A serious question: Does anyone in Trump-world truly recognize that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a murderous thug and truly resent the absolute fact that Putin’s regime made a massive effort to influence the U.S. presidential election?

If we needed any reminder of how horrid Putin’s thugocracy is, we received it in Sunday’s news that his regime made Russia’s own March presidential election even more of a sham by arresting Putin’s most vocal foe. The Kremlin already had used “corruption” allegations to disqualify opponent Alexei Navalny from the presidential ballot, but even that wasn’t enough for this dictatorship: When the reformist Navalny organized protests in favor of an election boycott, the police state threw him to the ground and hauled him away for demonstrating without a permit.

By Putin’s standards, this rough treatment was comparatively mild. As has been well documented, numerous other Putin opponents have been poisoned or (apparently) murdered. And, of course, Putin has been a relentless opponent of U.S. interests and Western values, especially via his unwavering support for the terrorist-supporting theocracy of Iran, throughout his 19 years of ruling Russia.

When a vicious authoritarian of this magnitude, with effective control of the world’s largest stock of nuclear warheads, makes such a concerted effort to sway U.S. elections, Americans of every political stripe ought to clamor for answers. Both sides should stop playing political football with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into matters related to those Russian efforts. Seen rightly, the investigation should be seen as a matter not of domestic politics, but of national security.

The ultimate point of the Mueller probe and those of congressional investigators is to better enable the U.S. to take prophylactic action against Putin’s increasingly sophisticated efforts to undermine our republican system. As former world chess champion and human rights advocate Garry Kasparov said last year, “It’s a cyberwar, and we have to come up with the comprehensive response; we have to work out a policy of deterrents.”

Yet aside from CIA Director Mike Pompeo, nobody else in the Trump inner orbit seems to care. Nobody else seems to be offended by Putin’s interference, much less moved to action against it. Trump himself remains disgustingly friendly to the Russian dictator and hostile to most efforts to rein him in.

Trump fumed last summer against a bipartisan congressional bill imposing new sanctions against Russia before reluctantly signing it – and then, after dragging his feet on implementation of it, barely met a Monday deadline by choosing the mildest of actions available under the law.

Trump himself should be leading the charge to block further Russian electoral shenanigans in the U.S. If his team didn’t criminally conspire to assist Russian meddling, then he ought to be moving heaven and earth to help Mueller and congressional investigators conduct their probes.

It’s already clear that Russia tried to help Trump win, and it’s already clear Trump will forever argue that he would have won the election anyway. Either way, Trump as president should be less concerned with protecting himself from Mueller and the FBI than he is about protecting the nation from Putin’s perfidy.

Additionally, Trump ought to be publicly critical of Putin’s nefarious rigging of Putin’s own re-election. One proper answer to secretive Russian attempts to undermine American representative democracy would be an American effort to proclaim the truth about Russia’s fake elections. What Putin did in our elections was underhanded aggression; what Trump should apply to their elections is cleansing sunlight.

The sunlight won’t change Russia’s internal results; but by “calling foul” on those results, Trump can help make a diplomatic case, when needed, against the Kremlin.

Instead, Trump fulminates about “fake news” and a “deep state” and denies that Russia interfered at all. In doing so, he sides with Putin's lies against the incontrovertible truth acknowledged by his own CIA director.

Forget Trump’s assertion (using a term history warns against) about putting America first: When it comes to matters related to Putin, Trump repeatedly puts Russia first.

And as last weekend’s Kremlin’s thuggishness again showed, this means giving a pass to a terrible tyrant.

Quin Hillyer (@QuinHillyer) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a former associate editorial page editor for the Washington Examiner, and is the author of Mad Jones, Heretic, a satirical literary novel published in the fall of 2017.

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