We, as a nation, are in a conundrum. News organizations are obtaining information that indicates supporters and aides of President Donald Trump had inappropriate contact with Russian officials, including intelligence officials, during the campaign or before Trump took office. This information, while troubling, also is the result of an apparently illegal activity: the unauthorized release of classified information.
The sources of the leaks
We do not know, except that they are variously described as coming from current or former officials in U.S. intelligence, law enforcement or administration officials. The leaks are said to be based on communications intercepts, which could include email, texts or telephone conversations.
The accuracy of the leaks
We do not know since we have not been presented with any evidence, including transcripts or recordings. The reporters whose stories are based on the leaks may have seen or heard that evidence, but they have not said so. We do know that the news organizations reporting on the leaks are putting their credibility on the line in making them public.
The motivation behind the links
We do not know. On this point, there are number of possibilities. On the plus side is the possibility that the leakers are genuinely concerned about the Trump administration's actions and see no alternative course except exposing them. On the negative side is the possibility the leakers are outright opponents of the administration who are abusing their power in a bid to oust Trump or to seek revenge for his past criticism of U.S. intelligence agencies.
The legal issues
We do know that they are illegal. If American intelligence agencies have guarded anything dearly in recent years, it is the scope of their ability to intercept communications nationally and internationally. Intercepted communications are classified information, their release prohibited by law. The New York Times said some of the information was culled from "troves of previous intercepted communications that had not been analyzed" until more recently. These leaks, if true, mark a stark break with the past.
What they might mean
We do know the leaks, if true, raise troubling questions about possible ties between Trump supporters and Russia. There is circumstantial evidence supporting some of the reports. Two days after the election in November, Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy Russian foreign minister, said "there were contacts" during the campaign between Russian officials and the Trump team. "Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage," Ryabkov told Russia's Interfax news agency. The Trump transition team denied Rybakov's assertion at that time. The Times says the intercepts coincided with the discovery by U.S. law enforcement and intelligent agencies of "evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee" and a decision to determine "whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election."
Where the investigations will go
We don't know which direction or directions probes might take. As might be expected, the debate over the is dividing between those, usually Republicans, demanding an investigation into the leaks, and those, usually Democrats, seeking a probe into the contents of the purported intercepts and the administration's links with Russia.