7 Questions That Must Not Go Unanswered About Trump, The GOP, And Russia

His campaign manager’s ties to pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians are far from the only concern.

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CAROLYN KASTER
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/CAROLYN KASTER

Donald Trump will receive his first classified briefing as the Republican presidential nominee at the FBI’s New York field office on Wednesday, just days after it was revealed that his campaign chairman was named in an anti-corruption investigation in Ukraine, in which authorities tracked illegal payments from a pro-Russian political party.

Manafort has since hit back at the New York Times, saying he did not accept any cash payments. But he’s far from the only issue of concern regarding what a the U.S. relationship with Russia .

Here are seven questions to keep in mind as Trump begins to gain access to America’s secrets:

1. How and why was the Republican Party platform changed to be more pro-Russia?

After the Republican National Convention last month, multiple reports revealed that Trump campaign staff pressured the Republican party platform to remove references to giving Ukraine weapons to fight Russian and pro-Russian rebel forces.

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Trump staffers changed the language of a proposed amendment calling for “providing lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian military. The new language simply calls for “appropriate assistance.”

“I was troubled when they put aside my amendment and then watered it down,” Diana Denman, the platform committee member who introduced the amendment, told the Washington Post. “I said, ‘What is your problem with a country that wants to remain free?’ It seems like a simple thing.”

2. Who else on the Trump campaign has ties to the Russian government?

Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency under President Obama and now a Trump adviser, also has ties to the country.

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In December 2015, Flynn attended and gave remarks at the tenth anniversary dinner celebration of Russian state-owned media company RT — less than a year and a half after he left the Defense Intelligence Agency. In an interview with Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff last month, he dodged the question of whether he was paid for the appearance.

Isikoff: Were you paid for that event?

Flynn: You’d have to ask my — the folks that I went over there on behalf of.

Isikoff: Well I’m asking you. You’d know if you were paid.

Flynn: Yeah, I mean I went over there as a speaking event. It was a speaking event. What difference does that make? Did somebody go ‘Oh, he’s paid by the Russians’?

Isikoff: Well, Donald Trump has made a lot of the fact that Hillary Clinton has taken money from Wall Street, Goldman Sachs.

Flynn: I didn’t take any money from Russia, if that’s what you’re asking me.

Isikoff: Well then who paid you?

Flynn: My speakers’ bureau. Ask them.

Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, an investment banker who previously worked in Russia, also has close links to Gazprom, the state-run gas company. After he was named as a Trump adviser, he told Bloomberg he helped Gazprom court Western investors and advised the company on large deals, like purchasing a stake in the Sakhalin oil and gas field in the Sea of Okhotsk. He also said he is an investor in the company.

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Russia’s energy industry has been the target of U.S. sanctions since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea — and Page, who favors more engagement with Russia, has said the sanctions have affected his business deals. Like Trump, Page has also called Putin stronger and more reliable than President Obama. He has compared U.S. foreign policy towards Russia under the Obama administration to police brutality against black men, and sanctions on Russia to slavery in the late 19th century.

Last month, he visited Moscow and criticized U.S. foreign policy towards Russia “for continuing methods which were prevalent during the Cold War period” during a speech at the the New Economic School commencement.

3. Why won’t Trump release his tax returns?

We really have no idea if there is a similar controversy with Trump himself, because he refuses to release his tax returns.

Trump has said he won’t release his tax returns before the election in November. His reasoning has varied over time — he has cited an ongoing audit, said he won’t release them until Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton releases her emails, and and even stated that there’s simply “nothing to learn from them.”

A Washington Post investigation revealed some of Trump’s financial ties to Russia, like when he received a portion of the $14 million investors paid to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow. He and his partners have also been involved in real estate deals with Russian investors, according to the Post. In 2008, he sold a mansion in Palm Beach to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovle for $95 million, despite having bought it just four years earlier for $41.4 million.

Other such deals that may exist are harder to uncover, since Trump still refuses to release his tax returns.

4. Why is Trump suggesting the United States withdraw from NATO?

Trump has repeatedly questioned the usefulness of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to the United States.

In a foreign policy interview with the New York Times earlier this month, he made it clear that NATO members would not be able to rely on the United States if they faced Russian aggression. He stated that such defense would rely on whether the members had “fulfilled their obligations to us.”

“If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes,” he said, viewing those obligations in economic terms.

He has also previously called NATO “obsolete,” said the United States should “reconsider” keeping it, and repeatedly said the United States pays too much to the organization.

5. Why do Putin and Trump keep showering each other with compliments?

Trump has complimented Putin several times — despite saying he hasn’t.

Trump has bragged that he would “get along very well with Putin.” And after Putin called Trump “a bright and talented person without any doubt” in December, Trump returned the praise, calling the Russian president “a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.” Trump has also called Putin a “leader,” said “it’s never been proven that he’s killed anybody,” and claimed that anyone who criticizes the compliments Trump and Putin have exchanged is simply “jealous as hell.”

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As a result, much of Russian media has focused on the praise between the two men. As ThinkProgress has previously reported:

At a press conference [in March], Trump told state-owned Russia Today’s Caleb Maupin that he was open to having closer U.S.-Russian relations. “I want a better relationship with everybody. And with Russia, yeah,” he said. “If we can get along with Russia, that’s very good.” The head of another state-owned news network, Rossiya Sedognya, has also praised Trump. As Foreign Policy noted in March, Dmitry Kiselyov, who was appointed to head the network by Putin himself, has described Trump as “anti-establishment” and said he “is not wanted and is even seen as harmful” by the other presidential candidates due to his praise for Putin. Kiselyov has also previously called Trump a “rising star” in U.S. politics.

6. Does Trump even know what’s happening in Ukraine?

It’s not really clear if Trump knows what’s happening in Ukraine.

In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos last month, Trump seemed unaware that Russian forces were even in Ukraine. “[Putin’s] not going into Ukraine, okay, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want,” Trump said.

“Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?” Stephanopoulos reminded him.

Despite a lack of familiarity with the conflict, Trump still said he would “take a look” at recognizing Russia’s claims over Ukraine.

“ You know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were,” Trump said. “And you have to look at that also.”

7. Is Russia trying to tilt the presidential election to Trump?

Trump publicly encouraged Russia to hack the emails of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during a press conference last month.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you find the 33,000 emails that are missing. I think you’ll be rewarded mightily by our press!” Trump said. The comments came after WikiLeaks released Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails that revealed bias toward Hillary Clinton — and the leak was linked to Russian hackers.

After NBC’s Katy Tur asked if Trump had qualms about asking Russia to hack Clinton, he told her to “be quiet.”

Trump backtracked next day, claiming that his comments were “sarcastic.”