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Is Donald Trump a Russian agent, or the victim of a Deep State Witch Hunt? Sure!

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On Friday afternoon, the New York Times dropped what appears to be the closest thing to a smoking gun in the tortuous saga of the “Russia investigation.” I think it is wise to tread carefully here, given our universe of fact-free spin: There’s a long list of things we don’t know about Donald Trump and his Russian connections, and to some degree this explosive Times story only makes the list longer. But these revelations seem to add at least some substance to the most outlandish rumors that have floated around Trump since well before he was elected president.

In May 2017, four months after Trump took office, the FBI reportedly launched a counterintelligence investigation of the president himself, aimed at discovering whether the president was either a Russian agent or a Russian “asset” — in the language of the Times report, whether he was actively “working on behalf of Russia against American interests” or “had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.” This is both an extraordinary turn of events by any standard and, as Times reporter Adam Goldman told the New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner, something of “a ‘duh’ story.”

This is new information in a couple of ways. (If it’s true, that is. So far no meaningful denials have come from either the FBI or the Justice Department, but the Times has been had before.) It’s well understood that the FBI began a counterintelligence investigation of Trump’s presidential campaign as early as the summer of 2016, not long after the notorious Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

It’s equally clear that after Trump fired FBI director James Comey in May 2017, giving multiple contradictory explanations for doing so, the bureau began investigating the president for possible obstruction of justice, a probe that soon led to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller. Rosenstein remains a strange character in this drama: He evidently did Trump’s bidding on the Mueller firing, then felt used and abused and ever since has managed the investigation that has gnawed away at Trump’s presidency, partly because of events in which Rosenstein himself was instrumental. (It’s not facetious to wonder why he didn’t recuse himself, as former Attorney General Jeff Sessions did.)

Based on the visible evidence, it did not appear that those two investigative strands overlapped in any significant way. At least not until now. There were the puzzling and dubious interactions between Trump campaign........

© Salon