Members of the House Intelligence Committee questioned FBI director James Comey Monday during a hearing on allegations of Russian interference in November's presidential election. Credit: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

As I read the latest assortment of stories about Donald Trump and the Russians Thursday, a couple of lines from popular culture came to mind.

From The Godfather II, Tom Hagen saying to Michael Corleone: “Roth played this one beautifully.” Hyman Roth, Corleone’s partner in crime but also his worst enemy, had set him up to take the fall.

And from John le Carré’s The Spy Who Came in From the Cold: “And suddenly, with the terrible clarity of a man too long deceived, Leamas understood the whole ghastly trick.” The unwitting tool of British intelligence, Leamas had just undermined the East German official he thought he was defending.

The question posed by both the book and the novel is the same: What is really going on? In confronting the Russia allegations, America asks that question today.

In Thursday’s New York Times, op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof wonders about the extent of possible collusion between the Trump camp and the Russians, currently being investigated by both the FBI and Congress.

Was it treason? Or was it, as Kristof suspects, “fuzzier and less transactional?”

The Russians hacked Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. Kristof supposes Trump aides with ties to Russia found out about it and a “kind of soft collusion” evolved with no “clear quid pro quo.” That might be why “there weren’t greater efforts to hide the Trump team’s ties to Russia.”

But who’s tried to hide anything? Fresh details supporting our dark suspicions tumble out irrepressibly. In the Tribune, essayist Eli Lake notes that FBI director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee this week that the Russian hackers were “unusually loud.” It was as if “they wanted us to see what they were doing.”

Of course they wanted us to see it! Vladimir Putin, if we want to think the worst and give him credit for it, has played this one beautifully. He eliminated Clinton, whom he despised. And by hacking her so conspicuously, and littering the playing field with unmissable evidence of far worse collusion than there might actually have been, he’s undermined President Trump. He’s made him look illegitimate.

Like the Brits who sent Leamas into East Germany, he understands the power of appearances. A “ghastly trick”? If so, it’s worked.