FBI Director James Comey’s admission that the FBI was investigating possible collusion between Donald Trump campaign staffers and the Russian government has elevated the suspicion of a Trump-Putin connection. But there is still no smoking kalashnikoff in the case that signals wrongdoing — the FBI investigation is ongoing.
Trump’s problem presently isn’t so much that he’s been hit with allegations that’ll stick. It’s, as ever, more about perception. Some polls have Trump’s popularity declining. The Trump-Russia connection story, even if it’s all smoke, delivers Trump’s “America First” optics a hit. New revelations about Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort‘s deep Russian ties, following news that Trump’s short-lived National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had contact with the Russian ambassador during the heat of the campaign make the Trump Russia smoke thick — even if there’s no fire. (Again, no wrongdoing has been found in these contacts, though some say Sessions may have skirted the truth under oath.) With Manafort now envisioned in the public eye as wearing something like a “Make Russia Great Again” hat, what Trump has on his hands at present is an image issue, not a legal one. As a master manipulator of the media and his image, Trump is working now to see if he can once again sway the narrative.