So much about the rise of Donald Trump defied reason. But in the spring of 2016, he displayed one habit that I found beyond perplexing: He couldn’t stop praising Vladimir Putin. What made his obsequiousness so galling was that it often came in response to questions that warranted moral disdain: What about the assassination of journalists critical of the Russian government? Are you bothered by the invasion of Crimea? Whereas most of Trump’s policy positions shifted over the course of the campaign, his apologetics for Putin were a rare source of constancy.
As Trump raced to the Republican nomination, I began to search for ulterior explanations for Trump’s adoration of Putin—and the fact that his campaign served as a magnet for so many advisers and consultants with ties to Russian interests. On July 4, 2016, I published a piece in Slate pointing to Putin’s pattern of intervening on behalf of candidates hostile to the Western alliance, and arguing that we were seeing the same sort of interference unfolding in the United States. And I spent much of the next three years trying to understand the nature of that interference.
With tonight’s summation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, there will be a temptation among those who loudly trumpeted this scandal to apologize. And without a doubt, some Twitter detectives and journalists made mistakes—and overshot the evidence. They can apologize, but I won’t. Even if the actual Mueller report is anything like the attorney general’s summation of its contents, Russiagate will go down as one of the biggest scandals in American political history.