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Reports Raise New Speculation About Trump's Alleged Ties To Russia


One week and counting until Election Day, and the last 24 hours have brought new reports about ties between Donald Trump and Russia. The Trump campaign denies these reports, and here to help sort through what we know and what we don't is NPR's Mary Louise Kelly. Welcome to the studio.


CORNISH: So what exactly are these new allegations, and more importantly, who's making them?

KELLY: They are all over the map, Audie. They range from a report by Slate of a mysterious communications between a Trump computer server and a Russian bank. There's also an NBC report out that the FBI is making inquiries into Paul Manafort's business connections. Paul Manafort we remember was one of Trump's former campaign managers.

There's also a report by Mother Jones out that quotes an anonymous former intelligence official who alleges that Russia has been trying to cultivate Trump as an asset, that they've been doing this for years and feeding him intelligence for years - so again, all over the map.

CORNISH: And the Trump campaign has denied all of these reports.

KELLY: They have.

CORNISH: Actually Ari put a question about it today to the Trump campaign's spokesperson, Jason Miller. And we'll hear more of that interview elsewhere in the show. But I want to play you this part about Russia.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: I'd like to ask you directly. What are Mr. Trump's ties to the Russian Government?

JASON MILLER: (Laughter) None whatsoever, and in fact The York Times completely debunked that, and it's a sad and desperate play by the Clinton campaign.

KELLY: So that's Miller referring to a New York Times story about a widening investigation by the FBI into alleged Russia-Trump links. I also reached out to the campaign. I got a similar response minus the laughter, saying this is this is the Clinton people peddling conspiracy theories. The Clinton campaign, we should note, says it's time for Trump to answer serious questions about his ties to Russia.

CORNISH: But is there any real takeaway there? I mean have we learned anything more definitive about Trump and Russia than maybe we've heard before?

KELLY: The short answer is no. There is a lot of smoke here. There is no smoking gun. And we are all asking, is there actual evidence that has been made public of a direct link between Trump and the Russian government? And the answer is no.

All U.S. intelligence officials have said on the record is Russia is trying to influence the U.S. election. But this leaves really big questions, Audie. Why - if there's if there's no direct link, why is Trump continuing to praise Putin as we've heard throughout the campaign?

Another thing that we don't know - this is a point that Mike Morrell made to me today. Morrell is former acting director of the CIA. He's now advising the Clinton campaign on national security. And he raised questions about the people around Trump, the Trump circle, what ties they may have to Russia. And we don't know what questions the FBI may or may not be asking along those lines.

CORNISH: It feels like every week there's some, like, new big surprise in this campaign. Might more shoes drop before Election Day?

KELLY: That is the question that I was putting to everybody I talked to today. And I hate to tell you that the answer I kept getting back was, yes, that that's likely. I mean the fear that you will hear voiced is that Russia has tried to influence the election already and will try to discredit the election result because chaos and a divided U.S. plays into Russia's hand.

Dmitri Alperovitch, one of the people I spoke to today - he is with the cyber security firm CrowdStrike. That's the people who were called in by the DNC when they realized they had been hacked. And he told me, look; the likelihood of a successful hack on November 8 is practically zero. But the likelihood of a campaign to try to convince Americans that there has been a hack, the likelihood that they will try to convince Americans that the election results are not legit - that's high.

CORNISH: That's NPR's national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly. Thank you.

KELLY: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.