Saturday, 4 March 2017

The Russian Connection

The Russian Connection

Just in case you are having trouble keeping track (I was), here is some information on the current Trump advisers, appointees and aides either reportedly under investigation by the FBI for having contact with Russian agents, or have had significant business and/or political ties with Russia. 

Background Timeline:

22 July, 2016: 19,000 emails from Democratic Party officials are leaked and posted on Wikileaks ahead of the Democratic National Convention.

27 July, 2016: At a press conference in Miami, Trump called on Russia to seek out Hillary Clinton's missing emails from her private email server. 

14 August, 2016: Trump's campaign chair, Paul Manafort, resigned after an unrelated fracas at a Trump event, but amid New York Times reported that Manafort had received $12.7 million US in undisclosed payments from a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. Manafort denied the allegations.

26 September, 2016: In the first debate, Trump said of the DNC email hack: "[Hillary is] saying Russia, Russia, Russia, but I don't — maybe it was. I mean, it could be Russia, but it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?"

7 October, 2016: A joint statement issued by the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Election Security pointed the finger directly at Russian government for the email hack.

20 October, 2016: In their exchanges in the third debate, Trump claimed Putin had no respect for Clinton, to which she responded that the Russian president would obviously prefer to have a puppet as the U.S. President. Trump’s response was “no puppet, no puppet, you’re the puppet”.

11 December, 2016: Trump denied suggestions that Russia helped him win the election. U.S. President Barack Obama ordered a review of the election hacking.

16 December, 2016: Obama claimed Putin knew about the hacking.  On the same day, the FBI confirmed that Russia meddled in the election in a bid to help Trump.

29 December, 2016: U.S. intelligence agencies released a report about the hacking into the DNC computer network, and Obama announced sanctions on Russia, expelled 35 diplomats after.  A day later, Trump praised Putin for not retaliating by expelling U.S. diplomats from Russia.

6 January, 2017: The Central Intelligence Agency, the FBI and the National Security Agency released a report that says Putin tried to discredit Clinton in a bid to help Trump win the presidency. Trump responds, saying the hacking attempt did not influence the outcome of the election.

Reportedly under FBI investigation:  

Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign manager

Manafort worked for more than 10 years as a lobbyist in Ukraine before becoming Trump’s campaign manager. Once on the Trump team he oversaw an effort to ensure that the Republican election platform (not supported by most Republicans at the time) denied providing the Ukrainian government with arms it could use to fight Russian and rebel forces.

The New York Times reported in January that the FBI – with help from the National Security Agency, the CIA and the Treasury Department's financial crimes unit – is now investigating whether intercepted communications and financial transactions demonstrate links between Russian intelligence officers and Trump's former campaign manager.  A Politico report in February described hacked text messages that suggest Manafort was being blackmailed by a Ukrainian parliamentarian Serhiy Leshchenko, who reportedly threatened to turn over documents incriminating both Manafort and Trump to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine. The Times previously reported in August, shortly before he left the Trump campaign, that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine was in possession of a secret ledger that listed some $12.7 million in cash paid out to Manafort. In the hacked texts, Manafort's daughter refers to her father's work in Ukraine as “legally questionable” and the money he was paid for that work as “blood money.”

Carter Page, former Trump foreign policy adviser

Page was named a foreign policy advisor by the Trump campaign in March 2016 but took a leave of absence from the campaign in September, when reports emerged that U.S. intelligence agencies were investigating his interactions with senior Russian officials, including former Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and Deputy Chief for Internal Policy Igor Diveykin – the man U.S. officials believed was in charge of “intelligence collected by Russian agencies about the U.S. election.”  Page has long had clear links to Russia and its oil and gas company Gazprom, had publicly criticized the Obama administration for its sanctions against Russia – because it was reducing stock prices.  Page met with Russian Ambassador the US Sergey Kislyak last year during the Republican convention in Cleveland, as he admitted to MSNBC’s Chris Hayes. He also has repeatedly addressed Russian business groups in that country, including twice in 2016.

Roger Stone, informal adviser

Republican operative and master of political dirty tricks, Stone often appeared on television and at rallies in support of Trump. When WikiLeaks released hacked DNC emails, Stone boasted he knew about more to come.  In August, he tweeted, many weeks before Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s emails were leaked: “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta's time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary.” Stone later denied he had foreknowledge of the leaks saying to The New York Times, that the allegations were “totally false” and that he had “no Russian influences.”

General Michael Flynn, former Trump national security adviser

On the day Obama announced new sanctions against Russia in response to the Kremlin's apparent efforts to sink Clinton's candidacy, Michael Flynn spoke five times with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.  Although Flynn was the former director of national intelligence, he was apparently unaware of (or unconcerned about) the fact that the FBI routinely wiretaps the phone calls of the Russian delegation in Washington.  The recorded calls revealed that Flynn and Kislyak discussed the US sanctions on the calls, with Flynn trying to reassure the Russians that the new Trump administration would revoke them.  The same day, Vladimir Putin announced he would not retaliate against the U.S. for the sanctions, and would wait for the new administration before responding. Trump later praised the “good move” by the “very smart” Russian president on Twitter.  But Vice President Mike Pence had gone on TV to defend Flynn when the story first broke, telling Face the Nation the fact that the calls took place the same day Obama announced he would expel 35 Russian diplomats was “strictly coincidental.”  It was ostensibly because Flynn had lied to Pence about the meeting that Flynn was forced to resign.

Jeff Sessions, Trump attorney general

While under oath during his attorney general confirmation hearing, Sessions denied any knowledge of communication between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.  Sessions, a former Alabama senator, was one of Trump’s first elected supporters and had joined his campaign very early on.  But the Washington Post reported on 1 March 2017, that on at least two occasions Sessions had met with Kislyak.  According to the Post, Sessions met with Kislyak first at a Heritage Foundation event held during the July Republican National Convention and then again in September, in a private conversation in Sessions' office during “the height of what U.S. intelligence officials say was a Russian cyber campaign to upend the U.S. presidential race.”  Under pressure, Sessions recused himself from the investigation into Russian interference, but refused to resign.

Jared Kushner, Trump son-in-law and senior adviser

In addition to contacts with Flynn and Sessions during the campaign, the New Yorker reports that Kislyak met with Kushner during a previously undisclosed meeting at Trump Tower in December.  The White House told the magazine that the point of their confab was to create “a more open line of communication in the future.”

Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer

Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen reportedly attended a secret rendezvous on 29 August with Russian officials at the offices of Rossotrudnichestvo, a Russian government cultural organisation. Cohen claimed he has never been to the Czech Republic and indicated he and his son at a baseball game on the date in question. To date these allegations have not yet been verified.

JD Gordon, former Trump campaign national security adviser

The Trump campaign spent much of the first half of 2016 trying to gut a Republican platform plank that supported arming Ukraine against Russian rebels. But this past week JD Gordon – during the campaign national security adviser to the Trump – told CNN that orders to reword the platform came directly from Trump himself. Gordon told CNN's Jim Acosta that Trump instructed his advisers to pursue the language that was eventually adopted.  According to Gordon, Trump said he didn’t want to “go to World War III over Ukraine.”  Gordon also met twice with Sergey Kislyak while in Cleveland for the convention. 

Other Trump Administration Figures with Known Ties to Russia

Donald Trump, president

Trump’s connections to Russian business interests remain murky, thanks to his decision not to release his tax returns during the campaign.  He hosted the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow when he owned it and Trump earned millions of dollars for doing so.  He’s repeatedly explored real estate deals in the country. It’s not clear whether Trump has ever met Kislyak, although the ambassador attended a foreign policy speech Trump in the spring of 2016 and the reception that preceded it.  Trump has been in communication with Putin: he even claimed to have been in contact with representatives of the Russian president (and Putin himself) before the campaign.  In his first press conference as president-elect in January, Trump faced questions about a secret intelligence file that allegedly contains compromising personal and financial information.  The dossier reportedly says that Russia had collected potentially embarrassing details about Trump and suggests he’s accordingly vulnerable to blackmail.  Trump denied the claims as “fake news.”

Donald Trump Jr., son

The younger Trump visited France last October to speak to an obscure Russian group. In 2008, Don Jr., who works for the Trump Organization, famously told a real estate conference that “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets” and that “we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Rex Tillerson, secretary of state

Before he was confirmed to serve as the head of the State Department, even Republicans questioned Tillerson’s relationship to Putin. As the head of ExxonMobil, Tillerson helped negotiate a massive agreement between the Russian government and ExxonMobil-Rosneft, a partnership between the two companies. Tillerson was subsequently awarded the “Order of Friendship” by Putin.

Wilbur Ross, secretary of commerce

Ross’s connections to Russian business interests are less obvious than Tillerson’s. During the Clinton administration, Ross served on the board of the U.S.-Russia Investment Fund, an effort to bolster businesses in post-Cold-War Russia. During his confirmation, questions arose about his ownership of a bank on Cyprus that, in the words of McClatchy’s Kevin Hall, “caters to wealthy Russians.”


By the way, if I were Sergei Kislyak I might be carefully checking my food and looking under my bed before sleeping.  Although its probably a coincidence and unrelated, 6 serving Russian ambassadors/high level diplomats have died since Trump was elected – 2 violently, and 3 suddenly after “short” illnesses

I found the following graphic from the Washington Post helpful. 

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