Alexander F. Yuan / AP

The Trump administration is moving toward returning two diplomatic compounds to Russia that were seized by the Obama administration on the grounds that they were used for espionage, the Washington Post reports.

Flashback: In December, Obama ordered the compounds — in Maryland and New York — closed and expelled 35 alleged Russian spies in retaliation for the Kremlin's meddling in the 2016 election.

Why it matters that the administration is even considering the move:

  1. This would completely undermine Obama, and the U.S. response to Russia's election interference.
  2. It would be a major concession to Russia, particularly if nothing is given in return, at a time when the very mention of Russia carries a whiff of scandal and intrigue.
  3. On a more basic level, it would mean re-opening compounds from which Russian spies reportedly operated for decades.

Where things stand, per the Post: In early May, Sec of State Tillerson raised the possibility of returning the compounds if construction was allowed to move ahead on a new U.S. consulate in St Petersburg, but dropped the condition about the consulate days later after meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister and U.S. Ambassador in Washington. It's not a done deal, though — a Tillerson adviser said "the U.S. and Russia have reached no agreements."

The Flynn connection: Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor, discussed the Obama administration's sanctions with Russia's ambassador and "indicated that U.S. policy would change" under Trump. He then misled other officials about the discussions, and was subsequently fired.

Bonus anecdote: I spoke with locals in Centreville, Maryland the day after the compound there was closed about the espionage in their backyard, and what they thought would happen next. Smoky Sigler, then president of the town council, predicted that once Trump was in office he'd wait a few months, then let the Russians back in. "They'll be back," he told me. As crazy as it sounded at the time, he may well be proved right.

Go deeper

Amy Harder, author of Generate
14 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Climate change goes mainstream in presidential debate

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty

The most notable part of Thursday’s presidential debate on climate change was the fact it was included as a topic and assumed as a fact.

The big picture: This is the first time in U.S. presidential history that climate change was a featured issue at a debate. It signals how the problem has become part of the fabric of our society. More extreme weather, like the wildfires ravaging Colorado, is pushing the topic to the front-burner.

Finally, a real debate

Photo: Morry Gash/AP

A more disciplined President Trump held back from the rowdy interruptions at tonight's debate in Nashville, while making some assertions so outlandish that Joe Biden chuckled and even closed his eyes.

  • A Trump campaign adviser told Axios: "He finally listened." 

The result: A real debate.

Biden to Trump: "I have not taken a penny from any foreign source ever in my life"

Former VP Joe Biden pushed back Thursday against allegations from President Trump, saying he had never profited from foreign sources. "Nothing was unethical," Biden told debate moderator Kristen Welker about his son Hunter's work in Ukraine while he was vice president.

Why it matters: Earlier on Thursday, Hunter Biden's former business partner, Tony Bobulinski, released a statement saying Joe Biden's claims that he never discussed overseas business dealings with his son were "false."

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