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Trump’s reckless flirtation with Russia raises questions about his judgment

It is impossible any more to ignore the nexus that links Donald Trump with Vladimir Putin. The FBI is investigating the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails and experts say that Russia is the likely culprit. This is the same Russia that Trump, in yet another fit of recklessness, encouraged to hack Hillary Clinton’s email account to find the 30,000-plus emails she deleted as personal in nature.

It was a shocking proposal by the presidential nominee of a major American party. He invited a foreign power – one that most Americans properly view as our primary world adversary – to meddle in an American presidential election.

Trump says he was only being sarcastic, but it’s still intolerable and, frankly, bush league. With the Democratic National Convention proceeding more smoothly than last week’s Republican gathering did, Trump’s latest outrage managed to turn the spotlight back on himself.

But a president has to understand that his or her comments have implications – political, financial, diplomatic, military. Trump either doesn’t understand that or doesn’t care.

But that’s the best-case scenario. The associations between Trump and Russia go deeper than that and worry even many Republicans. His praise of Putin has become routine, giving pause to thoughtful observers along the political spectrum.

That has most recently included the release of embarrassing Democratic Party emails that revealed the committee’s disdain for the campaign of Bernie Sanders. Suspicion has centered on the Russian intelligence agencies yet, somehow, they wound up in the hands of Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, implacable foe of Hillary Clinton, just as the Democratic National Convention was getting underway.

It could be shrugged off as coincidence, but for a number of other inconvenient facts. In addition to pointing out business ties Trump has with Russians, Max Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a lifelong Republican, noted that under Trump’s thumb, the Republican Party platform rolled back its call for Ukraine to fight back against Russian aggression. That’s shameful, a position for which the party would have justly excoriated Democrats had they been so duplicitous.

This has been an ongoing pattern with Trump, who has been unrelenting in his praise of Putin. Three years ago, he told Larry King that Putin had done “a great job outsmarting our country.” Later Trump said he wanted Putin to “become my new best friend.” Last year, Trump repeated that Putin was a great leader and brushed off reports that Putin has killed political opponents. “Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also,” was Trump’s response, putting the United States on the same moral level as Russia and Putin, who still mourns the demise of the Soviet Union.

Wednesday Trump doubled down, saying that “Putin has much better leadership qualities than [President] Obama.”

Trump’s praise for a ruthless dictator is at best a serious lapse in judgment; at worst, a sign of how he would seek to govern if elected president.

House Speaker Paul Ryan recognizes the danger: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug.” He’s right about that, but wrongfully refuses to repudiate Trump.

Trump has shown he is no supporter of NATO, the bulwark against Russian expansionism in Europe. He says he might refuse to intervene with NATO if Russia were to invade the Baltic nations.

Trump has given fair-minded observers plenty of reason to worry that his campaign maintains an unholy and unpatriotic link to Russia, culminating – so far – in the hacking of emails from the Democratic National Committee. And it’s possible, as Boot observed, that more emails could be released, inserting Russia even more deeply into American voters’ most sacred obligations. That’s something for all Americans to worry about.

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