Former adviser to three GOP presidents questions Trump's motivations on Russia

NEW YORK -- President Donald Trump has insulted everyone from federal judges, to fellow Republicans, to Meryl Streep. He’s even taken a shot at the Pope.

axelrod-trump-russia-0215en-transfer.jpg

Peter Wehner

CBS News

But he’s seemed to bend over backward to avoid criticizing Vladimir Putin.

“Obviously there is something going on here,” said Peter Wehner, and he wants to know why.

Wehner worked for Ronald Reagan and both Bush administrations writing speeches and generating policy ideas. Wehner is now with the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center.

“There is smoke here and there is fire. We just don’t know the nature of the fire,” he said.

Part of it could be financial entanglements between Mr. Trump’s real estate empire and Russia, Wehner said. He pointed to the words of Donald Trump Jr. in 2008.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” he told a real estate conference in 2008. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

“I think it could explain a lot,” Wehner said. “I don’t think it explains everything but it certainly is an indication out of the mouth of the son of the president that they have huge financial ties to Russia.”

There are now new allegations of Russia’s meddling in the presidential election. CBS News correspondent Jeff Pegues reports that Trump campaign aides are at the center of an FBI investigation.

The investigation is in part looking at a specific allegation in a dossier compiled by a British spy that there was a “well developed conspiracy ... managed on the Trump side” by aides Paul Manafort and Carter Page, Pegues reports.

Both Manafort and Page deny any inappropriate contact with Russian officials to CBS News.

“If there was collusion, we don’t know, but if there was, this is a titanic story and it could lead to the ruination of the Trump presidency,” Wehner said. “That is a big statement, but this is a big story. It’s a story we have never seen before, it’s unprecedented”

Then there’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s relationship with Putin when he ran ExxonMobil, as well as Page’s ties with Russian energy companies when he was a banker and Manafort’s job advising Putin ally Victor Yanukovych in Ukraine.

Democrats have been raising questions about all of this since before the election. But as more and more information emerges, the question has become how many Republicans, like Whener, will add their voices to the chorus?

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the anchor of the Saturday edition of the "CBS Evening News" and a national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley" and other CBS News broadcasts.