Friday, 31 March 2017

Russia Again (updated to April 30)



 The Russian Connection, revisited, and a timeline of the links
You may have heard about reports that indicate that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is trying to cut a deal with the FBI, copping a plea in exchange for telling everything he knows about Donald Trump’s team and Russia, including possible collusion in that country’s interference with the 2016 election.  The Wall Street Journal reports that Flynn has offered to be interviewed by the agency and the congressional intelligence committees in exchange for immunity, “but has so far found no takers.” His lawyer told Bloomberg that, “Gen. Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit.”  As many have noted, this is somewhat ironic since Flynn told Meet the Press last September, “When you are given immunity, that means you probably committed a crime.”

Also this week it was reported in the Washington Post, that Senators of both parties serving on the intelligence committee were shocked by the testimony of Clinton Watts, a senior fellow at the George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, who told them in a public hearing that not only had Russia hacked Hillary Clinton but also other GOP presidential candidates who ran against Trump in the primaries, including Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham.  Watts also indicated that Trump “has used Russian active [web propaganda] measures at times against his opponents.”  In short, the Russians produced fake news stories in an effort to discredit candidates it did not like, and used up to 1000 paid internet trolls to push those stories into the media feeds of Facebook users and onto conservative news sites, often targeting potential swing voters in key states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.  Trump and his surrogates then played a willing (if possibly unwitting) role in their scheme by parroting the exact same stories and lines.
While the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation seems to be turning-up significant information and is actively pursing its mandate, the House Intelligence Committee investigation is mired in controversy because of the actions of its Republican Chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, who seems to be running interference for the Trump administration – on whose transition team he had served.  For weeks Trump has been feeling the heat for his accusation that Obama had wiretapped his campaign, which culminated on 20 March when FBI director James Comey stated he had “no information that supports those tweets.”  Comey phrased this refutation carefully, but that didn’t stop the press from emphasizing how humiliating Comey’s testimony was for Trump.  Two days later, Nunes claimed he had been given information that indicated Trump’s claims of having been under surveillance during the election campaign had some merit.  It turns out that this information was leaked by the Whitehouse itself, and Nunes embarrassed himself by reporting this to Trump himself and then to the press before he reported it to his committee.   
Nunes’s prepared statement sought to establish at least two major points, which seem to be related: (1) that the Intelligence Community collected communications of members of the Trump transition team, and (2) that the collection was “incidental” and not “related to Russia” and yielded information lacking in “apparent foreign intelligence value.”  But these did nothing to actually vindicate Trump’s explosive tweetstorm accusing President Obama of ordering a “tapp” of Trump’s phones at Trump Tower.  Rather Nunes’s statement helps Trump mitigate or deflect the charge that those tweets amounted to outright lies.  Nunes also made drama of marching to the White House to personally deliver his “news” to Trump.  It looks, therefore, that Nunes was attempting to lend Trump some cover for his allegations against Obama.  Trump subsequently stated he felt vindicated by Nunes’s report.   If you are inclined to dismiss as speculation the idea that the major prongs of Nunes’s prepared statement were likely designed to provide the White House cover, consider Nunes’s conduct over the last month as detailed by Jane Chong at Lawfare.

A Timeline of Trump’s Russian Connection

Trump’s efforts to develop business in Russia date to 1987.  In 1996, he applied for his trademark in that country.  Discussing ambitions for a Trump hotel in 2007, he declared, “We will be in Moscow at some point.”

October 1998: Demolition of a vacant office building near the United Nations headquarters was making way for Trump World Tower. Donald Trump began selling units in the skyscraper, which was scheduled to open in 2001 and became a prominent depository of Russian money. By 2004, one-third of the units sold on the 76th through 83rd floors of Trump World Tower involved people or limited liability companies connected to Russia or neighboring states. Assisting Trump’s sales effort was Ukrainian immigrant Semyon “Sam” Kislin, who issued mortgages to buyers of multimillion-dollar Trump World Tower apartments. In the late 1970s, Kislin had co-owned an appliance store with Georgian immigrant Tamir Sapir and they had sold 200 television sets to Donald Trump on credit. By the early 1990s, Kislin had become a wealthy commodities trader and campaign fundraiser for Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who in 1996 appointed him to the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Meanwhile, Sapir had made a fortune as a New York City real estate developer.

2000: Roger Stone served as chairman of Donald Trump’s presidential exploratory advisory committee.

2002: Russian-born Felix H. Sater and his company, Bayrock Group — a Trump Tower tenant — began working with Trump on a series of real estate development deals, one of which became the Trump SoHo. Another development partner in Trump SoHo was the Sapir Organization, founded by Tamir Sapir.
Also in 2002: Efforts to sell Russians apartments in Trump World Tower, Trump’s West Side condominiums, and Trump’s building on Columbus Circle expanded with presentations in Moscow involving Sotheby’s International Realty and a Russian realty firm. In addition to buying units in Trump World Tower, Russians and Russian-Americans flooded into another Trump-backed project in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. In South Florida alone, members of the Russian elite invested more than $98 million in seven Trump-branded luxury towers.

2005: In a sworn deposition in 2008, Sater testified that Trump gave Bayrock Group an exclusive deal to develop a project in Russia. “I’d come back, pop my head into Mr. Trump’s office and tell him, you know, ‘Moving forward on the Moscow deal.’ And he would say ‘All right… I showed him photos, I showed him the site, showed him the view from the site. It’s pretty spectacular.” But that early effort to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow failed. 

June 2005: Paul Manafort proposed that he undertake a consulting assignment for one of President Vladimir Putin’s billionaire oligarchs. Manafort suggested a strategy for influencing politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe, and former Soviet republics to benefit Putin’s government.

February 2006: Two of Trump’s children, Don Jr. and Ivanka, traveled to Moscow. According to Sater, Donald Trump Sr. asked him to show them around: “He asked if I wouldn’t mind joining them and looking after them while they were in Moscow.” He summarized the attitude of Trump’s children as “nice, big city, great. Let’s do a deal here.” Ten years later — October 2016 — Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten told Forbes that the presence of Sater and Trump’s adult children in Moscow at the same time had been a coincidence.

July 2008: As the Florida real estate market began to crash, Trump sold a Florida residence to a Russian oligarch for $95 million, believed to be the biggest single-family home sale in US history. The Russian oligarch never lived in the house and, since then, it has been demolished. Three years earlier, Trump had bought the home at auction for $41 million. 

January 2010—January 2011: After leaving Bayrock, Sater became “senior adviser to Donald Trump,” according to his Trump Organization business card. He also had a Trump Organization email address and office. The phone number listed on the card had belonged previously to a lawyer in Trump’s general counsel’s office. 

June 18, 2013: Trump announced that the 2013 Miss Universe beauty pageant, which he owned, will take place in Moscow. The next day, he tweeted: “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow — if so, will he become my new best friend?” While preparing for the pageant, Trump said, “I have plans for the establishment of business in Russia. Now, I am in talks with several Russian companies to establish this skyscraper.”

July 8, 2013: After a BBC reporter questioned Trump about Felix Sater’s alleged prior connections to organized crime, Trump ended the interview.

Oct. 17, 2013: On The Late Show, David Letterman asked Trump, “Have you had any dealings with the Russians?” Trump answered, “Well I’ve done a lot of business with the Russians…” Letterman continued, “Vladmir Putin, have you ever met the guy?” Trump said, “He’s a tough guy. I met him once.”

Nov. 5, 2013: In a deposition, an attorney asked Trump about Felix Sater. “If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like,” Trump answered. When asked how many times he had ever spoken with Sater, Trump said, “Not many.” When asked about his July 2013 BBC interview during which he was questioned about Sater’s alleged connections to organized crime, Trump said he didn’t remember it. 

Nov. 11, 2013, Trump tweeted: “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.”

November 2013: At the Miss Universe pageant, Trump said: “I do have a relationship [with Putin] and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today… I do have a relationship with him… He’s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and who he’s represented.” While Trump was in Moscow for the pageant, he and Alex Sapir (whose family’s company was one of the co-developers of Trump SoHo with Trump and Felix Sater) met with the Russian real estate developer who had facilitated Trump’s $20 million deal to host the Miss Universe contest in Moscow. They discussed plans for a new Trump project in Russia. “The Russian market is attracted to me,” Trump told Real Estate Weekly upon his return. “I have a great relationship with many Russians, and almost all of the oligarchs were in the room.”

March 6, 2014: At the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump said: “You know, I was in Moscow a couple of months ago. I own the Miss Universe Pageant and they treated me so great. Putin even sent me a present, a beautiful present.” On the same day, President Obama signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Russia for its unlawful annexation of Crimea.

Aug. 6, 2015: The Trump campaign said it had fired Roger Stone; Stone claimed he’d quit. Either way, Stone remained a prominent Trump surrogate for the rest of the campaign.

Aug. 21, 2015: Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions made a surprise appearance at a Donald Trump rally and donned a “Make America Great Cap.”

Sept. 2015: An FBI special agent contacted the Democratic National Committee to report that at least one DNC computer system had been hacked by an espionage team linked to the Russian government. The agent was transferred to a tech-support contractor at the help desk, who did a cursory check of DNC server logs and didn’t reply to follow-up calls from the FBI agent.
Sept. 21, 2015: On Hugh Hewitt’s radio program, Trump said, “The oligarchs are under [Putin’s] control, to a large extent. I mean, he can destroy them, and he has destroyed some of them… Two years ago, I was in Moscow… I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top-of-the-government people. I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary.”
 
Nov. 10, 2015: At a Republican primary debate, Trump said: “I got to know [Putin] very well because we were both on 60 Minutes. We were stablemates, and we did very well that night.”

Nov. 30, 2015: When an Associated Press reporter asked Trump about Felix Sater, he answered, “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it. I’m not that familiar with him.” Trump referred questions about Sater to his staff. 

Dec. 10, 2015: Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who would become Trump’s national security adviser, sat at Putin’s table for the 10th anniversary gala of Russia’s state-owned television propaganda network, RT. Flynn had made a paid appearance on the network. For his December speech, he netted $33,500 of the $45,000 paid to his speakers’ bureau. For all of 2015, Flynn received more than $65,000 from companies linked to Russia.

Feb. 17, 2016: As questions about Russia swirled around Trump, he changed his story: “I have no relationship with [Putin], other than he called me a genius.” 

Feb. 29, 2016: Paul Manafort submits a five-page, single-spaced, proposal to Trump. In it, he outlines his qualifications for helping Trump secure enough convention delegates to win the Republican presidential nomination. Manafort describes how he had assisted rich and powerful business and political leaders, including oligarchs and dictators in Russia and Ukraine: “I have managed presidential campaigns around the world.”

March 17, 2016: Jeff Sessions discussed Trump’s foreign policy positions, saying, “I think an argument can be made there is no reason for the US and Russia to be at this loggerheads. Somehow, someway we ought to be able to break that logjam. Strategically it’s not justified for either country.” 

March 21, 2016: In a Washington Post interview, Trump identified Carter Page as one of his foreign policy advisers. Page had helped open the Moscow office of investment banking firm Merrill Lynch and had advised Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom, in which Page is an investor. He blamed US 2014 sanctions relating to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine for driving down Gazprom’s stock price.

March 29, 2016: On Roger Stone’s recommendation, Paul Manafort joined the Trump campaign as convention manager, tasked with lining up delegates.

April 20, 2016: Paul Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager. Reports surfaced about his 2007 to 2012 ties to Ukraine’s pro-Putin former president, whom Manafort had helped to elect.

Late April 2016: The Democratic National Committee’s IT department noticed suspicious computer activity, contacted the FBI, and hired a private security firm, CrowdStrike, to investigate.

May 2016: CrowdStrike determined that highly sophisticated Russian intelligence-affiliated adversaries — denominated Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear — had been responsible for the DNC hack. Fancy Bear, in particular, had indicators of affiliation with Russia’s Main Intelligence Department (also know as the GRU).

Early June 2016: At a closed-door gathering of high-powered foreign policy experts visiting with the prime minister of India, Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page hailed Vladimir Putin as stronger and more reliable than President Obama and touted the positive effect that a Trump presidency would have on US-Russia relations.

May 19, 2016: Paul Manafort became Trump’s campaign chairman and chief strategist.

June 15, 2016: A hacker with the online persona “Guccifer 2.0” claimed credit for the DNC hack and began posting internal DNC documents on the Guccifer 2.0 website. CrowdStrike reiterated its conclusion that the hack had been a Russian intelligence operation. 

July 6, 2016: Another batch of hacked DNC documents appeared on the Guccifer 2.0 website.

July 7, 2016: In a lecture at the New Economic School in Moscow, Carter Page criticized American foreign policy. He said that many of the mistakes spoiling relations between the US and Russia “originated in my own country.” Page said he had sought and received permission from the Trump campaign to make the trip.

July 14, 2016: Another batch of hacked DNC documents appeared on the Guccifer 2.0 website.

July 18, 2016: The Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign worked behind the scenes ahead of the Republican Convention on a plank of the 2016 Party Platform that gutted the GOP’s longstanding support for Ukrainians’ popular resistance to Russia’s 2014 intervention.
Also on July 18, 2016: At a Heritage Foundation event during the Republican Convention, Jeff Sessions spoke individually with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 
Also during the July 2016 Republican Convention: Carter Page and J.D. Gordon, national security advisers to the Trump Campaign, met with ambassador Kislyak. They stressed that Trump would like to improve relations with Russia.

July 22, 2016: On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks released its first trove of emails stolen from the DNC.

July 24, 2016: When ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked whether there were any connections between the Trump campaign and Putin’s regime, Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort answered, “No, there are not. And you know, there’s no basis to it.”

July 25, 2016: Trump tweeted, “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC emails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.”

July 27, 2016, At a press conference, Trump said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” At the same press conference, he insisted: “I never met Putin. I’ve never spoken to him.” In an interview with CBS News, he reiterated: “But I have nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do, I never met Putin, I have nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.”

July 31, 2016: Manafort denied knowing anything about the change in the Republican platform. That afternoon, Boris Epshteyn, Trump’s Russian-born adviser, spouted the Kremlin’s party line telling CNN: “Russia did not seize Crimea. We can talk about the conflict that happened between Ukraine and the Crimea… But there was no seizure by Russia. That’s an incorrect statement, characterization, of what happened.”
Also on July 31, 2016: On CNN, Jeff Sessions defended Trump’s approach to Russia: “This whole problem with Russia is really disastrous for America, for Russia and for the world,” he said. “Donald Trump is right. We need to figure out a way to end this cycle of hostility that’s putting this country at risk, costing us billions of dollars in defense, and creating hostilities.”
And also on July 31, 2016: Trump told ABC News that he was not involved in the Republican Party platform change that softened America’s position on Russia’s annexation of Ukraine.

Aug. 5, 2016: Trump surrogate Roger Stone wrote an article for Breitbart News. Stone argued that Guccifer 2.0 had nothing to do with Russia.

Aug. 6, 2016: NPR confirmed the Trump campaign’s involvement in the Republican platform change on Ukraine.

Aug. 12, 2016: A batch of hacked Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) documents appeared on the Guccifer 2.0 website. 

Aug. 13, 2016: After receiving complaints about the publication of private information, Twitter and wordpress.com (host for the Guccifer 2.0 website) suspended the Guccifer 2.0 accounts.

Aug. 14, 2016: Roger Stone tweeted, “[N]ow Guccifer 2.0 — why are those exposing the truth banned?” Without explanation, Twitter reinstated the Guccifer 2.0 account. In a private message to Guccifer 2.0, Roger Stone wrote “Delighted you are reinstated. Fuck the State and their MSM lackeys  
Aug. 15, 2016: Continuing their private exchange, Guccifer 2.0 responded to Stone: “wow thank u for writing back and thank you for an article about me!!! do u find anything interesting in the docs I posted?” 
Also on Aug. 15, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 released hacked DCCC documents on primaries in Florida.

Aug. 16, 2016: Stone published an article in The Hill and asked Guccifer 2.0 to retweet it, “PLZ RT: How the election can be rigged against Donald Trump — thehill.com/blogs/pundits-…” Guccifer 2.0 responded: “done” and “I read u’d been hacked”

Aug. 17, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 sent another private message to Stone: “I’m pleased to say that u r great man and I think I gonna read ur books” “please tell me if I can help u anyhow it would be a great pleasure to me.”

Aug. 19, 2016: As reports of Manafort’s financial connections to Ukraine intensified, he resigned from the Trump campaign.

Aug. 21, 2016: Trump surrogate Roger Stone tweeted, “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary”
Also on Aug. 21, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 posted hacked DCCC documents on Pennsylvania’s congressional primaries.  
Also on Aug. 21, 2016: On a local Maryland radio program, Stone denies (around the 6-minute mark of the broadcast) that Guccifer 2.0 is connected to the Russians: “The DNC leaks that nailed Deborah Wasserman Schultz in the heist against Bernie Sanders was not leaked by the Russians, it was leaked by Cruccifer [sic] 2, I should say hacked and leaked first by Cruccifer 2, well known hacker who is not in the employment of the Russians, and then WikiLeaks. So that whole claim is a canard.” [Added April 24, 2017] 

Aug. 26, 2016: In an interview with Breitbart Radio, Stone says (near the 10-minute mark of the interview), “I’m almost confident Mr. Assange has virtually every one of the emails that the Clinton henchwomen, Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills, thought that they had deleted, and I suspect that he’s going to drop them at strategic times in the run up to the rest of this race.” [Added April 24, 2017] 

Aug. 29, 2016: Stone tells a local Florida radio interviewer (around the 7-minute mark of the interview), “We’re going to, I think, see from WikiLeaks and other leakers see the nexus between the Clinton Foundation and the State Department.” About Assange, he says, “Perhaps he has the smoking gun that makes this handcuff time.” [Added April 24, 2017]
Aug. 31, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 posted documents hacked from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s personal computer.

Sept. 8, 2016: Jeff Sessions met Russian ambassador Kislyak in his Senate office. 

Sept. 15, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 posted hacked DCCC documents on New Hampshire, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina.

Sept. 23, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 posted hacked DCCC documents on chairman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan. Also on Sept. 23, 2016: Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News reports US intelligence officials are seeking to determine whether Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page had opened up private communications with senior Russian officials, including talks about the possibility of lifting economic sanctions if Trump became president. [Added April 17, 2017]
  
Sept. 25, 2016: Carter Page writes to FBI Director James Comey that in 2016 he “had not met with any sanctioned official in Russia….” [Added April 17, 2017] 

Sept. 26, 2016: Amid accusations that he has ties to Russia, Carter Page takes a leave of absence from the Trump campaign. [Added April 17, 2017] 

Sept. 28, 2016: FBI Director Comey appears before the House Judiciary Committee and refuses to answer questions about whether the bureau is investigating connections between members of the Trump campaign and Russia. “We do not confirm or deny investigations,” Comey says. [Added April 24, 2017]

Oct. 1, 2016: Six days before WikiLeaks released emails that Russian hackers had acquired from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s email account, Trump’s informal adviser and surrogate Roger Stone tweeted: “Wednesday@HillaryClinton is done. #Wikileaks.”

Oct. 4, 2016: Trump tweeted: “CLINTON’S CLOSE TIES TO PUTIN DESERVE SCRUTINY.”
Also on Oct. 4, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 posted documents hacked from the Clinton Foundation.

Oct. 7, 2016: In a joint statement, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence said, “The US Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of emails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations… We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” But two other stories dominated the news cycle: WikiLeaks began publishing stolen emails from the account of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tapes became public.

Oct. 12, 2016: Roger Stone told NBC News, “I have back-channel communications with WikiLeaks.”

Oct. 19, 2016: During the third presidential debate, Trump dismissed the Oct. 7 US intelligence findings: “[Clinton] has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else… Our country has no idea.” And he said this: “I don’t know Putin. I have no idea… I never met Putin. This is not my best friend.”

Oct. 28, 2016: In a letter to key leaders in the House and Senate, FBI Director Comey says that in connection with the bureau’s closed investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, it was reviewing emails on a computer belonging to Clinton adviser Huma Abedin. Comey says nothing about the ongoing FBI investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. [Added April 24, 2017]

Oct. 30, 2016: According to reporting by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, the $100 million plane belonging to the Russian oligarch who had bought a Florida residence from Trump for $95 million in 2008 was in Las Vegas on the same day Trump was holding a rally there.

Oct. 31, 2016: Asked about news reports that the FBI was investigating connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, former campaign manager Manafort said, “None of it is true… There’s no investigation going on by the FBI that I’m aware of.”

Nov. 3, 2016: According to reporting by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, the plane belonging to the Russian oligarch who had bought a Florida residence from Trump for $95 million in 2008 was at the single-runaway airport near Concord, North Carolina, where Trump was holding a rally.

Nov. 5, 2016: In a letter to key leaders in Congress, Comey confirms that the FBI has completed its review of the additional Abedin emails and, as a result, has not changed its earlier recommendation not to recommend prosecuting Clinton for her use of a private email server. [Added April 24, 2017]

Nov. 8, 2016: Election Day.

Nov. 10, 2016: Russia’s deputy foreign minister admitted that during the campaign, the Kremlin had continuing communications with Trump’s “immediate entourage.”

Early December 2016: In Moscow, Russians arrested a Russian computer security expert and two high-level intelligence officers who worked on cyber operations. They were charged with treason for providing information to the United States. The arrests amounted to a purge of the cyber wing of the FSB, successor to the KGB and the main Russian intelligence agency. 
Also in December 2016: Officials in the Obama administration became concerned that the incoming administration would cover up or destroy previously gathered intelligence relating Russia’s interference with the election. To preserve that intelligence for future investigations, they spread it across the government. 
Also in December 2016: Russian ambassador Kislyak met at Trump Tower with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump’s NSA-designate Michael Flynn. 

Dec. 8, 2016: Carter Page was in Moscow for several days to meet with “business leaders and thought leaders.”

Dec. 9, 2016: In response to a Washington Post report that the CIA had concluded Russia had intervened in the election to help Trump win, he said, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’Also on Dec. 9, 2016: Paul Manafort tells CBS News he is not active in the Trump transition. Asked if he is talking to President-elect Trump, Manafort says, “I don’t really want to talk about who I’m speaking to, but I’m aware of what’s going on.” Interviewers also question him about the appearance of his name among the handwritten entries in the Ukraine Party of Regions’ Black Ledger from 2007 to 2012 (purporting to show more than $12 million in payments to him). Manafort responds that the ledger was fabricated. [Added April 17, 2017]

Dec. 11, 2016: Trump praised Rex Tillerson, chairman of ExxonMobil and recipient of Russia’s “Order of Friendship” Medal from Vladimir Putin in 2013, as “much more than a business executive” and a “world-class player.” Trump said Tillerson “knows many of the players” and did “massive deals in Russia” for Exxon. Two days later, Trump nominated him to be secretary of state.
Also on Dec. 11, 2016: Asked about the earlier US intelligence report on hacking, Trump said, “They have no idea if it’s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place. I mean, they have no idea.”

Dec. 12, 2016: While in Moscow, Trump’s former campaign surrogate Jack Kingston met with Russian businessmen to discuss what they might expect from a Trump administration. “Trump can look at sanctions,” Kingston said. “They’ve been in place long enough.” 

Dec. 13, 2016: NBC News’ Richard Engel reports from Moscow on Trump’s secretary of state pick, Rex Tillerson. Former Russian Energy Minister Vladimir Milov told Engel that Tillerson was a “gift for Putin.”
 
Dec. 29, 2016: On the same day that President Obama announced sanctions against Russian in retaliation for its interference in the 2016 election, national security adviser-designate Lt. Gen. Flynn placed five phone calls to the Russian ambassador.

Dec. 30, 2016: After Putin made a surprise announcement that Russia would not retaliate for the new sanctions, Trump tweeted, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) — I always knew he was very smart.”

Jan. 3Jan. 4 and Jan. 5, 2017: Trump tweeted a series of attacks on the integrity of the US intelligence community’s findings that Russia had hacked the election.

Jan. 6, 2017: The CIA, FBI and NSA released their unclassified report, concluding unanimously, “Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The three intelligence agencies agreed that “the Russian government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible.” The report also stated that WikiLeaks had been Russia’s conduit for the effort, writing “We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyber operations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.”

Jan. 10, 2017: At Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing to become attorney general, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) asked him, “If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?” Sessions answered: “I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.” 

Jan. 11, 2017: At his first news conference, Trump said, “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.” The final question of Trump’s first news conference came from Ann Compton of ABC News: “Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all, and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign?” Trump never answered her. Away from cameras and heading toward the elevators, he reportedly said, “No,” his team didn’t have contact with Russia.

Jan. 13, 2017: In response to The Washington Post’s article about Flynn’s Dec. 29 conversations with the Russian ambassador, press secretary Sean Spicer said it was only one call. They “exchanged logistical information” for an upcoming call between Trump and Vladimir Putin after the inauguration.

Jan. 15, 2017: “We should trust Putin,” Trump told The Times of London. Expressing once again his skepticism about NATO, Trump lambasted Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Also on Jan. 15, 2017: Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation, Vice President Pence said Flynn’s call to the Russian ambassador on the same day President Obama announced new sanctions was “strictly coincidental,” explaining: “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure on Russia…. What I can confirm, having to spoken with [Flynn] about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.”

Jan. 19, 2017: The New York Times reported that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, along with advisers Roger Stone and Carter Page, were under investigation in connection with possible links to Russia.

Jan. 22, 2017: Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was sworn in as national security adviser, a position that does not require Senate confirmation.

Jan. 23, 2017: At Sean Spicer’s first press briefing, Spicer said that none of Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador touched on the Dec. 29 sanctions. That got the attention of FBI Director James Comey. According to The Wall Street Journal, Comey convinced acting Attorney General Sally Yates to delay informing the White House immediately about the discrepancy between Spicer’s characterization of Flynn’s calls and US intelligence intercepts showing that the two had, in fact, discussed sanctions. Comey reportedly asked Yates to wait a bit longer so that the FBI could develop more information and speak with Flynn himself. The FBI interviewed Flynn shortly thereafter.

Jan. 24, 2017: According to a subsequent article in The Washington Post, Flynn reportedly denied to FBI agents that he had discussed US sanctions against Russia in his December 2016 calls with the Russian ambassador.

Jan. 26, 2017: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had made misleading statements about his late December conversations with the Russian ambassador. Sean Spicer later said Trump and a small group of White House advisers were “immediately informed of the situation.”

Late January 2017: At the Manhattan Loews Regency hotel on Park Avenue, Trump’s personal attorney, Michael D. Cohen, met with Felix Sater and Andrii Artemenko, a pro-Putin lawmaker from Ukraine. Artemenko and Sater gave Cohen a peace plan whereby Russia would lease Ukraine for 50 or 100 years and, eventually, get relief from US sanctions. According to The New York Times, Cohen said he would give the plan to NSA Michael Flynn. Responding to questions from The Washington Post, Cohen denied that statement, calling it “fake news.” 

Jan. 30, 2017: Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. According to his statement, the reason was that she had “betrayed the Department of Justice” by refusing to defend Trump’s travel ban in court.

Feb. 8, 2017: Flynn told reporters at The Washington Post he did not discuss US sanctions in his December conversation with the Russian ambassador.
Also on Feb. 8, 2017: Jeff Sessions, the first senator to endorse Trump’s candidacy and the former chair of the Trump campaign’s national security advisory committee, became attorney general. Every Republican senator and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted to confirm him. During the confirmation process, Sessions had said he was “not aware of a basis to recuse myself” from the Justice Department’s Russia-related investigations of Trump.

Feb. 9, 2017: Through a spokesman, Flynn changed his position: “While [Flynn] had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

Feb. 10, 2017: Trump told reporters he was unaware of reports surrounding Flynn’s December conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Also on Feb. 10, 2017: On the Friday preceding Trump’s weekend at Mar-A-Lago, the plane belonging to the Russian oligarch who had bought a Florida residence from Trump for $95 million in 2008 flew from the south of France to Miami International Airport.

Feb. 13, 2017: The Washington Post broke another story: Then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned the White House in late January that Flynn had mischaracterized his December conversation with the Russian ambassador, and that it made him vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Later that evening, Flynn resigned.

Feb. 14, 2017: The New York Times corroborated the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister’s admission on Nov. 10. Based on information from four current and former American officials, The Times reported, “Members of the Trump campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior intelligence officials in the year before the election.” Meanwhile, advisers to Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated his earlier position: Sessions saw no need to recuse himself from the ongoing Justice Department investigations into the Trump/Russia connections.
Also on Feb. 14, 2017: Press secretary Sean Spicer denied that anyone in the Trump campaign had any contacts with Russia during the campaign.

Feb. 15, 2017: Trump tweeted a series of outbursts attacking the Trump/Russia connection as “nonsense,” diverting attention to “un-American” leaks in which “information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy.” Shortly thereafter, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz and other congressional Republicans formally asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate the leaks, but they and their GOP colleagues resisted the creation of an independent bipartisan commission with the power to convene public hearings and discover the truth about the Trump/Russia connections.
Also on Feb. 15, 2017: During an afternoon appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump refused to answer questions about connections between his presidential campaign and Russia. That evening, The New York Times reported that Trump was planning to appoint Stephen Feinberg, a billionaire hedge fund manager and Trump ally, to lead “a broad review of American intelligence agencies.” Feinberg has no prior experience in intelligence or government, but he has close ties to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.
And also on Feb. 15, 2017: Chief of staff Reince Priebus asked FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to rebut publicly The New York Times’ story about Trump aides’ contacts with Russia during the campaign. McCabe and FBI Director Comey refused. The White House then asked senior intelligence officials and key lawmakers — including the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees conducting the Trump/Russia investigation — to contact the media and counter the Times story themselves. 
And also on Feb. 15, 2017: Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page denied having any meetings in 2016 with Russian officials inside or outside Russia: “I had no meetings, no meetings.”

Feb. 16, 2017: Trump continued his diversionary twitter assault on the intelligence leaks that were fueling intensified scrutiny of his Russia connections. At Trump’s afternoon press conference, he said: “I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia… Russia is fake news. Russia — this is fake news put out by the media.” Reporters asked repeatedly about anyone else involved with Trump or his campaign. “No,” Trump said. “Nobody that I know of.”

Feb. 17, 2017: FBI Director Comey met privately with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss the Russia investigation. Immediately thereafter, the Committee sent a letter asking more than a dozen agencies, organizations and individuals — including the White House — to preserve all communications related to the Senate panel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Also on Feb. 17, 2017: The Senate Intelligence Committee sent Roger Stone a letter asking him to preserve any records he had in connection with the Committee’s inquiry into Russia’s interference in the US election.

Feb. 20 — 26, 2017: Trump continued his attacks on the media and the FBI leaks that were generating the Trump/Russia stories.
 
Feb. 25, 2017: Nigel Farage, ex-leader of the UK Independence Party, key Brexit campaigner and one of Donald Trump’s most visible foreign supporters during and after the presidential campaign, dined with Trump, daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared Kushner and Florida Gov. Rick Scott at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

Feb. 26, 2017: NBC’s Chuck Todd noted a pattern: Trump’s attacks on the press followed immediately after a new and unflattering Trump/Russia story breaks. 

Feb. 28, 2017: On a party line vote, the House Judiciary Committee killed Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s Resolution of Inquiry calling for Trump to provide documents relating to Trump/Russia connections and his business conflicts of interest.
Also on Feb. 28, 2017: More than 10 days after the Senate Intelligence Committee had requested that the White House and other agencies preserve Trump/Russia-related communications, the White House counsel’s office instructed Trump’s aides to preserve such materials, according to a March 1 report by the Associated Press.

March 1, 2017: In response to reports in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times about Jeff Sessions’ pre-election contacts with the Russian ambassador, Sessions issued a statement saying he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss any issues of the campaign.” 

March 2, 2017: Trump said he has “total confidence” in Jeff Sessions and he shouldn’t recuse himself from the Russia investigation. An hour later, Sessions recused himself “from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.”
Also March 2, 2017: Despite an earlier denial, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page admitted to meeting with Russian ambassador Kislyak during the campaign. Another adviser, J.D. Gordon, admitted that he’d met with Kislyak during the Republican Convention in July. Gordon said he had successfully urged changes in the party platform that Trump had sought to soften US policy regarding Ukraine.]

March 4, 2017:  Trump is reportedly furious that Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Trump/Russia investigation. He unleashes a tweet-storm, claiming that President Obama had wiretapped his phones during the presidential campaign. Stunned by Trump’s outburst, White House staffers begin searching for evidence to support his false wiretap claim. Among those reportedly involved in the effort are White House Counsel Donald McGahn II and Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a 30-year-old Trump transition team member whom former national security adviser Mike Flynn had brought to the White House as senior director for intelligence programs.  
Also on March 4, 2017: Stone tweets — then deletes — about his communications with Assange: “[N]ever denied perfectly legal back channel to Assange who indeed had the goods on #CrookedHillary.” Forty minutes later, the tweet was gone. [Added April 24, 2017]

March 5, 2017: FBI Director Comey asked the Justice Department to rebut publicly Trump’s assertion that President Obama had ordered the wiretapping of Trump’s phones. Meanwhile, Sean Spicer announced that neither Trump nor the White House would comment further on Trump/Russia matters until Congress completed an investigation into whether President Obama’s executive branch abused its powers during 2016 election.

March 7, 2017: WikiLeaks released a trove of alleged CIA documents relating to the agency’s hacking tools for smartphones, computers, and internet-connected devices. 
Also on March 7, 2017: Michael Ellis, 32-year-old general counsel to Nunes’ intelligence committee, joins White House Counsel McGahn’s office as “special assistant to the president, senior associate counsel to the president and deputy National Security Council legal adviser.”

March 8, 2017: Nigel Farage met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, at the Embassy of Ecuador in London, where Assange had found sanctuary since 2012.

March 9, 2017: In an online press conference, Assange threatened to release more documents relating to CIA’s hacking capabilities and methods. 
Also on March 9, 2017: When reporters asked Sean Spicer about Nigel Farage’s meeting with Julian Assange and whether Farage was delivering a message from Trump, Sean Spicer said, “I have no idea.”

March 10, 2017: Trump campaign surrogate Roger Stone admitted that in August 2016 he had engaged in private direct messaging with Guccifer 2.0, whom US intelligence agencies had later identified as the persona for the Russian hacking operation. Describing the messages as “completely innocuous,” Stone said, “It was so perfunctory, brief and banal I had forgotten it.”
Also on March 10, 2017: Mike Flynn’s replacement as NSA, H.R. McMaster, told Ezra Cohen-Watnick that he was reassigning him. Unhappy with the decision, Cohen-Watnick appealed to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner. They intervened and took the issue to Trump, who ordered that Cohen-Watnick should remain in his position.

March 12, 2017: John McCain told CNN’s Jake Tapper that former Trump adviser and surrogate Roger Stone “obviously” needed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee concerning his communications with Guccifer 2.0. McCain said that Stone should also explain fully his involvement matters relating to Ukraine’s pro-Putin former president.

March 13, 2017: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr said Roger Stone’s communications with Guccifer 2.0 were part of the Committee’s ongoing investigation and that Stone could be called to testify.

March 14, 2017: House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes and ranking member Adam Schiff invite former acting Attorney General Sally Yates to testify before their committee at an open hearing on March 28, 2017.
March 15, 2017: Roger Stone was riding in the front passenger seat of a car near Pompano Beach, Florida, when another car broadsided his, shifted gears, backed up and sped away. In January, Stone had claimed that he was poisoned in late 2016 with polonium, a radioactive material manufactured in a nuclear reactor and used to kill former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Litvinenko had defected to Britain and become an outspoken critic of Putin. As he lay in a hospital bed, he said that Putin had been responsible for his impending death. On Jan. 21, 2016, retired British High Court Judge Sir Robert Owen concluded a House of Commons inquiry and issued a 328-page report finding that Litvinenko’s accusation was probably correct.
Also on March 15, 2017: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, said the committee had no evidence to support Trump’s March 4 wiretapping claim. “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” Nunes said. “Are you going to take the tweets literally? If you are, clearly the president is wrong.” 
And also on March 15, 2017: On the subject of his wiretapping claims, Trump tells Fox News, “I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”
March 16, 2017: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders issued a joint statement rebutting Trump’s unfounded assertion that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower: “Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.”
 
March 17, 2017: Roger Stone said he had only just received the letter from the Senate Intelligence Committee, dated Feb. 17, asking him to preserve his records relating to Russian election interference. Quoted in The New York Times, Stone said, “I had never heard allegations that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian asset until now, and am not certain it’s correct.” He said that his 16 interactions with Guccifer 2.0, which included public Twitter posts and private messages, were all part of “exchanges,” not “separate contacts.”

March 20, 2017: On the morning of FBI Director Comey’s testimony before Congress on his agency’s investigation into Russian election interference, Trump tweeted: “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!” Hours later, Comey testified that the FBI was investigating Russian interference with election, including “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” With respect to Trump’s wiretapping claims, Comey said, “I have no information that supports those tweets.”
 
March 20, 2017: In a House Intelligence Committee public hearing, Paul Manafort’s name came up more than two dozen times.]

March 21, 2017: In his daily press briefing, Sean Spicer said that, with respect to the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort had “played a very limited role for a very limited period of time.”

March 22, 2017: Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, bypassed his fellow committee members and went directly to the White House with alleged evidence that Trump associates may have been “incidentally” swept up in foreign surveillance by American spy agencies. Nunes refused to release the information or name his sources, even to fellow committee members. And he confirmed that he still had seen no evidence to support Trump’s claim that President Obama had ordered his wires tapped.

March 23, 2017: In a letter to acting Assistant Attorney General Samuel R. Ramer, Sally Yates’ lawyer disagrees with the Justice Department’s objections to Yates’ anticipated congressional testimony. Associate Deputy Attorney General Scott Schools responds that Yates’ testimony is “likely covered by the presidential communications privilege and possibly the deliberative process privilege.” But Schools adds that Yates needs only the consent of the White House, not the Justice Department, to testify. 

March 24, 2017: Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone volunteered to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee.
Also on March 24, 2017: Yates’ lawyer writes to White House Counsel McGahn about Yates’ upcoming testimony before the House Intelligence Committee. He notes that unless McGahn objects before 10 a.m. on March 27, Yates will appear and answer the committee’s questions.
And also on March 24, 2017: Rep. Nunes cancelled public hearings scheduled for March 28. Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former CIA Director John Brennan and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates had been slated to testify before his committee. Nunes postponed their appearances indefinitely.

March 26, 2017: In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Roger Stone said, “I reiterate again, I have had no contacts or collusions with the Russians. And my exchange with Guccifer 2.0, based on the content and the timing, most certainly does not constitute collusion.”

March 27, 2017: Trump tweets that the House Intelligence Committee should be looking into Bill and Hillary Clinton’s ties to Russia: “Trump Russia story is a hoax.”  

March 30, 2017: The Senate Intelligence Committee opens its hearings into the Trump/Russia investigation. Clinton Watts, senior fellow at George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security and former FBI agent, testifies that the committee should follow the money funding misinformation websites. Watts then adds a more ominous suggestion: “Follow the trail of dead Russians,” he says. “There’s been more dead Russians in the past three months that are tied to this investigation who have assets in banks all over the world. They are dropping dead, even in Western countries.” Eight Russian politicians, activists, ambassadors and a former intelligence official have died since Trump’s election. Some were apparent assassinations
Also March 30, 2017: The New York Times reports that Nunes’ sources for the information that he’d reviewed nine days earlier on White House grounds — and then reported to Trump directly without informing anyone on his committee — are two members of the Trump administration: Ezra Cohen-Watnick (the NSC staffer whose job Trump had saved personally around March 13) and Michael Ellis (who had served as general counsel of Nunes’ committee before becoming Trump’s “special assistant, senior associate counsel and deputy National Security Council legal adviser” on March 7) Also on March 30, 2017: The Wall Street Journal reports that Mike Flynn is seeking immunity from prosecution in return for testifying before congressional intelligence committees. The next day, his lawyer confirms, “Gen. Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit.” 

March 31, 2017: Trump tweets, “Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!”
Also on March 31, 2017: During an appearance with Bill Maher, Roger Stone denies that Guccifer 2.0 was an arm of Russia. “I’ve had no contacts with Russians,” he insists.  

April 5, 2017: In an interview with The New York Times, Trump says, “The Russia story is a total hoax.”  

April 6, 2017: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) recuses himself from the Trump/Russia investigation. Texas Rep. Mike Conaway assumes control.

April 12, 2017: The Associated Press confirms that newly obtained financial records show Paul Manafort’s firm had received two wire transfers — one in 2007 and another in 2009 — corresponding to two of the 22 entries next to Manafort’s name in Ukraine’s Party of Regions Black Ledger. Manafort’s spokesman says Manafort intended to register retroactively with the US Justice Department as a foreign agent for the work he had done on behalf of political interests in Ukraine through 2014. [Added April 17, 2017] 

April 13, 2017: Former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page tells ABC’s George Stephanopoulos he won’t reveal who brought him into the Trump campaign. Page also says he didn’t recall discussing the subject of easing Russian sanctions in conversations with Russian officials during his July 2016 trip to Moscow. “We’ll see what comes out in this FISA transcript,” Page says, referring to surveillance collected after the FBI obtained a secret court order to monitor him under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. “Something may have come up in a conversation… I have no recollection.” Later he continues, “Someone may have brought it up. I have no recollection. And if it was, it was not something I was offering or that someone was asking for.” Page says that from the time of his departure as an adviser to the Trump campaign through Inauguration Day, he maintained “light contact” with some campaign members. [Added April 17, 2017]