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Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty Images

There’s a lot out there in the public domain about Trump and Russia, and much, surely, still to be discovered.

The big picture: Here's what I've learned about the incidents and themes that have defined the relationship, from dozens of conversations over many months with sources who have privately discussed Putin and Russia with Trump.

On election meddling: Trump's top intelligence official, Dan Coats, said Friday the "warning lights are blinking red" and invoked 9/11 to describe the cyberattacks against the U.S.

  • Coats was talking about far more than Russian election interference, but senior administration sources past and present have told me Trump seems incapable of taking Russia's election meddling seriously.
  • Trump's private remarks on this subject are no different than his public statements, in which he heaps scorn on the Mueller investigation and tries to score political points by blaming Obama. No matter what evidence he's confronted with, he sees the entire investigation as about him and his election victory.

On Ukraine: Trump is wildly contradictory. On one hand, his administration has been tougher than Obama's ever was by selling sophisticated anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainians to fight Russia. On the other hand, Trump privately told world leaders at the G7 he thought Crimea — which Putin illegally invaded — might as well belong to Russia because the residents speak Russian.

  • Sources who've discussed Ukraine with Trump and who were involved in the private policy debate told me it took a long time to persuade Trump to sell the anti-tank missiles, known as Javelins, to Ukraine. For two reasons:
  • 1. "Why the f*** is this our problem?" Trump told aides at the time. "I'm looking at a map and it's not even on our continent, why don't the Europeans step up and do more?" according to a source who discussed the issue with Trump.
  • 2. Trump was worried that a missile traced to America might kill some Russians and create a huge problem in Moscow. He told aides he didn't want to start a war over Ukraine, which in his mind shouldn't be America's problem. 

On sanctions: Trump erupted last summer when the Senate passed its Russia sanctions package with a veto-proof majority.

  • Trump ended up approving the sanctions with a snarky statement. "He just thought it was [Republican senators] Corker and McCain and other people saying, 'we can't trust Trump so we're going to run foreign policy from the Senate'," a source involved told me.
  • "He [Trump] was like, 'We’ve already got sanctions [on Russia], why do we have to do more?'"

Go deeper

Biden will reverse Trump's attempt to lift COVID related travel restrictions

Photo: Tasos Katopodis via Getty

The incoming Biden administration will reverse President Trump's last-minute order to lift COVID-19 related travel restrictions, Jen Psaki, the incoming White House press secretary, tweeted.

Why it matters: President Trump ordered entry bans lifted for travelers from the U.K., Ireland, Brazil and much of Europe to go into effect Jan. 26, but the Biden administration will "strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19," Jen Psaki said. Biden will be inaugurated on Wednesday, Jan. 20 and Trump will no longer be president by the time the order is set to go into effect.

Dominion sends cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell

Photo: Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Dominion Voting Systems on Monday sent a cease and desist letter to My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell over his spread of misinformation related to the 2020 election.

Why it matters: Trump and several of his allies have pushed false conspiracy theories about the company, leading Dominion to take legal action. It's suing pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell for defamation and $1.3 billion in damages, and a Dominion employee has sued Trump himself, OANN and Newsmax.

Off the Rails

Episode 5: The secret CIA plan

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer, Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 5: Trump vs. Gina — The president becomes increasingly rash and devises a plan to tamper with the nation's intelligence command.

In his final weeks in office, after losing the election to Joe Biden, President Donald Trump embarked on a vengeful exit strategy that included a hasty and ill-thought-out plan to jam up CIA Director Gina Haspel by firing her top deputy and replacing him with a protege of Republican Congressman Devin Nunes.

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