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From Russia, with love (or, how Putin could help elect Trump)

| Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

“As long as I count the votes, what are you going to do about it?” asked William “Boss” Tweed, the 19th-century political boss of New York City's Tammany Hall.

Tweed knew that the only way to maintain power was to control the ballot box, so he took no chances. The Tweed Ring registered every Irish immigrant, got them to the polls and counted their ballots at the end of the day. It was hard work, a gritty retail operation.

Control of the ballot box is still the way to steal an election. But the dirty work can now be done wholesale, as a recent FBI Cyber Security bulletin has made clear. In an alert to every state, the FBI said foreign hackers, later identified as Russians, had already targeted two election departments, raising concerns that others might be next.

Naturally, Donald Trump is at the center of this controversy, too. In July, after Russians hacked DNC emails, Trump invited them to hack Hillary Clinton's emails. “Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said. He denied that he was being unpatriotic by encouraging a foreign power to meddle in an American election.

But Trump has a lot of explaining to do. He fawns over Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying, “I think he's going to respect your president if I'm elected. And I hope he likes me.” When informed that Putin kills journalists and political opponents, Trump defended Putin, saying, “At least he's a leader.”

Trump, who flip-flops on whether he knows Putin, predicted, “I would have a great relationship with Putin.” Bolstering that claim, Trump once hired Paul Manafort as his campaign manager, even though Manafort had been an agent for the deposed pro-Putin president of the Ukraine.

And Putin has praised Trump, calling him a “talented person,” which sent Trump over the moon. He replied, “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.” Later, when asked if he would tell Putin to stay out of our election, Trump said, “I'm not going to tell Putin what to do. Why would I tell him what to do?”

Lately, Trump has been preparing for defeat, delegitimizing the next president of the United States by predicting that the election will be fixed against him. In August, he said, “I'm afraid the election is going to be rigged, to be honest.”

Later, in Pennsylvania, where he is running behind in the polls, Trump said of Clinton, “She can't beat what's happening here. The only way they can beat it, in my opinion, and I mean this 100 percent, if in certain sections of the state they cheat.”

If this election is fixed, however, it will not be done in the old “Boss” Tweed way. This would be a cyber fix, the way they do it from Russia, where Trump's pal Putin runs the show.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (joemistick@gmail.com).

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