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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Russia and the hackers: Let a thousand puzzles bloom

President-elect Donald Trump smiles during a rally at

President-elect Donald Trump smiles during a rally at DeltaPlex Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Dec. 9, 2016. Photo Credit: AP / Andrew Harnik

Dating back to the Cold War, Russian-American intrigue spawns questions within questions, puzzles within puzzles.

Right now we hear wispy reports. Unnamed U.S. officials say unnamed hackers connected to unnamed Russian officials provided WikiLeaks with thousands of hacked Democratic National Committee emails.

We hear intelligence agencies, including the CIA, have diagnosed the goal as helping Donald Trump win the presidency.

A thousand elusive questions follow. The first three: Which individuals? How did they do it? How do we know what they intended?

Government claims that a foreign government interfered with an American election would seem to justify a congressional probe.

But trying to answer the most basic questions about the hack — in an age of supersecret cyberattacks across borders — raises questions of how to proceed and where to look.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) says — as do several other GOP lawmakers who supported Trump — that Russia undoubtedly was behind the cyberattacks.

President-elect Donald Trump raises yet more questions with his flat denials. “I think it’s ridiculous,” he told a favored media network on Sunday. “No, I don’t believe it at all.”

At least in public, Trump seems to display a curious lack of curiosity on the topic of cyberattacks in particular and Russia in general. He apparently believes — and not irrationally — that to betray any suspicion would feed claims from losing Democrats that his victory fell short of legitimate.

Trump’s loyalists are pushing back with shadowy claims of their own.

John Bolton, the former UN ambassador identified in published reports as a prospective appointee in the new administration, said Sunday: “It’s not at all clear to me just viewing this from the outside that this hacking was not a false flag operation” by the Obama administration.

In the early 2000s, Bolton came under fire for his reported role in pushing the Bush White House’s false claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

So it was ironic that Trump’s transition team over the weekend blasted CIA reports of Russian involvement in hacking by saying: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”

Questions about Trump’s relationship with those who run Russia began months ago. Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort quit the campaign amid questions about his role in major business dealings with Russian and Ukranian oligarchs allied with the Trump-friendly Vladimir Putin.

Now Trump is preparing to nominate for secretary of state Rex Tillerson, the CEO of ExxonMobil. The Wall Street Journal calls him “a seasoned dealmaker whose close ties to Vladimir Putin and other world leaders could redefine American interests abroad.”

There are plenty of dots. How, if at all, do they connect? That may be the most overarching question of all.

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