump’s bizarre relationship with Russia

Starting with: What’s behind Trump’s fascination with Vladimir Putin?

Donald Trump isn’t shy about the fact that he’s a big fan of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. And the feeling, disturbingly enough, is mutual.

The depth of Trump’s relationship with the Kremlin is revealing itself by the day. And with growing evidence that the Russian government is trying to influence the U.S. election, this isn’t about politics—it’s about national security.

As we choose our next president and Commander-in-Chief, there are five questions that every voter in America should be asking about Trump’s cozy relationship with Russia.

1. What’s behind Trump’s fascination with Vladimir Putin?

Trump is on record praising dictators from some of the world’s most brutal regimes, from Kim Jong-Un to Saddam Hussein. But his praise for Russia’s president is the most extensive and the most adoring. He singles out Putin as “a strong leader,” giving him an “A” for leadership. He’s even defended Putin against charges that his regime has killed journalists, saying, “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader.”

Putin himself has said, “[Trump] is a brilliant and talented person without a doubt”—something Trump likes to brag about. He often notes that the Russian president has called him a “genius.”

2. Why does Trump surround himself with advisers with links to the Kremlin?

Trump’s top adviser and campaign manager Paul Manafort built his political career as a lobbyist for international dictators, rebel groups, and human-rights violators. Before signing on with Trump’s campaign, Manafort spent more than 10 years working for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Putin’s. Manafort has extensive business dealings with several Russian oligarchs, including two with ties to organized crime and one who is wanted by the FBI. The New York Times recently uncovered handwritten ledgers showing that Manafort was designated $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments from pro-Russian forces in Ukraine from 2007–2012—and it’s unclear whether Manafort ended his work in Ukraine or whether he’s still on the payroll.

Manafort isn’t the only Trump adviser with a cozy relationship with the Kremlin. Carter Page, a top Trump adviser, visited Moscow last month to deliver speeches criticizing American foreign policy. And Lieutenant General Michael Flynn—one of Trump’s convention speakers who was floated as a potential vice presidential pick—regularly appears on Russia Today, the Putin regime’s television network, and defends Putin’s actions on air. He even sat at Putin’s table at an RT dinner in Russia.

3. Why do Trump’s foreign policy ideas read like a Putin wish list?

Trump’s talk of “America First” isolationism worries our allies, threatening the alliances that have kept America strong and safe. Trump celebrated the Brexit vote and fans the flames of European dissolution. He is loudly anti-NATO and refuses to commit to protecting our NATO allies. He seems comfortable with ceding Crimea to Russia (an annexation that the United States and European Union do not recognize) and has suggested he would lift the sanctions imposed on Russia.

At the Republican National Convention, Trump’s campaign gutted the GOP stance on protections for Ukraine in the party platform—and then denied doing so.

It’s no wonder one conservative commentator—columnist Charles Krauthammer—said, “The Kremlin really wants Trump to win, and they see an advantage in that. That is because the prime objective of the foreign policy of Putin has been to destroy NATO.”

4. Do Trump’s still-secret tax returns show ties to Russian oligarchs?

Unlike every other major party presidential nominee for the past 40 years, Trump refuses to release a single tax return—you have to ask yourself “what’s he hiding?” Some suggest one reason for the lack of transparency is that Trump’s tax returns will show just how deeply entwined his assets are with the Russian oligarchy. Trump’s son, Donald Jr., admitted as much in 2008:

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. … We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

5. Why is Trump encouraging Russia to interfere in our election?

Russia has a known history of interfering in foreign elections, and there’s now extensive evidence that they’re doing just that in the United States. Experts believe that Russian government hackers breached the Democratic National Committee and the day after Trump accepted the Republican nomination in July, Wikileaks released the hacked emails. Cybersecurity experts and Republican operatives have noted the apparent links between Russia and the hack—and experts have also concluded the identity of the user taking credit was merely a sloppy effort from the Kremlin to cover up the work of Russian hacking groups.

And if that wasn’t enough: Days later, Trump publicly encouraged further Russian espionage to help his campaign. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said in a press conference. “I think you’ll be rewarded mightily by our press!”

It’s a safe bet they’re listening.

This is unprecedented: No other presidential candidate has ever called for a foreign government—no less Russia—to interfere in an American election.

[UPDATE] 6. Is Trump’s pro-Russia stance the result of his business ties to Russia? And what is he going to prioritize as president: our national security or his business interests?

Trump has worked to keep his business dealings a secret (as of today, he still refuses to release his tax returns). But reporters at ABC News uncovered a bombshell: Trump has profited from hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian interests. This news offers a possible motive for why he’s so open to lifting economic sanctions against Russia—because it could help the Trump Organization’s bottom line. This is a conflict of interest of massive proportions—and until he details his business connections with Russia and other former Soviet states, the American people can only guess if he’s going to protect our national security or his bottom line as Commander-in-Chief.

All together, Trump’s admiration for Putin, his pro-Russian positions, and his campaign’s extensive ties to the Kremlin aren’t just bizarre—they could also fundamentally alter American foreign policy should Trump become president.

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