For months, President Donald Trump has derided the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as a "ruse," and insisted it was an excuse concocted by the Democratic Party to justify losing the election. And yet, thanks to a new report from The New York Times, one White House transition adviser's emails about Russia and the 2016 election are drawing some scrutiny.
The person in question is former Fox News personality K.T. McFarland, who was brought into the administration to serve as a deputy national security adviser. She's since been named Trump's pick to take over as U.S. ambassador to Singapore. During the presidential transition in December of last year, an email written by McFarland was reportedly forwarded to a number of top Trump officials, including Mike Flynn, future press secretary Sean Spicer, and future presidential adviser Steve Bannon. All three of those names have since left the administration.
In the emails, in which McFarland accused former president Barack Obama of trying to "box in" the president-elect with regard to Russia by announcing a new raft of sanctions, she also reportedly typed the following line: "If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him."
It's worth noting that this isn't definitely some sort of metaphorical smoking gun about a Trump insider's view of Russian influence, however. The Times reports that a White House lawyer claims McFarland was merely describing Russia's impact on the election in terms of how Democrats were portraying it, rather than what she herself believed.
Needless to say, McFarland's remark is controversial, owing to the fact that Democrats, progressives, and critics of Trump's have been asserting for months that his victory was aided by Russian influence. The Trump campaign has been under investigation for months for any alleged collusion with the Russians, and for associated controversies and scandals, the independent counsel Robert Mueller and his team. Trump has vehemently denied any such allegations, calling them "fake news," among other things.
McFarland was ultimately named the Trump administration's deputy national security adviser, working directly under former national security adviser Mike Flynn. According to the Times, McFarland was referred to by some Trump transition officials as "Flynn's brain." She was ultimately removed from her national security position in May, after the appointment of Dina Powell and current national security adviser H.R. McMaster.
The 66-year-old McFarland has been the nominee to be the next U.S. ambassador to Singapore for more than five months, a fact which has roiled some of supporters in conservative circles. As it stands, she's awaiting a confirmation vote by the full Senate, but one has not yet been scheduled.
The emails reported by the Times also show McFarland was both aware of, and a proponent of, Flynn's contacts with Russian ambassador Sergei Kisylak in the days following the announcement of the new Russian sanctions back in Dec. 2016. Flynn's contacts with Kislyak have been a major piece of the scrutiny he's faced since departing from public life, being fired mere weeks after joining the Trump administration. Trump himself has insisted there was nothing wrong with Flynn's conversations with Kisylak, and that Flynn was only fired for lying about the matter.
It remains to be seen whether any further legal consequences or criminal charges will be filed as a result of the Mueller investigation. As it stands, two senior members of Trump's campaign have been charged in the past several weeks, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and Flynn. Manafort has pleaded not guilty, however, while Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and is reportedly cooperating with the investigation.