Links between Trump associates and Russian officials

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Overview[edit source]

There has been intensive media scrutiny of Trump’s relationship to Russia.[8][9] During the campaign, Trump repeatedly praised Russian president Vladimir Putin as a strong leader, leading to jokes about their “bromance“.[10][11] Several of Trump’s close advisers, including former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and former campaign manager Paul Manafort, have been connected to Russian or Ukrainian officials.[12][13] Russian agents were overheard during the campaign saying they could use Manafort and Flynn to influence Trump.[14] Members of Trump’s campaign and later his White House staff, particularly Flynn and Jared Kushner, were in contact with Russian government officials both before and after the November election,[15] including some contacts which they initially did not disclose.[16] As of May 2017, the FBI is investigating several alleged links between Trump associates and representatives of the Russian government.[17] British and Dutch intelligence services have given information to their United States counterparts about meetings in European cities between Russian officials, associates of Putin, and associates of then-President-elect Trump. American intelligence agencies also intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.[18]

The New York Times reported that multiple Trump associates, including Manafort and other members of his campaign, had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials during 2016, although officials said that so far, they do not have evidence that Trump’s campaign had co-operated with the Russians to influence the election. Manafort said he did not knowingly meet any Russian intelligence officials.[19] Flynn and now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions subsequently confirmed the contacts after having initially denied them.[18] Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told CNN that the “electoral process” was not discussed during these meetings, and that the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak had also met with “people working in think tanks advising Hillary or advising people working for Hillary” during the campaign.[20]

Chest height portrait of man in his sixties wearing a suit and tie

Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak met with a number of U.S. officials.

In particular, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak has met with several Trump campaign members, transition team members, and administration nominees. Involved people dismissed those meetings as routine conversations in preparation for assuming the presidency. Trump’s team has issued at least twenty denials concerning communications between his campaign and Russian officials;[21] several of these denials turned out to be false.[22] The Trump administration reportedly asked the FBI for help in countering news reports about alleged contacts with Russia.[23]

Former ambassadors Michael McFaul and John Beyrle have said they are “extremely troubled” by the evidence of Russian interference in the US election, and both support an independent investigation into the matter, but have dismissed as “preposterous” the allegations that Kislyak participated in it, particularly through his meetings with the Trump campaign: “Kislyak’s job is to meet with government officials and campaign people,” McFaul stated. “People should meet with the Russian ambassador and it’s wrong to criminalize that or discourage it.”[24]

According to three officials who reviewed a letter sent to The Washington Post in December 2016, a meeting took place in Trump Tower on December 1 or 2 between Jared Kushner, Kislyak, and Flynn. In the meeting, Kushner is alleged to have requested that a direct Russian-encrypted communications channel be set up to allow secret communication with Russia which would circumvent safeguards in place by the United States intelligence community. The goal would be to allow Flynn to speak directly to Russian military officials about Syria and other issues. No such communications channel was actually set up, according to the sources.[25] After the meeting, Kislyak sent a report of the meeting to the Kremlin, using what he thought were secure channels but in fact were intercepted by American intelligence. Kislyak was reportedly taken aback by the request and expressed concern of the security implications that would be at stake in having an American use secure communications between the Kremlin and diplomatic outposts.[26][27]

Former Acting CIA Director Michael Morell stated in March 2017 that he had seen no evidence of collusion between Trump and the Kremlin. “On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire, at all,” Morell said.[1] In a March 2017 interview, James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence under President Obama, said that at the time of the intelligence community’s report on the issue in January 2017, there was no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.[2]

Trump administration members[edit source]

Michael Flynn[edit source]

In December 2015, Flynn, who sat next to Vladimir Putin during the dinner, and Jill Stein, attended RT’s 10th anniversary gala.[28][29]

National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign on February 13, 2017, after it was revealed that on December 29, 2016, the day that Obama announced sanctions against Russia, Flynn had discussed the sanctions with Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. Flynn had earlier acknowledged speaking to Kislyak but denied discussing the sanctions.[30][31]

On March 2, 2017, The New York Times reported that Kislyak met with Flynn and Jared Kushner in December 2016 to establish a line of communication with the Trump administration.[32] In May 2017 it was further reported that at that December meeting, Kushner and Flynn asked the Russians to set up a direct, encrypted communications channel with Moscow, so that Flynn could speak directly to Russian military officials about Syria and other issues without the knowledge of American intelligence agencies. Kislyak was hesitant to allow Americans to have access to Russia’s secure communications network, and no such channel was actually set up.[33][27]

In December 2015 Flynn was paid $45,000 by Russia Today, a Kremlin-supported television channel, for delivering a talk in Moscow, and Russia provided him a 3-day, all-expenses-paid trip.[34] As a retired military intelligence officer, Flynn was required to obtain prior permission from the Defense Department and the State Department before receiving any money from foreign governments; Flynn apparently did not seek that approval before the RT speech.[35] Two months later, in February 2016 when he was applying for a renewal of his security clearance, he stated that he had received no income from foreign companies and had only “insubstantial contact” with foreign nationals.[36] Glenn A. Fine, the acting Defense Department Inspector General, has confirmed he is investigating Flynn.[34]

CNN reported in May 19, 2017 that in a phone call during the presidential campaign intercepted by American intelligence, Russian officials claimed they had cultivated such a strong relationship with Flynn that they believed they could use him to influence Donald Trump and his team.[37]

On May 31, 2017, the House Intelligence Committee served Flynn with subpoenas for testimony, and production of personal documents and business records.[38][39]

Jared Kushner[edit source]

In April 2017, it was reported that Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, on his application for top secret security clearance, failed to disclose numerous meetings with foreign officials, including Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak as well as Sergey Gorkov, the head of the Russian state-owned bank Vnesheconombank. Kushner’s lawyers called the omissions “an error”. The Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election plans to question Kushner in connection with the meetings he had with these individuals.[40]

According to U.S. officials, investigators believe that Kushner has important information regarding the FBI investigation, but he is not a subject of investigation, unlike former Trump aides Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort.[41] In mid-December 2016, when Trump “was openly feuding with American intelligence agencies”, Kushner met for thirty minutes with Russian banker, Sergey N. Gorkov, “whose financial institution was deeply intertwined with Russian intelligence” and is “under sanction by the United States”. By late May 2017, the meeting had “come under increasing scrutiny” by the Senate Intelligence Committee as “current and former American officials” said that “it may have been part of an effort by Mr. Kushner to establish a direct line to Mr. Putin outside established diplomatic channels”.[26][42]

Jeff Sessions[edit source]

In March 2017, it was revealed that while still a U.S. Senator, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an early and prominent supporter of Trump’s campaign, spoke twice with Russian ambassador Kislyak before the election – once in July 2016 and once in September 2016. At his January 10 confirmation hearing to become Attorney General, he stated that he was not aware of any contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, adding that he “did not have communications with the Russians”. On March 1, 2017, he said that his answer had not been misleading, stating that he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign”.[43] On March 2, 2017, after meeting with senior career officials at the Justice Department, Sessions announced that he would recuse himself from any investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.[44] In such investigations, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has served as the Acting Attorney General.

Trump campaign members[edit source]

Paul Manafort[edit source]

On February, 14, 2017, The New York Times reported that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials during 2016. Manafort said he did not knowingly meet any Russian intelligence officials.[19] Intercepted communications during the campaign show that Russian officials believed they could use Manafort to influence Trump.[45] On June 2, 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller assumed the criminal probe into Manafort,[46] which predates the 2016 election and the counterintelligence probe that in July 2016 began investigating possible collusion between Moscow and associates of Trump. Manafort was forced to resign as Trump campaign chairman in August 2016 amid questions over his business dealings in Ukraine years earlier.[46]

Carter Page[edit source]

During an interview with The Washington Post in March 2016, Trump identified Carter Page, who had previously been an investment banker in Moscow, as a foreign policy adviser to his campaign.[47] Page became a foreign policy advisor to Trump in the summer of 2016. During the investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 elections, Page’s past contacts with Russians came to public attention.[48] In 2013 Page met with Viktor Podobnyy, then a junior attaché at the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, at an energy conference, and provided him with documents on the U.S. energy industry.[49] Page later said that he provided only “basic immaterial information and publicly available research documents” to Podobnyy.[48] Podobnyy was later one of a group of three Russian men charged by the U.S. authorities for participation in a Russian spy ring; Podobnyy and one of the other men was protected by diplomatic immunity from prosecution; a third man, who was spying for the Russia under non-diplomatic cover, pleaded guilty to conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent and was sentenced to prison.[48] The men had attempted to recruit Page to work for the Russian SVR. The FBI interviewed Page in 2013 “as part of an investigation into the spy ring, but decided that he had not known the man was a spy”, and never accused Page of wrongdoing.[48]

Page was dropped from the team after reports that he was under investigation by federal authorities over his Russian connections.[50] The FBI and the Justice Department obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) warrant to monitor Page’s communications during the summer of 2016, after they made the case that there was probable cause to think Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power (Russia). Page told The Washington Post that he considered that to be “unjustified, politically motivated government surveillance”. The 90-day warrant was renewed at least once.[47]

In February 2017, Carter Page stated that he had “no meetings” with Russian officials during 2016 but two days later said that he “did not deny” meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Page’s reversal occurred after the news reports that revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had likewise met with Kislyak. In March 2017, Page was called on by the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating links between the Trump campaign and Russian government.[51][52] On March 9, 2017, Hope Hicks, a Trump spokesperson, distanced the campaign from Page, stating that Page was an “‘informal foreign policy adviser'” who did “‘not speak for Mr. Trump or the campaign.'”[53]

Roger Stone[edit source]

Roger J. Stone Jr., a former adviser to Donald Trump and self-proclaimed political “dirty trickster”, admitted in March 2017 that during August 2016, he had been in contact with Guccifer 2.0, a hacker persona believed to be a front for Russian intelligence operations who has publicly claimed responsibility for at least one hack of the DNC.[54] Stone is suspected of having inside knowledge of these hacks, accurately predicting that it would soon be John Podesta‘s “time in the barrel” on Twitter, shortly prior to the Wikileaks release of the Podesta emails, a hacking incident now broadly understood to have been a significant contributing factor to Trump‘s 2016 election victory against then-expected winner Hillary Clinton.[55] Additionally, Stone has also reportedly stated privately to some Republican colleagues that he has “actually communicated with Julian Assange” on at least one occasion, although Stone and his two Attorneys have since denied this.[56]

Stone is presently under FBI investigation over possible criminal collusion between key figures in the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.[57][25]

Trump business partners[edit source]

Michael Cohen[edit source]

On May 30, 2017, as the inquiries into alleged Russian meddling in the US election expanded, both the House and Senate congressional panels asked President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer who is one of Trump’s closest confidants, Michael Cohen,[58] to “provide information and testimony” about any communications he had with people connected to the Kremlin.[59][58]

On May 31, 2017, the House Intelligence Committee served Cohen with subpoenas for testimony, and production of personal documents and business records.[60][61]

Trump supporters[edit source]

Erik Prince[edit source]

On April 3, 2017, The Washington Post reported that around January 11, nine days before Donald Trump’s inauguration, Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater security company, secretly met with an unidentified Russian, who is close to Vladimir Putin, in the Seychelles. The Trump administration said that it was “not aware of any meetings” and said that Prince was not involved in the Trump campaign. According to U.S., European, and Arab officials, the meeting was arranged by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and the purpose apparently was to establish a back-channel link between Trump and Putin. The UAE and Trump’s associates reportedly tried to convince Russia to limit its support to Iran, including in Syria. He appears to have close ties to Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon[citation needed]. The Seychelles meeting took place after previous meetings in New York between Trump’s associates and officials from Russia and the Emirates, when any official contacts between Trump administration and Russian agents were coming under close scrutiny from the press and the U.S. intelligence community. U.S. officials said that the FBI is investigating the Seychelles meeting. The FBI, however, refused to comment.[62]

Two intelligence officials confirmed to NBC News that the Seychelles meeting took place. One of them corroborated The Washington Posts account, but said that it is not clear whether the initiative to arrange a meeting came from the UAE or Trump’s associates and that no Trump transition people were directly involved. A second official said that the meeting was about “Middle East policy, to cover Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Iran”, not Russia.[63]

Prince’s spokesperson said, “Erik had no role on the transition team, this is a complete fabrication. The meeting had nothing to do with President Trump. Why is the so called under resourced intelligence community, messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?”. A senior Trump administration official called the story of a Trump-Putin back-channel “ridiculous.”[64]

Nigel Farage[edit source]

On June 1, 2017, The Guardian reported that Nigel Farage, former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party and one the first foreign political figures to meet Trump following the election, was a person of interest in the FBI investigation, which Farage denied. Farage has previously met the Russian ambassador to the United KingdomAlexander Yakovenko, Roger Stone and Julian Assange, and The Guardians source was quoted saying “If you triangulate Russia, WikiLeaks, Assange and Trump associates the person who comes up with the most hits is Nigel Farage”.[65]

Steele dossier[edit source]

On October 31, 2016, a week before the election, David Corn of Mother Jones magazine, reported that an unnamed former intelligence officer had produced a report (later referred to as a dossier) based on Russian sources and had turned it over to the FBI.[66] The officer, who was familiar to the FBI and was known for the quality of his past work, was later identified as Christopher Steele. The FBI found Steele and his information credible enough that it considered paying Steele to continue collecting information but the release of the document to the public stopped discussions between Steele and the FBI.[67] Corn said the main points in the unverified report were that Moscow had tried to cultivate Donald Trump for years; that it possessed compromising or potentially embarrassing material about him that could possibly be used to blackmail him; and that there had been a flow of information between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin,[68] which involved multiple in-person meetings between Russian government officials and individuals working for Trump.[69][70] The dossier also claimed that the Kremlin’s goal had been to “encourage splits and divisions in the Western alliance”.[66]

On January 10, 2017, CNN reported that classified documents presented to Obama and Trump the previous week included allegations that Russian operatives possess “compromising personal and financial information” about Trump. CNN stated that it would not publish specific details on the memos because they had not yet “independently corroborated the specific allegations”.[71] Following CNN’s report, BuzzFeed then published a 35-page dossier that it said was the basis of the briefing.[72] It included unverified claims that Russian operatives had worked with the Trump campaign to help him get elected. It also alleged that Russia had collected “embarrassing material” involving Trump that could be used to blackmail him.[73] Trump denounced the unverified claims as false, saying that it was “disgraceful” for U.S. intelligence agencies to report them.[74][75]

On March 30, 2017, Paul Wood of BBC News revealed that the FBI was using the dossier as a roadmap for its investigation.[76] On April 18, 2017, CNN reported that corroborated information from the dossier had been used as part of the basis for getting the FISA warrant to monitor former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page during the summer of 2016

Links between Trump associates and Russian officials are the subject of investigations by the FBI and a number of congressional committees as part of their investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. Many of Donald Trump‘s campaign members, business partners and administration nominees have been subjected to intense scrutiny following intelligence reports on such Russian interference. The investigations have revealed that many of them have various types of links to Russian officials, business people, banks, and Russian intelligence agencies. Several investigations are underway to determine whether Trump or any of his associates have had improper dealings during their contacts with Russian officials, but no firm evidence of collusion has yet emerged.[1][2][3]Investigations were started by the FBI,[4] the Senate Intelligence Committee[5] and the House Intelligence Committee.[6] In May 2017, former FBI Director Robert Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel in the FBI’s investigation.[7]

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Donald Trump’s disclosure of classified information to Russia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov in the Oval Office, May 10, 2017

President Trump meets with Lavrov (pictured) and Kislyak on May 10, 2017. A photographer from Russian News Agency TASS was present, but no other press.[1]

President Donald Trump discussed highly classified intelligence during a May 10, 2017, Oval Office meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, providing sufficient details that could be used by the Russians to deduce the source of the information and the manner in which it was collected, according to current and former government officials.[2][3][4][5][6] The disclosure was first reported in The Washington Post on May 15, 2017, and was later described as “shocking” and “horrifying” by some commentators and officials.[7] White House staff initially denied the report, but the following day Trump defended the disclosure, stating that he has the “absolute right” to “share” intelligence with Russia.[8]

During the same meeting, Trump told Russian officials that firing the FBI director James Comey, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job… I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”[9]

It was later reported that Israel was the source of the intelligence.[10] Israel did not confirm or deny the report but released a statement stating full confidence in the intelligence sharing relationships with the United States.[11] U.S. intelligence officials had previously warned Israel not to share sensitive information with President Trump, out of fear that it could be leaked to Russia, and then from Russia to Iran.[12] Several Israeli intelligence officials confirmed privately that Trump’s disclosure of the intel to Russia “confirmed their worst fears” about Trump, that the disclosure jeopardizes Israel’s “unique” intelligence-sharing arrangement with United States and that Israeli officials were “boiling mad”.[13][12]

According to current and former U.S. officials interviewed by ABC News, Trump’s disclosure endangered the life of a spy placed by Israel in ISIL-held territory in Syria.[14] The classified information Trump shared came from a source described as the most valuable of any current sources on any current external plotting, according to the Wall Street Journal.[15]

It was also reported that Trump disclosed other classified information, namely the location of nuclear submarines, to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte in a phone call on April 29.[16] On May 24, Britain strongly objected to the United States’ leaking information, including the identity of the attacker in the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, while their investigations were still underway, jeopardizing the investigation.[17][18] Leaks of sensitive information by the U.S. has led to the review of intelligence sharing arrangements by key allies.[19]

Disclosures and reporting[edit source]

On May 15, 2017, The Washington Post, citing anonymous sources, reported that the intelligence was about an Islamic State plot to stealthily use laptops as weapons that can then explode in Western countries, and that a Middle Eastern ally provided the intelligence, which was codeword-classified, meaning that its distribution was restricted only to those who were explicitly cleared to read it, and was not intended to be shared beyond the United States and certain allies.[2][3] The incident was later reported by The New York Times,[2] Buzzfeed,[20] and Reuters.[4] The officials talking to BuzzFeed said, “it’s far worse than what has already been reported.”[20]

Immediately after Trump’s disclosure, “which one of the officials described as spontaneous”,[4] “senior White House officials appeared to recognize quickly that Trump had overstepped and moved to contain the potential fallout.”[3] Immediately after the meeting,[4] Thomas P. Bossert, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, telephoned the directors of the CIA and the NSA to inform them what had occurred.[3]

The incident was widely seen as a pivot away from traditional American allies, and towards closer relations with Russia,[21][22] and raised questions on whether the United States would remain in Five Eyes (an intelligence alliance comprising Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States) and its relationship to the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.[23]

Several commentators stated that by releasing highly classified information to Russia, Trump jeopardized American and allied intelligence sources, breached the trust relationship with America’s foreign partners, threatened the long term national security of the country and violated his oath of office through “gross negligence”. All of these actions are possible legal grounds towards efforts to impeach Donald Trump.[24][25][26] Aides privately defended the President, stating that he did not have sufficient grasp upon what his job entails to purposely leak information.[27]

According to conservative commentator Erick Erickson, multiple sources have stated that the leaks were far worse than the current reports, and the leaker is a strong supporter of President Trump who believed it was necessary to publicly disclose the story because of Trump’s inability to accept criticism.[28]

White House response[edit source]

White House staff initially denied the veracity of the report during the evening of May 15, but Trump appeared to confirm during the early morning of May 16 the allegations that he shared classified intelligence, saying that Russia is an important ally of the United States—including on terrorism.

In a press briefing on the same day, National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster strongly denied The Washington Post report, saying, “At no time, at no time, were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known. Two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of state, remember the meeting the same way and have said so. And their on-the-record accounts should outweigh those of anonymous sources.” He concluded by saying, “I was in the room, it didn’t happen.”[29] McMaster said that “it was wholly appropriate to share” the information because of a similar ISIL plot two years earlier.[14]

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that “common efforts and threats regarding counter-terrorism” were discussed in the meeting with Lavrov, but not “sources, methods or military operations”.[30] Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy Dina Habib Powell flatly rejected the Post article, saying: “This story is false. The president only discussed the common threats that both countries faced.”[31]

On May 16, Trump implicitly confirmed a disclosure in a tweet, claiming that, “As President I wanted to share with Russia … which I have the absolute right to do …”[8]

Origin of the intelligence[edit source]

The May 15 The Washington Post report[3] only reported that the intelligence came from an unnamed Middle Eastern ally.[2] On May 16, The New York Times named the relevant ally and source of the intelligence as Israel, saying that as a consequence, Trump’s boasts to the Russian envoys could damage America’s relationship with Israel and endanger Israel’s security if Russia passes the intelligence on to Russia’s ally, and Israel’s main threat in the Middle East, namely Iran.[10] The intelligence was so sensitive that it hadn’t even been shared among key U.S. allies.[32]

Israeli intelligence officials were reportedly horrified by the disclosure.[33] In public comments, Israeli officials including intelligence minister Yisrael Katz, Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the intelligence services of the two countries would continue to share information, with Dermer saying “Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States.” However, speaking privately, unnamed Israeli sources said they might need to reassess what intelligence they share with the U.S.[34] Israeli officials stated that it is Israel’s “worst fears confirmed” about Donald Trump. The officials also stated that Israeli intelligence officers were “boiling mad and demanding answers” on its current intelligence-sharing agreement with the US.[35]

On May 22, while visiting Israel, Trump appeared to confirm both the disclosures and the identity of Israel as the source, telling the press “Folks, folks, just so you understand, just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name Israel during that conversation.”[36] It had been widely reported before May 22 that Israel was the source.[37][38]

United States Congress reaction[edit source]

U.S. House[edit source]

Speaker of the House Republican Paul Ryan said through a spokesman that he “hopes for a full explanation of the facts from the administration”.[2]

U.S. Senate[edit source]

Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the allegations were “very, very troubling” if true.[4] Senator John McCain called the report “deeply disturbing” and said that “Reports that this information was provided by a U.S. ally and shared without its knowledge sends a troubling signal to America’s allies and partners around the world and may impair their willingness to share intelligence with us in the future.”[39] McCain stated: “Regrettably, the time President Trump spent sharing sensitive information with the Russians was time he did not spend focusing on Russia’s aggressive behavior, including its interference in American and European elections, its illegal invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, its other destabilizing activities across Europe, and the slaughter of innocent civilians and targeting of hospitals in Syria.”[39]

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer stated “The president owes the intelligence community, the American people and Congress a full explanation”[2] and Senator Dick Durbin, the Senate Democratic Whip, said that Trump’s conduct was “dangerous” and “reckless”.[4] Senator Jack Reed, the ranking Democratic member of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, stated that “President Trump’s recklessness with sensitive information is deeply disturbing and clearly problematic.”[2] The Democratic National Committee issued a statement reading: “If Trump weren’t president, his dangerous disclosure to Russia could end with him in handcuffs.”[40]

Foreign reactions[edit source]

Foreign reaction was overwhelmingly negative. A top European intelligence official stated that sharing of intelligence with the United States would cease if the country confirms that Trump did indeed share classified information with Russia, because sharing intel with Americans while Trump is president could put their sources at risk.[41]

Germany[edit source]

Burkhard Lischka, a member of the German Bundestag‘s intelligence oversight committee, said that if Trump “passes this information to other governments at will, then Trump becomes a security risk for the entire western world”.[42]

Russia[edit source]

The Russian Foreign Ministry advised its followers to avoid reading U.S. newspapers. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zakharova said: “You can put them to various uses, but you shouldn’t read them. Lately it’s become not only harmful, but dangerous too.”[43] On May 17, 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to provide the record of the Oval Office meeting to the United States Congress.[44]

Academic reactions[edit source]

Several professors of law, political science and international relations, as well as intelligence experts, were alarmed by Trump’s disclosure.

Intelligence expert Amy Zegart of Stanford University noted that Trump revealed code word intelligence, which is the highest layer of classification, even higher than the “top secret” classification. Such information, if revealed could reasonably be expected to cause “exceptionally grave damage” to the national security of the United States.[45] She wrote, “so just how bad is the damage? On a scale of 1 to 10—and I’m just ball parking here—it’s about a billion.”[45]

Counterterrorism expert Daniel Byman of Georgetown University said that disclosures such as Trump’s could jeopardize intelligence sharing relationships, which “perhaps more than any other policy instrument … play a vital role in counterterrorism against global terrorist groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.”[46] The effects could be “disastrous”.[46]

Professor Jack Goldsmith and other contributors to the Lawfare Blog argued that Trump’s leaking of classified information could be a violation of the President’s oath of office: “There’s thus no reason why Congress couldn’t consider a grotesque violation of the President’s oath as a standalone basis for impeachment—a high crime and misdemeanor in and of itself. This is particularly plausible in a case like this, where the oath violation involves giving sensitive information to an adversary foreign power. That’s getting relatively close to the “treason” language in the impeachment clauses; it’s pretty easy to imagine a hybrid impeachment article alleging a violation of the oath in service of a hostile foreign power. So legally speaking, the matter could be very grave for Trump even though there is no criminal exposure.”[24] While Goldsmith argued Trump “did not violate any criminal law concerning the disclosure of classified information” because of the president’s broad authority to declassify information,[24] another legal scholar, Professor Stephen Vladeck, wrote that the president’s “constitutional power over national security information” is not unfettered and that Trump’s disclosures “may actually have been illegal under federal law.”[47]

Harvard Law emeritus professor Alan Dershowitz called the incident “the most serious charge ever made against a sitting president”[48] and said that it was “devastating”, with “very serious political, diplomatic, and international implications”.

Comey memos

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Comey memos are memoranda of conversations written by James Comey, the former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The existence of the memos was first reported on May 16, 2017 and document conversations between Comey and President Donald Trump. At least one of them documents an alleged attempt by Trump to persuade Comey to abort the FBI investigation into Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who had resigned his post as national security advisor the previous day, after he misled senior U.S. officials “about the nature of his conversations” with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.[1][2][3][4][5] The White House responded to the allegations by stating that “the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn”.[3]

According to a Comey associate, Trump also stated that Comey should consider putting reporters who publish classified information in prison.[6] These memos were first publicly discussed about one week after the dismissal of James Comey as FBI Director.

As of May 25, 2017, actual copies of the memos have still not been released. On May 17, one day after the existence of the memos was reported by The New York Times, the Deputy Attorney General appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel for the Russia investigation,[7] charged with overseeing the FBI’s ongoing counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.[8]

Contents and creation

Comey’s official portrait as the seventh Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

According to anonymous sources, Director Comey would record a detailed memo immediately following every meeting and telephone call he had with President Donald Trump.[2][9] Allegedly, some memos were classified, while others were not.[2]

One memo, which is unclassified, referred to a February 14, 2017, Oval Office meeting between Comey and Trump that began as a broader national security briefing. The meeting was the day after the dismissal of Michael Flynn by Trump. Near the conclusion of the briefing, according to this alleged memo, the President asked those in attendance other than Director Comey to leave the room – including Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He then reportedly stated to Comey “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”[2] Comey made no commitments to Trump on the subject.[2]

The New York Times reported that the memos were created as part of a “paper trail” created by Comey to document “what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation”.[2] Comey shared the memo with “a very small circle of people at the FBI and Justice Department“.[1] Comey and other senior FBI officials perceived Trump’s remarks “as an effort to influence the investigation, but they decided that they would try to keep the conversation secret — even from the FBI agents working on the Russia investigation — so the details of the conversation would not affect the investigation”.[2]

The Washington Post reported that two Comey associates who had seen Comey’s memo described it as two pages long and highly detailed.[1]The Times noted that contemporaneous notes created by FBI agents are frequently relied upon “in court as credible evidence of conversations”.[2]

According to a Washington Post report, the memos also document Trump’s criticism of the FBI for not pursuing leakers in the administration and his wish “to see reporters in jail”.[1] The report outraged journalists and free-speech groups, who likened the statement to intimidation tactics used by authoritarian regimes. The Committee to Protect Journalists and Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron were among those who criticized the statement.[10]

Initial report and White House response

The memos’ existence was first reported in a May 16, 2017, New York Times report, published several days after Trump fired Comey as FBI director; the report cited two people who read the memos.[2] The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post independently reported on the memos’ existence.[3][1]

Following news reports of the memos’ existence, the White House stated that “the president has never asked Mr. Comey or anyone else to end any investigation, including any investigation involving General Flynn” and stated “This is not a truthful or accurate portrayal of the conversation between the president and Mr. Comey.”[3]

Media reaction

Fox News host Bret Baier said that no Republicans were “willing to go on camera” after reports on the memos were published. Charles Krauthammer, a regular panelist on Baier’s show, said, “What I think is really stunning is that nobody, not even from the White House, has come out under their own name in defense of the president here. We don’t see any Republicans on camera. And that is totally understandable. They’ve just watched over the last ten days, people who went out on a limb on the Comey firing, and said it was the result of the memo from the deputy Attorney General, and had their limb sawed off by Donald Trump himself without a flinch.”[11][12] The following day, CBS This Morning co-host Charlie Rose said the show had contacted 20 Republican senators and representatives as well as White House representatives to appear on the show and all declined.[13] Republicans also declined invitations from Chris Hayes to appear on MSNBC.[13]

United States Congress reaction

U.S. House

House Oversight Committee

Jason Chaffetz letter to FBI over Comey Memo

On May 16, on the same day that the existence of the Comey memos were reported, Republican U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, wrote a letter to acting FBI Director McCabe, requesting that “all memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings referring or relating to any communications between Comey and the President” be provided to the committee by May 24.[14][15] Chaffetz wrote in the letter that the reports “raise questions as to whether the president attempted to influence or impede” the Flynn investigation.[14][15] Chaffetz said that he intended to obtain the memos by subpoena if necessary.[14] House SpeakerPaul Ryan supported Chaffetz’s request.[16]

In a further request on May 25, Chaffetz asked the FBI to turn over documents about Comey’s interactions with the White House and Justice Department since Comey’s appointment as FBI Director, which also covers interactions between Comey and President Obama.[17]

House Intelligence Committee

Democratic U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, stated: “If true, this is yet another disturbing allegation that the president may have engaged in some interference or obstruction of the investigation.”[1]

U.S. Senate

Senate Intelligence Committee

On May 17, 2017, the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Republican chairman Richard Burr and Democratic vice chairman Mark Warner, sent two letters seeking information related to the committee’s ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections. The first letter, sent to Comey, asked him to appear before the committee in both open and closed sessions. The second, sent to acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, asked for “any notes or memorandum prepared by the former Director regarding any communications he may have had with senior White House and Department of Justice officials related to investigations into Russia’s efforts.”[18][19]

Senate Judiciary Committee

On May 17, 2017, the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a letter signed by Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham, and Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Sheldon Whitehouse, also requested records from FBI, seeking “all memos relating to former FBI Director Comey’s interactions with his superiors in both the Trump and Obama administrations” to be furnished by May 24.[20][21]

Other reactions

News of the Comey memos added to talk of potential efforts to impeach Trump. When CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer asked independent Senator Angus King of Maine whether, if Trump had in fact asked Comey to end the investigation, the country would be “getting closer and closer to the possibility of yet another impeachment process”, King replied: “Reluctantly … I have to say yes simply because obstruction of justice is such a serious offense.”[22]

Special Counsel

Appointment of Special Counsel to investigate Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and related matters

One day after the existence of the memos was reported by The New York Times, the Justice Department appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel, charged with overseeing the FBI’s ongoing counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.[23][8] On May 23, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts announced they had declared Mueller ethically able to function as special counsel.[24] In an interview with the Associated Press, Rosenstein said he would recuse from supervision of Mueller, if he himself were to become a subject in the investigation due to his role in the dismissal of James Comey.[25]

Legal analysis

Legal experts are divided as to whether Trump’s alleged request that Comey end the investigation can be considered obstruction of justice.[26] Jens David Ohlin of Cornell University Law School and Jonathan Turley of George Washington University have argued that the request does not neatly fit into any of the practices commonly considered to fall under the obstruction of justice statute.[27] Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Julie O’Sullivan of the Georgetown University Law Center argued that it is hard to prove that Trump had an intent to obstruct the investigation.[28] Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz said that “it’s a very, very high bar to get over obstruction of justice for a president.”[29] Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith noted that it was implausible to indict a sitting president, noting that “the remedy for a criminal violation would be impeachment” instead.[30] Erwin Chereminsky of University of California, Irvine School of Law, has argued that it was obstruction of justice.[31]

Noah Feldman of Harvard University noted that the alleged request could be grounds for impeachment.[32] University of Texas law professor Stephen Vladeck said that it was reasonable for people to “start talking about obstruction”.[30] Harvard law professor Alex Whiting said that Trump’s actions were “very close to obstruction of justice… but still isn’t conclusive”.[33] Christopher Slobogin of Vanderbilt University Law School said that a “viable case” could be made but that it was weak.[31] John Dean, former White House Counsel to Richard Nixon, called the memo about the private conversation with President Trump concerning the Flynn investigation a “smoking gun” and noted that “good intentions do not erase criminal intent”.[34]

Several Republican politicians and conservative journalists have asserted that Comey could be subject to legal jeopardy over his withholding the memos.[35] Legal experts have criticized these assertions, with Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz saying they are “total nonsense” and University of Texas School of Law professor Robert M. Chesney saying they are “completely uninformed”.

Donald Trump–Russia dossier

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Donald Trump–Russia dossier is a private intelligence dossier that was written by Christopher Steele, a former British MI6 intelligence officer. It contains unverified allegations of misconduct and collusion between Donald Trump and his campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the period preceding the election. The existence of the dossier was first reported on January 10, 2017. Steele went into hiding after the release of the dossier, but reappeared on March 7, 2017.[1]

The dossier alleges that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has kompromat on Trump – damaging or embarrassing material which could be used to blackmail him, including allegations about Trump’s sexual and financial activities in Russia. The dossier also states that the Russian government promoted Trump’s candidacy to create divisions in Western alliances, and that during his presidential campaign, at the heat of the Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, there was exchange of information and collusion between Russian officials and people associated with Trump’s campaign.

The media and the intelligence community have stressed that accusations in the dossier have not been verified. Most experts have treated the dossier with caution, but in February, it was reported that some details related to conversations between foreign nationals had been independently corroborated, giving U.S. intelligence and law enforcement greater confidence in some aspects of the dossier as investigations continued. Trump himself has denounced the report, calling it “fake news” and “phony.” A Russian government spokesman dismissed the dossier, saying its allegations were false. Steele’s former colleagues came out in defense of his character and expertise.

The dossier was produced as part of opposition research during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The research was initially funded by Republicans who did not want Trump to be the Republican Party nominee for president. After Trump won the primaries, a Democratic client took over the funding; and, following Trump’s election, Steele continued working on the report pro bono and passed on the information to British and American intelligence services.

Contents

The 35-page dossier claims that Russia is in possession of damaging or embarrassing information about Trump which could be used for purposes of blackmail to get Trump to cooperate with the Russian government.[2] The material includes allegations about Trump’s sexual and financial dealings in Russia.[3] The dossier further alleges that Trump has been cultivated and supported by Russia for at least five years, with Putin’s endorsement, with the overall aim of creating divisions between Western alliances; that Trump has extensive ties to Russia; and that there had been multiple contacts between Russian officials and people working for Trump during the campaign.[2][4]

History

Creation of the dossier

According to reports, the dossier was created as the result of an investigation initially funded by “Never Trump” Republicans and later by Democrats.[5][6][7] In September 2015, a wealthy Republican donor who opposed Trump’s candidacy in the Republican primary hired Fusion GPS, an American research firm, to do opposition research on Trump. For months, Fusion GPS gathered information about Trump, focusing on his business and entertainment activities. When Trump became the presumptive nominee in May 2016, the Republican donor withdrew and the investigation contract was taken over by an unidentified Democratic client.[7][8]

In June 2016 it was revealed that the Democratic National Committee website had been hacked by Russian sources, so Fusion GPS hired Orbis Business Intelligence, a private British intelligence firm, to look into any Russian connections.[7] The investigation was undertaken by Orbis co-founder Christopher Steele, a retired British MI6 officer with expertise in Russian matters. Steele delivered his report as a series of two- or three-page memos, starting in June 2016 and continuing through December. He continued his investigation even after the client stopped paying for it following Trump’s election.[7]

On his own initiative, Steele decided to also pass on the information to British and American intelligence services because he believed that the findings were a matter of national security for both countries.[9] However, he became frustrated with the FBI, which he believed was failing to investigate his reports, choosing instead to focus on investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails. According to The Independent, Steele came to believe that there was a “cabal” inside the FBI, particularly its New York field office linked to Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani, which blocked any attempts to investigate the links between Trump and Russia.[9] In October 2016, he passed on what he discovered so far to a reporter from Mother Jones magazine.

Shortly after the presidential election, Senator John McCain, who had been informed about the alleged links between Kremlin and Trump, met with former British ambassador to Moscow Sir Andrew Wood. Wood confirmed the existence of the dossier and vouched for Steele.[9] McCain obtained the dossier from David J. Kramer and took it directly to FBI director James Comey himself on December 9, 2016.[7][6]

In a court filing in April 2017, Steele revealed previously unreported information that in December 2016 he gave one more report to “the senior British national security official and sent an encrypted version to Fusion with instructions to deliver a hard copy to Senator McCain.” This memo, dated December 13, detailed possible collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. It described secret discussions between four named Trump representatives, Kremlin representatives, and associated operators/hackers about how to secretly pay the hackers who penetrated the DNC computer system and also how to cover up the operation. Although paid by the Trump organisation, the hackers were controlled by Putin’s administration. “Comey has confirmed that counter-intelligence investigations are under way into possible links between Trump associates and Moscow, and CNN has reported that the FBI used the dossier to bolster its investigations.”[10]

Early indications of the dossier’s existence

By Fall 2016, many news organizations knew about the existence of the dossier; it has been described as an “open secret” among journalists. However, they chose not to publish information that could not be confirmed.[7] Finally on October 31, 2016, a week before the election, Mother Jones reported that a former intelligence officer, whom they did not name, had produced a report based on Russian sources and turned it over to the FBI.[11] The report alleged that the Russian government had cultivated Trump for years:

The “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.” It maintained that Trump “and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.” It claimed that Russian intelligence had “compromised” Trump during his visits to Moscow and could “blackmail him.”[11]

The report further alleged that there were multiple in-person meetings between Russian government officials and individuals established as working for Trump.[12][13] The former intelligence officer continued to share information with the FBI, and said in October 2016 that “there was or is a pretty substantial inquiry going on.”[11]

In October 2016 the FBI reached an agreement with Steele to pay him to continue his work, according to involved sources reported by The Washington Post. “Steele was known for the quality of his past work and for the knowledge he had developed over nearly 20 years working on Russia-related issues for British intelligence.” The FBI found Steele credible and his unproved information worthy enough that it considered paying Steele to continue collecting information, but the release of the document to the public stopped discussions between Steele and the FBI.[14]

Trump and Barack Obama were briefed on the existence of the dossier by the chiefs of several U.S. intelligence agencies in early January 2017. Vice President Joe Biden has confirmed that he and the president had received briefings on the dossier, and the allegations within.[15][8][16][17]

Public release

On January 10, 2017, CNN reported that classified documents presented to Obama and Trump the previous week included allegations that Russian operatives possess “compromising personal and financial information” about Trump. CNN stated that it would not publish specific details on the memos because it had not “independently corroborated the specific allegations.”[18][19] Following the CNN report,[20] BuzzFeed published a 35-page dossier that it said was the basis of the briefing, including unverified claims that Russian operatives had collected “embarrassing material” involving Trump that could be used to blackmail him.[21][22][19][23] NBC reported that a senior U.S. intelligence official said that Trump had not been previously briefed on the contents of the memos,[24] although a CNN report said that a statement released by James Clapper in early January confirmed that the synopsis existed and had been compiled for Trump.[25]

Many news organizations knew about the document in the fall of 2016, before the presidential election, but refused to publish it because they could not independently verify the information.[26] BuzzFeed was harshly criticized for publishing what Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan called “scurrilous allegations dressed up as an intelligence report meant to damage Donald Trump”[27] while The New York Times noted that the publication sparked a debate centering around the use of unsubstantiated information from anonymous sources.[28] BuzzFeed’s executive staff said the materials were newsworthy because they were “in wide circulation at the highest levels of American government and media” and argued that this justified public release.[29]

Authorship

On January 10, 2017, CNN reported on the existence of the dossier.[30] CNN’s report did not name the author of the dossier, but revealed that he was British, at which point Steele concluded that his anonymity had been “fatally compromised”. He realized it was “only a matter of time until his name became public knowledge,” and, accompanied by his family, he fled into hiding in fear of “a prompt and potentially dangerous backlash against him from Moscow.”[31][32][5] The Wall Street Journal revealed Steele’s name on January 11.[33] Steele worked for Orbis Business Intelligence, Ltd. at the time the dossier was authored, and Orbis director Christopher Burrows would not “confirm or deny” that Orbis had produced the dossier.[30][7]

Called by the media a “highly regarded Kremlin expert” and “one of MI6’s greatest ‘Russia specialists”, Steele formerly worked for the British intelligence agency MI6 and is currently working for Orbis Business Intelligence Ltd., a private intelligence company Steele had co-founded in London.[34][33][35] Steele entered the MI6 directly after his graduation from college, in 1987.[36]

Former British ambassador to Moscow Sir Andrew Wood has vouched for Steele’s reputation.[9] He views Steele as a “very competent professional operator… I take the report seriously. I don’t think it’s totally implausible.” He also stated that “the report’s key allegation – that Trump and Russia’s leadership were communicating via secret back channels during the presidential campaign – was eminently plausible”[37]

On December 26, 2016, Oleg Erovinkin, a former KGB/FSB general, was found dead in his car in Moscow. Erovinkin was a key liaison between Igor Sechin, head of Rosneft, and President Putin. Christopher Steele claimed much of the information came from a source close to Sechin. According to Christo Grozev, a journalist at Risk Management Lab, a think-tank based in Bulgaria, the circumstances of Erovinkin’s death was “mysterious”. Grozev suspected Erovinkin helped Christopher Steele compile the dossier on Trump and suggests the hypothesis that the death may have been part of a cover-up by the government of the Russian Federation.[38][39] Mark Galeotti, Senior research fellow at the Institute of International Relations Prague, who specialises in Russian history and security, rejected Grozev’s hypothesis.[40][38]

On March 7, 2017, as some members of Congress in the US were expressing interest in meeting with or hearing testimony from Steele, he reemerged after weeks in hiding, appearing publicly on camera and stating, “I’m really pleased to be back here working again at the Orbis’s offices in London today.”[1]

Veracity of the dossier

Observers and experts have had varying reactions to the dossier. Generally, “former intelligence officers and other national-security experts” urged “skepticism and caution” but still took “the fact that the nation’s top intelligence officials chose to present a summary version of the dossier to both President Obama and President-elect Trump” as an indication “that they may have had a relatively high degree of confidence that at least some of the claims therein were credible, or at least worth investigating further.”[41]

Vice President Biden told reporters that while he and President Obama were receiving a briefing on the extent of Russian hackers trying to influence the US election, there was a two-page addendum which addressed the contents of the Steele Dossier.[42] Top intelligence officials told them they “felt obligated to inform them about uncorroborated allegations about President-elect Donald Trump out of concern the information would become public and catch them off-guard.”[43]

According to Paul Wood of BBC News, the information in Steele’s report is also reported by “multiple intelligence sources” and “at least one East European intelligence service.” They report that there is “more than one tape, not just video, but audio as well, on more than one date, in more than one place, in both Moscow and St. Petersburg.”[44][33] He added that “the CIA believes it is credible that the Kremlin has such kompromat—or compromising material— on the next US commander in chief” and “a joint taskforce, which includes the CIA and the FBI, has been investigating allegations that the Russians may have sent money to Mr Trump’s organisation or his election campaign.”[45][46][44] On March 30, 2017, Wood revealed that the FBI was using the dossier as a roadmap for its investigation.[47] On April 18, 2017, CNN reported that corroborated information from the dossier had been used as part of the basis for getting the FISA warrant to monitor former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page during the summer of 2016.[48]

Former Los Angeles Times Moscow correspondent Robert Gillette wrote in an op-ed in the Concord Monitor that the dossier has had at least one of its main factual assertions verified. On January 6, 2017, the Director of National Intelligence released a report assessing “with high confidence” that Russia’s combined cyber and propaganda operation was directed personally by Vladimir Putin, with the aim of harming Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and helping Trump.[49] Gillette wrote: “Steele’s dossier, paraphrasing multiple sources, reported precisely the same conclusion, in greater detail, six months earlier, in a memo dated June 20.”[50]

Susan Hennessey, a former National Security Administration lawyer now with the Brookings Institution, stated: “My general take is that the intelligence community and law enforcement seem to be taking these claims seriously. That itself is highly significant. But it is not the same as these allegations being verified. Even if this was an intelligence community document—which it isn’t—this kind of raw intelligence is still treated with skepticism.”[41][51] Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes wrote that “the current state of the evidence makes a powerful argument for a serious public inquiry into this matter.”[51]

Former CIA analyst Patrick Skinner said that he is “neither dismissing the report nor taking its claims at face value,” telling Wired: “I imagine a lot more will come out, and much will be nothing and perhaps some of it will be meaningful, and perhaps even devastating.”[41] Russian investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov writes that while “many of the report’s elements appear hastily compiled”, and there were many “shaky” claims, the document “rings frighteningly true” and “overall … reflects accurately the way decision-making in the Kremlin looks to close observers.”[52] Soldatov writes: “Unverifiable sensational details aside, the Trump dossier is a good reflection of how things are run in the Kremlin – the mess at the level of decision-making and increasingly the outsourcing of operations, combined with methods borrowed from the KGB and the secret services of the lawless 1990s.”[52]

Newsweek published a list of “13 things that don’t add up” in the dossier, writing that the document was a “strange mix of the amateur and the insightful” and stating that the document “contains lots of Kremlin-related gossip that could indeed be, as the author claims, from deep insiders—or equally gleaned” from Russian newspapers and blogs.[53]Former UK ambassador to Russia Sir Tony Brenton stated that certain aspects of the dossier were inconsistent with British intelligence’s understanding of how the Kremlin works, commenting: “I’ve seen quite a lot of intelligence on Russia, and there are some things in [the dossier] which look pretty shaky.”[54]

On February 10, 2017, CNN reported that some communications between “senior Russian officials and other Russian individuals” described in the dossier had been corroborated by multiple U.S. officials. Sources told CNN that some conversations had been “intercepted during routine intelligence gathering”, but refused to reveal the content of conversations, or specify which communications were detailed in the dossier. CNN was unable to confirm whether conversations were related to Trump. U.S. officials said the corroboration gave “US intelligence and law enforcement ‘greater confidence’ in the credibility of some aspects of the dossier as they continue to actively investigate its contents”.[55]

According to Business Insider, the dossier alleges that “the Trump campaign agreed to minimize US opposition to Russia’s incursions into Ukraine”.[56] In July 2016, the Republican National Convention made changes to the Republican Party’s platform on Ukraine: initially they proposed providing “lethal weapons” to Ukraine, but the line was changed to “appropriate assistance”. J. D. Gordon, who was one of Trump’s national security advisers during the campaign, said that he had advocated for changing language because that reflected what Trump had said.[56][57]

Responses

Donald Trump called the dossier “fake news” and criticized the intelligence and media sources that published it.[58] During a press conference on January 11, 2017, Trump denounced the unsubstantiated claims as false, saying that it was “disgraceful” for U.S. intelligence agencies to report them. Trump refused to answer a question from CNN’s senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta on the subject and called CNN “fake news.” In response, CNN said that it had published “carefully sourced reporting” on the matter which had been “matched by the other major news organizations,” as opposed to BuzzFeed’s posting of “unsubstantiated materials.”[59][20] James Clapper described the leaks as damaging to US national security.[60] This also contradicted Trump’s previous claim that Clapper said the information was false; Clapper’s statement actually said the intelligence community has made no judgement on the truth or falsity of the information.[61]

Russian press secretary Dmitry Peskov insisted in an interview that the document is a fraud, saying “I can assure you that the allegations in this funny paper, in this so-called report, they are untrue. They are all fake.”[62] The President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, called the people who leaked the document “worse than prostitutes”[63] and referred to the dossier itself as “rubbish.”[64] Putin went on to state he believed that the dossier was “clearly fake,”[65] fabricated as a plot against the legitimacy of President-elect Donald Trump.[66]

Some of Steele’s former colleagues expressed support for his character, saying “The idea his work is fake or a cowboy operation is false – completely untrue. Chris is an experienced and highly regarded professional. He’s not the sort of person who will simply pass on gossip.”[67]

Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen, in a denial of some allegations, said “I’m telling you emphatically that I’ve not been to Prague, I’ve never been to Czech [Republic], I’ve not been to Russia. The story is completely inaccurate, it is fake news meant to malign Mr. Trump.”[68] Cohen said that between August 23–29 he was in Los Angeles. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “A Czech intelligence source told the Respekt magazine that there is no record of Cohen arriving in Prague by plane, although the news weekly pointed out he could have traveled by car or train from a nearby EU country, avoiding passport control under Schengen zone travel rules.”[69]

Among journalists, Bob Woodward called the dossier a “garbage document,” while Carl Bernstein took the opposite view, noting that the senior-most U.S. intelligence officials had determined that the content was worth reporting to the president and the president-elect.[70]

Aleksej Gubarev, chief of technology company XBT and a figure mentioned in the dossier, sued BuzzFeed for defamation on February 3, 2017. The suit, filed in a Broward County, Florida court,[71] centers on allegations from the dossier that XBT had been “using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct ‘altering operations’ against the Democratic Party leadership.”[72] In the High Court of Justice, Steele’s lawyers said that their client did not intend for the memos to be released, and that one of the memos “needed to be analyzed and further investigated/verified.”[73]

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to CNN’s reporting of the partial corroborations by saying, “We continue to be disgusted by CNN’s fake news reporting.”[55]

On March 2, 2017, media began reporting that the Senate may call Steele to testify about the Trump dossier.[74]

On March 27, 2017, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley asked the U.S. Department of Justice to initiate an inquiry into Fusion GPS, who retained Steele to write the dossier.[75] Fusion GPS was previously associated with pro-Russia lobbying activities due to sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky Act. Grassley’s committee made direct inquiries of Fusion GPS: “When political opposition research becomes the basis for law enforcement or intelligence efforts, it raises substantial questions about the independence of law enforcement and intelligence from politics.”[76] The other basis for Grassley’s concern is the fact that Fusion GPS was working as a pro-Russia lobbyist at the same time it had retained Steele to research and write the Trump dossier.[77] Grassley was concerned that the FBI was improperly using the dossier as the basis for an investigation into Russian influence of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Timeline of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This is a timeline of events related to Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections, and investigations into links between Trump associates and Russian officials.[1]

Relevant individuals[edit source]

2016 Election cycle[edit source]

2015[edit source]

  • June 15: Donald Trump, a real estate developer and television personality, announces his candidacy for president.[2]
  • September: An FBI special agent contacts 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 is 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, apparently because he believed the call might have been a prank.[3]
  • September 21: On Hugh Hewitt’s radio program, Trump says, “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.”[4]
  • December 10: Retired Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn gives a paid speech on world affairs in Moscow, at a gala dinner organized by RT News, an English-language Russian propaganda network. Flynn had appeared on RT as an analyst after he retired from the Army. The dinner is also attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the guest of honor.[5] Flynn is seated directly next to Putin; also seated at the head table are Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and members of Putin’s inner circle, including Sergei Ivanov, Dmitry Peskov, and Alexey Gromov.[6] For his December speech, Flynn nets $33,500 of the $45,000 paid to his speakers’ bureau.[7] For all of 2015, Flynn receives more than $65,000 from companies linked to Russia.[8]

January-June 2016[edit source]

  • February 29: 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.”[9]
  • March 21: In a Washington Post interview,[10] Trump identifies 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 blames 2014 US sanctions relating to Russia’s annexation of Crimea for driving down Gazprom’s stock price.[11] Earlier in March 2016, Iowa tea party activist Sam Clovis had recommended Page to the Trump campaign.[12]
  • March 29: On Roger Stone‘s recommendation,[13] Manafort joins the Trump campaign as convention manager, tasked with lining up delegates.
  • April: According to Reuters, first known contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.[14]
  • April 20: Manafort becomes Trump’s campaign manager. Reports surface about his 2007 to 2012 ties to Yanukovych, whom Manafort had helped to elect.[15]
  • Late April: The Democratic National Committee’s IT department notices suspicious computer activity. Within 24 hours, the DNC contacts the FBI, and hires a private cybersecurity firm, CrowdStrike, to investigate.[16]
  • May: CrowdStrike determines 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 Directorate (also known as the GRU).[17]
  • June 2016: The FBI sent a warning to states about “bad actors” probing state voter-registration databases and systems to seek vulnerabilities; investigators believe Russia is responsible.[18]
  • Early June: At a closed-door gathering of high-powered foreign policy experts visiting with the prime minister of India, Page hails Putin as stronger and more reliable than President Obama and touts the positive effect that a Trump presidency would have on U.S.-Russia relations.[19]

July–September 2016[edit source]

  • July 7: In a lecture at the New Economic School in Moscow,[20] Page criticizes American foreign policy, saying that many of the mistakes spoiling relations between the US and Russia “originated in my own country.”[21] Page had received permission from the Trump campaign to make the trip.[22]
  • July 9: The Washington Post reports that Trump is considering Flynn for Vice President, with support from Senator Jeff Sessions.[23] Trump eventually selects Mike Pence, governor of Indiana.
  • July 18–21: Republican Convention in Cleveland[24]
  • July 22: WikiLeaks publishes 20,000 emails from seven key officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The emails shows them disparaging Bernie Sanders and favoring Hillary Clinton in the 2017 presidential primaries.[30]
  • July 24: DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz is forced to resign over the email scandal.[31]
  • July 25–28: Democratic Convention in Philadelphia[32]
    • July 25: Based on assessments from cybersecurity firms, the DNC and the Clinton campaign say that Russian intelligence operators have hacked their e-mails and forwarded them to WikiLeaks.[33]
    • July 28: Hillary Clinton formally accepts the Democratic nomination.[34]
  • July 27: At a news conference, Trump urges Russia to “find Clinton’s missing emails.” The remark triggers a backlash from media and politicians who criticize Trump’s “urging a foreign adversary to conduct cyberespionage” against his political opponent.[35][36] Trump replies that he was being “sarcastic”.[37]
  • End July: CIA Director John Brennan, alarmed over intelligence that Russia is trying to “hack” the election, forms a working group of officials from the CIA, FBI and NSA.[38]
  • July: According to later testimony by James Comey, the FBI starts a counter-intelligence investigation about Russian interference, including possible coordination between Trump associates and Russia.[39]
  • August 4: Brennan calls his Russian counterpart Alexander Bortnikov, head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), to warn him against meddling in the presidential election.[38]
  • August 16: Stone tells Alex Jones that he is in contact with WikiLeaks director Julian Assange, claiming he has “political dynamite” on Clinton.[40]
  • August 18: The FBI issues a nationwide “flash alert” warning state election officials about foreign infiltration of election systems in two states, later reported to be Arizona and Illinois. The alert includes technical evidence suggesting Russian responsibility, and urges states to boost their cyberdefenses. Although labeled for distribution only to “NEED TO KNOW recipients,” a copy is leaked to the media.[41]
  • August 19: Manafort resigns as Trump’s campaign manager.[42]
  • August 26: Assange states that Clinton is causing “hysteria” about Russia, following her claims that Russian intelligence was behind the leaks.[43] He also says “The Trump campaign has a lot of things wrong with it, but as far as we can see being Russian agents is not one of them.”[43]
  • September 8: Sessions meets with Kislyak a second time, in Sessions’ office;[1] he later says they discussed Ukraine and terrorism.[44]
  • September 29: FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Judiciary Committee, stating that the FBI is “looking ‘very, very hard’ at Russian hackers who may try to disrupt the U.S. election”. He confirms that federal investigators have detected suspicious activities in voter registration databases, as stated in the August 18 alert.[45]

October–November 2016[edit source]

  • October 7: WikiLeaks begins publishing thousands of emails from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, revealing excerpts from Clinton’s paid speeches to Wall Street.[46]
  • October 7: The DHS and the ODNI issue a joint statement accusing the Russian government of breaking into the computer systems of several political organizations and releasing the obtained material via DCLeaks, WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, with the intent “to interfere with the U.S. election process.”[47][48][49][50]
  • October 19: During the third presidential debate, Clinton blames Russia for the DNC email leaks and accuses Trump of being a “puppet” of Putin.[51]
  • October 27: At the Valdai forum, Putin denounces American “hysteria” over accusations of Russian interference, saying “Does anyone seriously think that Russia can influence the choice of the American people? Is America some kind of banana republic? America is a great power. If I’m wrong, correct me.”[52]
  • October 31: Through the “red phone”, President Obama tells President Putin to stop interfering or face “serious consequences”.[53]

Trump transition[edit source]

November–December 2016[edit source]

  • November 8: Trump is elected President of the United States.[54]
  • November 10: Kislyak states that Russia was not involved with U.S. election hacking.[55]
  • November 10: In a private Oval Office meeting, President Obama warns President-elect Trump against hiring Flynn.[56]
  • November 18: President-elect Trump announces he will nominate Sessions to be Attorney General[57] and Flynn as National Security Adviser.[58]
  • November 18: Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, writes a letter to Pence warning that Flynn’s connections to Russia and Turkey might create conflicts of interest. He asks the Trump administration’s transition team for documents related to Flynn.[59]
  • Early December: Sergei Mikhailov; FSB cyber chief has his head bagged and is arrested for treason. Ruslan Stoyanov, senior researcher with Kaspersky Lab and Dmitry Dokuchayev, a hacker known by the name “Forb” are arrested for treason.[60][61]
  • December 1, 2: Jared Kushner, Flynn and Kislyak meet in Trump Tower to discuss the potential of obtaining a Russian-encrypted communications channel directly with the Kremlin.[62]
  • later in December: Kushner meets with Sergei Gorkov (FSB Academy graduate and chairman of VEB and former deputy chairman of Sberbank – both under U.S. sanctions).[63] The meeting was first reported in March 2017, and attracted interest of federal and congressional investigators in May.[64]
  • December 13: Trump picks Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State; Russian officials praise the decision.[65]
  • December 15: Clinton tells a group of donors in Manhattan that Russian hacking was ordered by Putin “because he has a personal beef against me” due to her accusation in 2011 that Russian parliamentary elections that year were rigged.[66][67]
  • December 26: Oleg Erovinkin, a former KGB official, is found dead in the back seat of his car in Moscow. He was suspected of assisting former MI-6 agent Christopher Steele in compiling a dossier alleging Trump ties to Russia as part of opposition research.[68]
  • December 29: Obama expels 35 Russian diplomats, locks down two Russian diplomatic compounds, and expands sanctions against Russia.[69]
  • December 29: Flynn has telephone conversations with Russian ambassador Kislyak to discuss sanctions.[70]
  • December 30: Putin announces he will not retaliate against the U.S. expulsions, contrary to recommendations from Lavrov.[71] Trump approves.[72]

January 2017[edit source]

  • January 5: Obama is briefed on the intelligence community’s findings.[citation needed]
  • January 6: The ODNI releases an unclassified report stating that “Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election”.[73]
  • January 10: In a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Al Franken asks Sessions what he would do as Attorney General “if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign.” Sessions replies, “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have—did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”[74]
  • January 10: BuzzFeed publishes the unverified Steele dossier alleging various misdeeds by Trump and associates in Russia.[75]
  • January 11: Trump tweets “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”.[76] USA Today says this is “not exactly true”.[77]
  • January 11, Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater security company and a Trump campaign donor, meets in the Seychelles with an unidentified Russian said to be close to Putin. The meeting was organized by the United Arab Emirates and reportedly includes talks of a “back-channel” with Moscow to try and influence Russian policy in the Middle East.[78]
  • January 13: President-elect Trump nominates U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein to serve as Deputy Attorney General.[79]
  • January 17: In response to written questions presented by Senator Patrick Leahy, Sessions states that he has not been “in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election.”[80] He is later accused of failing to disclose two meetings with Russian ambassador Kislyak.[81]
  • January 19: Following a disclosure by McClatchy on January 18,[82] the New York Times reports that Trump associates Manafort, Page and Stone have been under investigation by the FBI, NSA, CIA, and FinCEN.[83] Investigations are said to be based on intercepted Russian communications as well as financial transactions.[84] Sources say “the investigators have accelerated their efforts in recent weeks but have found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing.”[83]
  • January 20: Obama leaves office.[85]

Trump administration[edit source]

January 2017[edit source]

  • January 20: Trump and Pence take office.[86]
  • January 21: Trump appoints Flynn as National Security Advisor.[87]
  • January 24: Flynn is interviewed by the FBI about his conversations with Kislyak.[88]
  • January 26: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warns the Trump administration that Flynn has not been truthful about his contacts with Russia and that he may be vulnerable to blackmail by Russian intelligence.[89]
  • January 27: White House Counsel Donald McGahn has further discussions with Yates on the Flynn matter.[90]
  • January 27: Trump and Comey have dinner at the White House; the President reportedly asks the FBI Director for personal loyalty. Comey declines, offering “honesty”.[91]
  • January 31: Trump fires Yates, citing her refusal to enforce Executive Order 13769.[92]

February 2017[edit source]

  • Early February: Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, delivers a pro-Russian Ukrainian peace plan to Flynn while visiting the White House. The plan was developed by Sater and Andrii Artemenko, a Ukrainian politician who said he was encouraged by “top aides” to Putin.[93]
  • February 8: Sessions is confirmed as Attorney General by a vote of 52 to 47;[94] he is sworn in the next day.[95]
  • February 9: Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) introduces a resolution of inquiry in relation to possible crimes relating to the financial dealings or collusion with Russia by President Trump.[96]
  • February 13: Flynn is dismissed after less than a month in office.[97]
  • February 14: Trump reportedly asks Comey to drop any investigation of Flynn. The White House denies the charge.[98]
  • February 20: Trump nominates H. R. McMaster to replace Flynn as National Security Advisor.[99] His continuing active military position is confirmed by the Senate on March 15.[100]

March 2017[edit source]

  • March 1: Sessions comes under scrutiny after reports that he had contact with Russian government officials during the election campaign, even though he denied it during his confirmation hearings. Democratic representatives ask Sessions to resign his post as United States Attorney General.[101][102]
  • March 2: Sessions announces that he will recuse himself from any investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.[103]
  • March 3: In testimony to Congress, Comey says: “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election.” [104]
  • March 4: Trump tweets that Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower during the election campaign,[105] calling him a “bad (or sick) guy”[106] and denouncing “McCarthyism“.[105]Obama denies the allegation.[107]
  • March 5: In a Meet the Press interview, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper denies that any wiretap was actively mounted against Trump’s campaign or at Trump Tower.[108] Clapper also states that, as long as he was still in office, the NSA, FBI and CIA had found no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.[109]
  • March 5: Republican lawmakers include the allegations of Obama’s wiretapping into the congressional probes of Russian campaign meddling.[110]
  • March 15: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA) announce there is no evidence to back up the president’s wiretapping allegation.[111]
  • March 20: The House Intelligence Committee holds its first public hearing. Both Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers testify that there is no evidence for Obama administration “wiretapping” and Comey admits that there is indeed an FBI investigation of the “Russia thing” ongoing.[citation needed]
  • March 22: Nunes announces that he discovered the intelligence community “incidentally collected” the communications of some members of Trump’s transition team, potentially including the president himself,[citation needed] and claims that the information was “widely disseminated”. It is later confirmed that he learned this from an unnamed source during his White House visit on the previous day.[citation needed]
  • March 23: Rick Gates, longtime deputy to Manafort and Trump campaign advisor, is forced to leave the pro-Trump nonprofit ‘America First Policies’ after reports that Manafort sought to further Russian interests.[112]
  • March 27: Schiff and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi call for Nunes’ recusal from the investigation after details of his White House visit become public.[113]
  • March 30: Flynn tells the FBI and Congress that he would testify in exchange for immunity from prosecution.[114]
  • Late March: Trump asks Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and NSA Director Mike Rogers to publicly deny any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Both refuse, saying the requests were inappropriate.[115]

April 2017[edit source]

May 2017[edit source]

  • May 3: Senator Diane Feinstein of California, who is the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, states that there is “not yet” any evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.[124]
  • May 4: Rice refuses to testify to Congress.[125]
  • May 8: President Trump directs Sessions and Rosenstein to make a case against FBI Director Comey in writing. The next day, Rosenstein hands a memo to Sessions providing the basis to recommend that Comey be dismissed.[126]
  • May 9: Comey is fired.[104]
  • May 9: Sean Spicer, White House Press Secretary, tells the press that “He [Trump] has no business in Russia. He has no connections to Russia.”[127]
  • May 10: Trump holds a meeting in the White House with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Kislyak.
    • Trump reportedly tells Lavrov and Kislyak he fired Comey to relieve pressure caused by the investigation.[128]
    • Trump shares highly classified intelligence about ISIS with the Russians. The information had been obtained from allied intelligence sources without first seeking permission from them.[129] It is later confirmed that the intelligence came from Israel.[130]
  • May 12: Trump threatens Comey with alleged secret tapes.[131]
  • May 17: Rosenstein appoints former FBI Director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel to oversee the investigation into Russian election interference and related matters.[132]
File:Congressman Al Green's Floor Speech on the Impeachment of President Trump.webm

Congressman Al Green’s Floor Speech on the Impeachment of President Trump

  • May 17: Rep. Al Green (D-TX) calls for the impeachment of President Trump from the House floor.[133]
  • May 18: The Russian State Duma approves the nomination of former Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov to replace Kislyak as U.S. ambassador.[134]
  • May 19: Senator Feinstein repeats her statement of May 3 that no evidence of collusion was found, and adds that “there are rumors”.[135]
  • May 22: Flynn refuses to hand over subpoenaed documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee, citing the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.[136]
  • May 23: U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts declare Mueller ethically able to function as special counsel.[137]
  • May 23: The House Intelligence Committee hears testimony from former CIA Director John Brennan, who states that Russia “brazenly interfered in the 2016 election process” despite U.S. efforts to ward it off.[138]
  • May 24: U.S. media reports that Trump has hired lawyer Marc Kasowitz, his longtime legal counsel, to represent him in any inquiry.[139]
  • May 25: The Senate Intelligence Committee unanimously votes to give its Republican chairman Richard Burr, and Democratic vice chairman Mark R. Warner, “blanket authority” to issue subpoenas during their investigation.[140]
  • May 26: The Washington Post reports that Kislyak told Moscow that Kushner wanted a secret communications channel with the Kremlin under Russian supervision.[141]
  • May 26: The Senate Intelligence Committee requests that the Trump campaign turn over “all of its emails, documents and phone records” related to Russia. Several months earlier, the committee had asked the campaign committee to preserve records.[142]
  • May 30:
    • Cohen is served with a target letter, informing him of investigations about his involvement by the Special Counsel and the congressional committees, urging him to preserve records.[143] Flynn partially agrees to turn over documents in the investigation.[144]
    • CNN reports about leaked intercepts of conversations between Kremlin officials discussing their potential influence on some Trump campaign members, including financial matters.[145]
  • May 31:
    • The House Intelligence Committee serves seven subpoenas – including those on Cohen and Flynn – for testimony, personal documents and business records.[146][147]
    • The FBI and congressional committees enquire about a possible third encounter between Sessions and Kislyak on April 27, 2016.[148]
    • The Trump administration offers to re-open the two Russian diplomatic compounds, near New York City and Maryland, that had been locked down by the Obama administration on December 29, 2016.[149]
    • The White House announces that it will no longer take questions relating to Russia-Trump allegations, referring such questions to Trump’s lawyers.[150]

June 2017[edit source]

  • June 2: Mueller expands investigation to include several related inquiries, including the probe into Manafort and the role of attorney general and deputy attorney general in the dismissal of James Comey.[151]
  • June 3: In an interview with the Associated Press, Rosenstein said he would recuse from supervision of Mueller, if he himself were to become a subject in the investigation due to his role in the Comey’s dismissal.[151]
  • June 5: Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a contractor with Pluribus International Corporation in Georgia, arrested for leaking to the Intercept in violations of the Espionage Act a top secret NSA document which detailed that Russian hacking into the 2016 American elections went further than thought before and targeted the actual voting equipment being used in many states.[152][153]

Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

ODNI declassified assessment of “Russian activities and intentions in recent U.S. elections”

On October 7, 2016,[7] the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) jointly stated that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta‘s personal email account and leaked their documents to WikiLeaks.[8][9] Several cybersecurity firms stated that the cyberattacks were committed by Russian intelligence groups Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear.[10] In October 2016, U.S. President Barack Obama directly warned Putin to stop interfering or face “serious consequences”.[11] Russian officials initially issued categorical denials of any Russian involvement in any DNC hacks or leaks.[12][13][14] In June 2017, however, in a shift from Russia’s previous blanket denials, Putin suggested that private “patriotically minded” Russian hackers could have been responsible for cyberattacks, while continuing to deny government involvement.[15] In January 2017, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified that Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign went beyond hacking, and included disinformation such as the dissemination of fake news often promoted on social media.[16] President-elect Trump initially rejected the reports of Russian interference and criticized the intelligence agencies, saying that Democrats were simply reacting to their election loss.[17][18]United States intelligence agencies have concluded that there was Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections.[1][2][3] In January 2017, a published U.S. intelligence community assessment expressed “high confidence” that the Russian government favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton and that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an “influence campaign” to denigrate Clinton and to harm her electoral chances and potential presidency.[4] The report concluded that Russia used disinformation, data thefts, leaks, and social media “trolls” in an effort to give an advantage to Trump over Clinton but did not target or compromise vote tallying.[1] These conclusions were reaffirmed by the lead intelligence officials in the Trump administration in May 2017.[5] Intelligence allies of the U.S. in Europe had found communications between suspected Russian agents and the Trump campaign as early as 2015.[6]

Investigations on Russian influence, including potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, were started by the FBI,[19] the Senate Intelligence Committee[20] and the House Intelligence Committee.[21] Six federal agencies have also been investigating possible links and financial ties between the Kremlin and Trump’s associates, including his son-in-law Jared Kushner and advisers Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.[22][23] In December 2016, Obama ordered a report on hacking efforts aimed at U.S. elections since 2008.[24] On December 29, 2016, the U.S. expelled 35 Russian diplomats, denied access to two Russia-owned compounds, and broadened existing sanctions on Russian entities and individuals.[25] Russia did not retaliate.[26]

On March 20, 2017, FBI director James Comey testified to the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI had been conducting a counter-intelligence investigation about Russian interference since July 2016, including possible coordination between associates of Trump and Russia.[27][28] On May 9, 2017, in a move that was widely criticized as an attempt to curtail the Russian investigation by the FBI, Trump dismissed Comey.[29] On May 17, 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel in the FBI’s Russian investigation.[30]

Russian involvement

Vladimir Putin

shoulder height portrait of man in suit and tie with dyed thinning hair in his sixties

American intelligence officials stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin (pictured) personally controlled the covert operation.[31]

In December 2016, two senior intelligence officials informed U.S. news media[Note 1] that they were highly confident that Vladimir Putin personally directed the operation to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. They said Putin’s motives were a vendetta against Hillary Clinton and the desire to foment global distrust of the U.S.[32] Putin became personally involved after Russia accessed the DNC,[32] because such an operation required high government approval.[35] U.S. officials said that under Putin’s direction, the goals evolved from criticizing American democracy to attacking Clinton, and by the fall of 2016 to directly help Trump’s campaign, because Putin thought he would ease economic sanctions.[31] White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest[36] and Obama foreign policy advisor and speechwriter Ben Rhodes agreed with this assessment, with Rhodes saying operations of this magnitude required Putin’s consent.[31]

In January 2017, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence,[37] representing the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA), published the following assessment[4] in public, non-classified form. The FBI and CIA gave the assessment with high confidence and the NSA with moderate confidence.[4]

President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments.[4]

Russian Institute for Strategic Studies

three story modern beige office building, gray portico with writing, trees, natural setting

The Russian Institute for Strategic Studies began working for the Russian presidency after 2009.

Several U.S. officials said to Reuters that the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS) had developed a strategy to influence the U.S. elections in a direction desirable for Russia.[38] The development of strategy was ordered by Putin and directed by former officers of Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. The Institute was a part of Russian SVR until 2009. It started working directly for the Russian Presidential Administration later.[39]

The propaganda efforts began in March 2016. The first set of recommendations, issued in June 2016, proposed that Russia must support a candidate for U.S. president more favorable to Russia than Obama had been via a social media campaign and through Russia-backed news outlets. The second report was written in October 2016 when a Clinton win appeared likely. It advocated messages about voter fraud in order to undermine the legitimacy of the U.S. electoral system and a Clinton presidency.[38] RISS director Mikhail Fradkov and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied the allegations.[40]

Internet trolls

Clint Watts, Foreign Policy Research Institute fellow and senior fellow at the Center for Cyber and Homeland Security at George Washington University, and Andrew Weisburd reported for The Daily Beast in August 2016 that Russian propaganda fabricated articles were popularized by social media.[41] The authors wrote that disinformation spread from government-controlled outlets, RT and Sputnik to pro-Russian accounts on Twitter.[41] Citing research by Adrian Chen, they compared Russian tactics during the 2016 U.S. election to Soviet Union Cold War strategies.[41] They referenced the 1992 United States Information Agency report to the U.S. Congress, which warned about Russian propaganda called active measures.[41] They wrote active measures were made easier with social media.[41] Institute of International Relations Prague senior fellow and scholar on Russian intelligence, Mark Galeotti, agreed the Kremlin operations were a form of active measures.[42] The Guardian wrote in November 2016 the most strident Internet promoters of Trump were paid Russian propagandists, estimating several thousand trolls involved.[43]

In a follow-up article, together with colleague J. M. Berger, Weisburd and Watts said they had monitored 7,000 pro-Trump social media accounts over a two-and-a-half year period,[44] and found that such accounts denigrated critics of Russian activities in Syria and propagated falsehoods about Clinton’s health.[45] Watts said the propaganda targeted the alt-right movement, the right wing, and fascist groups.[46] Watts’ findings cited Russian propaganda which exacerbated criticism of Clinton and support for Trump, via social media, Internet trolls, botnets, and websites denigrating Clinton.[41]

Background

Putin and Clinton

Russians protest against Putin’s re-election in 2012. Putin accused Secretary of State Clinton of inciting 2011–13 Russian protests.[47][48]

The U.S. intelligence community, in a joint January 6, 2017, declassified report, stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin wish to retaliate against Hillary Clinton due to faulting her for 2011-2012 mass protests against him.[4] On March 20, 2017, FBI Director James Comey testified that Putin disregarded Clinton and preferred her opponent.[49] Putin repeatedly accused Clinton, who served as U.S. Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, of interfering in Russia’s internal affairs,[50] and in December 2016, Clinton accused Putin of having a personal grudge against her.[51] Michael McFaul, who was U.S. ambassador to Russia, said that the operation could be Putin’s retaliation against Clinton.[48] In July 2016, NBC News reported that Clinton was outspoken against Putin.[52] According to Russian security expert Andrei Soldatov, one of the reasons Russia tried to sway the U.S. presidential election is perceived antipathy between Clinton and the Russian government.[53]

Cyberattack and email leaks

In June 2016, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) first stated that the Russian hacker groups Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear had penetrated their campaign servers and leaked information via the Guccifer 2.0 online persona.[54][55][56] On July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks released approximately 20,000 emails sent from or received by DNC personnel.[57]Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned as DNC chairwoman following WikiLeaks releases suggesting collusion against Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.[58] A few days later, Trump publicly called on Russia to hack and release Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails from her private server during her tenure in the State Department.[59][60] Trump’s comment was condemned by the press and political figures, including some Republicans;[61] he replied that he had been speaking sarcastically.[62] Several Democratic Senators said Trump’s comments appeared to violate the Logan Act,[63][64] and Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe added that Trump’s call could be treasonous.[65] On October 7, 2016, WikiLeaks started releasing series of emails and documents sent from or received by Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, which continued on a daily basis until Election Day.[66] Podesta later blamed Russia.[67] In April 2017, CIA Director Mike Pompeo stated WikiLeaks was a hostile intelligence agency aided by foreign states including Russia, and said that the U.S. Intelligence Community concluded that Russia’s “propaganda outlet” RT, had conspired with WikiLeaks.[68]

U.S. Counter-Disinformation Team

The International Business Times reported that the United States Department of State planned to use a unit formed with the intention of combating disinformation from the Russian government, and that it was disbanded in September 2015 after department heads missed the scope of propaganda before the 2016 U.S. election.[69] The unit had been in development for 8 months prior to being scrapped.[69] Titled the Counter-Disinformation Team, it would have been a reboot of the Active Measures Working Group set up by the Reagan Administration.[70] It was created under the Bureau of International Information Programs.[70] Work began in 2014, with the intention of countering propaganda from Russian sources such as TV network RT (formerly called Russia Today).[70] A beta website was ready, and staff were hired by the U.S. State Department for the unit prior to its cancellation.[70] U.S. Intelligence officials explained to former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer John R. Schindler that the Obama Administration decided to cancel the unit, as they were afraid of antagonizing Russia.[70] A State Department representative told the International Business Times after being contacted regarding the closure of the unit, that the U.S. was disturbed by propaganda from Russia, and the strongest defense was sincere communication.[69] U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Richard Stengel was the point person for the unit before it was canceled.[70] Stengel had written in 2014 that RT was engaged in a disinformation campaign about Ukraine.[71]

Intrusions into state voter-registration systems

As early as June 2016, the FBI sent a warning to states about “bad actors” probing state-elections systems to seek vulnerabilities.[72] In September 2016, FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Judiciary Committee that the FBI was investigating Russian hackers attempting to disrupt the 2016 election and that federal investigators had detected hacked-related activities in state voter-registration databases,[73] which independent assessments determined were soft targets for hackers.[74] Comey stated there were multiple attempts to hack voter database registrations.[72] Director of National Intelligence James Clapper attributed Russian hacking attempts to Vladimir Putin.[75]

In August 2016, the FBI issued a nationwide “flash alert” warning state election officials about hacking attempts.[74] In September 2016, U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials and the National Association of Secretaries of State reported that hackers had penetrated, or sought to penetrate, the voter-registration systems in more than 20 states over the previous few months.[73] Federal investigators attributed these attempts to Russian government-sponsored hackers,[72] and specifically to Russian intelligence agencies.[74] Four of the intrusions into voter registration databases were successful, including intrusions into the Illinois and Arizona databases.[75] Although the hackers did not appear to change or manipulate data,[73][72] Illinois officials reported that information on up to 200,000 registered voters was stolen.[74] The FBI and DHS increased their election-security coordination efforts with state officials as a result.[72][73] Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson reported that 18 states had requested voting-system security assistance from DHS.[72] The department also offered risk assessments to the states, but just four states expressed interest, as the election was rapidly approaching.[73] The reports of the database intrusions prompted alarm from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, who wrote to the FBI saying foreign attempts to cast doubt on free and fair elections was a danger to democracy not seen since the Cold War.[75]

Leaking of classified document to The Intercept

NSA Report on Russia Spearphishing[76]

On June 5, 2017, The Intercept published a top secret NSA document describing details about Russia’s attempts to hack American voting systems a week before the election in November 2016.[77][78][79] Less than an hour later, federal contractor Reality Leigh Winner was charged[80][81] with removing this document from a government facility and leaking it to the Intercept.[82][83][84] Winner, a 25-year-old contractor with Pluribus International Corporation, had been arrested on charges of leaking the document on June 3.[85][86][87][88][89][90]

Putin payroll conversation

In June 2016, a month before the Republican Party nominated Trump for president, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, after ending a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, said in a private conversation with his Republican colleagues that he thought “Putin pays Rohrabacher and Trump”. House Speaker Paul Ryan interjected to end the conversation and instructed those present to secrecy.[91] The conversation took place a day after it was revealed that Russian operatives had hacked the DNC.[91] The existence of the conversation was publicly revealed in May 2017, by The Washington Post, which obtained a recording of the conversation[91] and published a full transcript of the conversation.[92] When asked for comment, spokesmen for both McCarthy and Ryan initially gave a categorical denial that the conversation had taken place, with the former calling the claim silly. After being informed that a recording of the conversation existed, the spokesmen called the conversation comedic. Evan McMullin, who was present at the conversation as the then-policy director for the House Republican Conference, confirmed its content, saying Ryan was worried about it being made public.[91]

Cybersecurity analysis

In June and July 2016, cybersecurity experts and firms, including CrowdStrike,[93] Fidelis, Mandiant, SecureWorks[94] and ThreatConnect, stated the DNC email leaks were part of a series of cyberattacks on the DNC committed by two Russian intelligence groups, called Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear,[10][95] also known respectively as APT28 and APT29.[93][96]ThreatConnect also noted possible links between the DC Leaks project and Russian intelligence operations because of a similarity with Fancy Bear attack patterns.[97] Symantec and FireEye examined the data themselves and supported Crowdstrike’s analysis that the perpetrators were Fancy Bear and The Dukes (also known as APT29).[98] In June, 2016, SecureWorks stated that the actor group was operating from Russia on behalf of the Russian government.[99] In December 2016, Ars Technica IT editor Sean Gallagher reviewed the publicly available evidence, and wrote that attribution of the DNC hacks to Russian intelligence was based on clues from attack methods and similarity to other cases, as the hacking was tracked in real time since May 2016 by CrowdStrike’s monitoring tools.[100]

U.S. intelligence analysis

GCHQ tips and CIA briefings to Congress

shoulder high portrait of man in his fifties or sixties standing in front of an American flag and the flag of the CIA

John O. Brennan, former director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency

In part because U.S. agencies cannot surveil U.S. citizens without a warrant, the U.S. was slow to recognize a pattern itself. From late 2015 until the summer of 2016, during routine surveillance of Russians, several countries discovered interactions between the Trump campaign and Moscow. The UK, Germany, Estonia, Poland, and Australia (and possibly the Netherlands and France) relayed their discoveries to the U.S.[6]

According to The Guardian because the materials were highly sensitive, Robert Hannigan, then the director of the UK’s GCHQ, contacted CIA director John O. Brennan to give him information directly.[6] Concerned, Brennan gave classified briefings to the Gang of Eight (the leaders of the House and Senate, and the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees) during late August and September 2016.[101] Referring only to intelligence allies and not to specific sources, Brennan told the Gang of Eight that he had received evidence that Russia might be trying to help Trump win the U.S. election.[6] On May 23 2017, Brennan stated to the House Intelligence Committee that Russia “brazenly interfered” in the 2016 US elections. He said that he first picked up on Russia’s active meddling “last summer”,[102] and that he had on August 4, 2016 warned his counterpart at Russia’s FSB intelligence agency, Alexander Bortnikov, against further interference.[103]

October 2016 ODNI / DHS joint statement

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified about Russian attempts to influence the U.S. presidential race.

At the Aspen security conference in summer 2016, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that Vladimir Putin wanted to retaliate against perceived U.S. intervention in Russian affairs with the 2011–13 Russian protests and the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych in the 2014 Ukraine crisis.[104] In July 2016, consensus grew within the CIA that Russia had hacked the DNC.[105] In a joint statement on October 7, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence expressed confidence that Russia had interfered in the presidential election by stealing emails from politicians and U.S. groups and publicizing the information.[8] On December 2, intelligence sources told CNN they had gained confidence that Russia’s efforts were aimed at helping Trump win the election.[106]

December 2016 CIA report

On December 9, the CIA told U.S. legislators the U.S. Intelligence Community had concluded, in a consensus view, that Russia conducted operations to assist Donald Trump in winning the presidency, stating that “individuals with connections to the Russian government”, previously known to the intelligence community, had given WikiLeaks hacked emails from the DNC and John Podesta.[107] The agencies further stated that Russia had hacked the RNC as well, but did not leak information obtained from there.[108] These assessments were based on evidence obtained before the election.[109] According to an unnamed official, the intelligence community did not believe that Moscow’s efforts altered the outcome of the election.[110]

FBI inquiries

In June 2016, the FBI notified the Illinois Republican Party that some of its email accounts may have been hacked.[111] In December 2016, an FBI official stated that Russian attempts to access the RNC server were unsuccessful.[108] In an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, RNC chair Reince Priebus stated they communicated with the FBI when they learned about the DNC hacks, and a review determined their servers were secure.[112] On January 10, 2017, FBI Director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia succeeded in “collecting some information from Republican-affiliated targets but did not leak it to the public”.[113]

On July 25, 2016, the FBI announced that it would investigate the hack of the Democratic National Committee emails, following the publication on July 22 of a large number of the emails by WikiLeaks.[114][115] On October 31, 2016, The New York Times stated that the FBI had been examining possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, but did not find any clear links.[116] At the time, FBI officials thought Russia was motivated to undermine confidence in the U.S. political process rather than specifically support Trump.[116] During a House Intelligence Committee hearing in early December, the CIA said it was certain of Russia’s intent to help Trump.[117] On December 16, 2016, CIA Director John O. Brennan sent a message to his staff saying he had spoken with FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and that all agreed with the CIA’s conclusion that Russia interfered in the presidential election with the motive of supporting Donald Trump’s candidacy.[118]

On March 20, 2017, during public testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, FBI director James Comey confirmed the existence of an FBI investigation into Russian interference and Russian links to the Trump campaign, including the question of whether there had been any coordination between the campaign and the Russians.[27] He said the investigation began in July 2016.[28] Comey made the unusual decision to reveal the ongoing investigation to Congress, citing benefit to the public good.[119]

December 2016 FBI / DHS Joint Analysis Report

On December 29, 2016, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released an unclassified Joint Analysis Report titled “GRIZZLY STEPPE – Russian Malicious Cyber Activity”.[96] It gave new technical details regarding methods used by Russian intelligence services for affecting the U.S. election, government, political organizations and private sector.[120][121]

The report included malware samples and other technical details as evidence that the Russian government had hacked the Democratic National Committee.[122] Alongside the report, DHS published Internet Protocol addresses, malware, and files used by Russian hackers.[120] An article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung discussed the difficulty of proof in matters of cybersecurity. Persons quoted in the article told the paper that the unclassified evidence provided by the Joint Analysis Report did not provide proof of Russian culpability. One analyst told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that U.S. intelligence services could be keeping some information secret to protect their sources and analysis methods.[123]

Ars Technica security editor Dan Goodin wrote that, the U.S. analysis lacked technical evidence of an attempt to influence the 2016 election.[124] Former hacker Kevin Poulsen, writing for The Daily Beast, stated that while other public sources provide solid evidence of Russia’s interference, the JAR report did not adequately explain it, thus encouraging conspiracy theorists who doubt the report.[98] The Daily Beast stated that the report faced criticism from cybersecurity analysts for its lack of concrete evidence and disorganization.[125]

January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment

On January 6, 2017, after briefing the president, the president-elect, and members of the Senate and House, U.S. intelligence agencies released a de-classified version[126] of the report on Russian activities. The report asserted that Russia had carried out a massive cyber operation ordered by Russian President Putin with the goal to sabotage the 2016 U.S. elections. The agencies concluded that Putin and the Russian government tried to help Trump win the election by discrediting Hillary Clinton and portraying her negatively relative to Trump, and that Russia had conducted a multipronged cyber campaign consisting of hacking and the extensive use of social media and trolls, as well as open propaganda on Russian-controlled news platforms.[127] The report contained no information how the data was collected and provided no evidence underlying its conclusions.[128][129] A large part of the report was dedicated to criticizing Russian TV channel RT America, which it described as a “messaging tool” for the Kremlin.[130] On March 5, 2017, James Clapper said, in an interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press that, regarding the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment, their report did not have evidence of collusion.[131] On May 14, 2017, in an interview with George Stephanopoulos, Clapper explained more about the state of evidence for or against any collusion, saying he was personally unaware of evidence of collusion but was also unaware of the existence of the formal investigation.[132]

Investigation into financial flows

On January 18, 2017, McClatchy reported that an investigation into “how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win” had been conducted over several months by six federal agencies: the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, the Justice Department, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the DNI.[22] The New York Times confirmed this investigation into Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone on January 19, 2017, the eve of the presidential inauguration.[133]

Preservation of evidence

On March 1, 2017, The New York Times reported that, in the last days of the Obama administration, “there was a push to process as much raw intelligence as possible into analyses, and to keep the reports at a relatively low classification level to ensure as wide a readership as possible across the [American] government…” The information was filed in many locations within federal agencies as a precaution against future concealment or destruction of evidence in the event of any investigation.[134]

U.S. government response

U.S. Senate

Joint Statement on Committee Inquiry into Russian Intelligence Activities

Members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee traveled to Ukraine and Poland in 2016 and learned about Russian operations to influence their elections.[135][135] Senator Angus King said the problem frustrated both political parties.[136] On November 30, 2016, seven members of the committee asked President Obama to declassify and publicize more information on Russia’s role in the U.S. election.[135][137] Representatives in the U.S. Congress took action to monitor the national security of the United States by advancing legislation to monitor propaganda.[138][139] On November 30, 2016, legislators approved a measure within the National Defense Authorization Act to ask the U.S. State Department to act against propaganda with an inter-agency panel.[138][139] The initiative was developed through a bipartisan bill, the Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act, written by U.S. Senators Republican Rob Portman and Democrat Chris Murphy.[138] Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden said frustration over covert Russian propaganda was bipartisan.[138]

Republican U.S. Senators stated they planned to hold hearings and investigate Russian influence on the 2016 U.S. elections.[140] By doing so they went against the preference of incoming Republican President-elect Trump, who downplayed Russian interference.[140] Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain and Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr planned investigations of Russian cyberwarfare.[140] U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker planned a 2017 investigation.[140] Senator Lindsey Graham indicated he would conduct an investigation during the 115th Congress.[140] On December 11, 2016, top-ranking bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate issued a joint statement responding to the intelligence assessments Russia influenced the election.[141] The two Republican signers were Senators Graham and McCain, both members of the Armed Services Committee; the two Democratic signers were incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and Senator Jack Reed, the ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.[142][143][144]

Senator McCain called for a special select committee of the U.S. Senate to investigate Russian meddling in the election,[145][146] and called election meddling an “act of war”.[147]Republican Senator and Intelligence Committee member James Lankford agreed that investigation into Russian influence on the elections should be cooperative between parties.[148] Republican Senator Susan Collins said a bipartisan investigation should improve proactive cyber defense.[149] Outgoing Senate Democratic Caucus leader Harry Reid said the FBI hid Russian interference to swing the election for Trump, and called for James Comey to resign.[150]

On December 12, 2016, Senate Majority Leader Republican Mitch McConnell expressed confidence in U.S. intelligence.[151] McConnell added that investigation of Russia’s actions should be bipartisan and held by the Senate Intelligence Committee.[151] The next day, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) announced the scope of the committee’s official inquiry. Senators McCain, Graham, Schumer, and Reed issued a joint bipartisan statement on December 18, urging McConnell to create a select committee tasked with the investigation.[152]

On December 14, 2016, Graham said Russians hacked into his Senate campaign email, adding that the FBI contacted his campaign in August 2016 to notify them of the breach in security that occurred in June to his campaign vendor.[153][154] On December 15, Graham stated that in order for Trump’s nominee for United States Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, to earn his confirmation vote, Tillerson would need to acknowledge his belief Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.[155]

On December 16, Burr denied that the CIA was acting on political motives and stated that intelligence employees hold diverse perspectives.[118] The committee issued a release emphasizing they earnestly took into consideration the fact that both the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders were in agreement a bipartisan investigation should take place.[156]The Senate Intelligence Committee began work on its bipartisan inquiry on January 24, 2017.[20] On May 25, 2017 a unanimous Senate Intelligence Committee voted to give both Chairmen of the Senate Intelligence Committee solo subpoena power.[157][158] On May 26, 2017, Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice-Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) both signed off on a bi-partisan subpoena for all documents, emails, telephone records and anything else responsive to be turned over to the Senate Intelligence Committee.[159]

U.S. House of Representatives

U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, Ranking Member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, commented on Putin’s aims, and said U.S. intelligence agencies were concerned with Russian propaganda.[104] Speaking about disinformation that appeared in Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland, Schiff said there was an increase of the same behavior in the U.S.[104] Schiff concluded Russian propaganda operations would continue against the U.S. after the election.[104] He put forth a recommendation for a combined House and Senate investigation similar to the Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.[160]

Republican U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said external interference in U.S. elections was intolerable.[161] Ryan said an investigation should be conducted by U.S. House Intelligence Committee chairman Representative Devin Nunes, and stated interference from Russia was troubling due to Putin’s activities against the U.S.[162] On December 12, 2016, Nunes emphasized that at the time he had only viewed circumstantial evidence Russia intended to assist Trump win.[163] On December 14, Nunes requested a formal briefing to gain more information about assertions officials had revealed to the media; the DNI refused, citing the ongoing review ordered by President Obama.[164]

In January 2017, both the House and Senate intelligence committees launched investigations on the Russian meddling into the presidential election, including possible ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia.[21] In February, General Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor, resigned after it had been discovered that he had been in touch with the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, discussing the possibility of lifting sanctions against Russia.[165]

On February 24, 2017, Republican Congressman Darrell Issa called for a special prosecutor to investigate whether Russia meddled with the U.S. election and was in contact with Trump’s team during the presidential campaign, saying that it would be improper for Trump’s appointee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to lead the investigation.[166][167] On March 19, 2017, Schiff told Meet the Press that there was sufficient evidence to warrant further investigation.[168] On March 22, 2017, Schiff stated that he had seen evidence of a higher standard than circumstantial regarding collusion.[169] On April 6, 2017, Nunes temporarily recused himself from the Russia investigation after the House Ethics Committee announced that it would investigate accusations against him that he had disclosed classified information without authorization. Representative Mike Conaway subsequently assumed control of the investigation.[170]

Obama administration

President Obama ordered the United States Intelligence Community to investigate election hacking attempts since 2008.[24]

U.S. President Obama and Vladimir Putin had a discussion about computer security issues in September 2016, which took place over the course of an hour and a half.[171] During the discussion, which took place as a side segment during the then-ongoing G20 summit in China, Obama made his views known on cyber security matters between the U.S. and Russia.[171] Obama said Russian hacking stopped after his warning to Putin.[172]One month after that discussion the email leaks from the DNC cyber attack had not ceased, and President Obama decided to contact Putin via the Moscow–Washington hotline, commonly known as the red phone, on October 31, 2016.[11] Obama emphasized the gravity of the situation by telling Putin: “International law, including the law for armed conflict, applies to actions in cyberspace.”[11]

On December 9, 2016, Obama ordered the U.S. Intelligence Community to investigate Russian interference in the election and report before he left office on January 20, 2017.[24] U.S. Homeland Security Advisor and chief counterterrorism advisor to the president Lisa Monaco announced the study, and said foreign intrusion into a U.S. election was unprecedented and would necessitate investigation by subsequent administrations.[173] The intelligence analysis would cover malicious cyberwarfare occurring between the 2008 and 2016 elections.[174][175] CNN reported that an unnamed senior administration official told them that the White House was confident Russia interfered in the election.[176] The official said the order by President Obama would be a lessons learned report, with options including sanctions and covert cyber response against Russia.[176]

On December 12, 2016, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was critical of Trump’s rejection of the idea that Russia used cyberattacks to influence the election.[177] Earnest contrasted Trump’s comments on Twitter with the October 2016 conclusions of the U.S. Intelligence Community.[177] At a subsequent White House press conference on December 15, Earnest said Trump and the public were aware prior to the 2016 election of Russian interference efforts, calling these undisputed facts.[36] United States Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on December 15, 2016, about President Obama’s decision to approve the October 2016 joint statement by the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.[31] Kerry stated the president’s decision was deliberative and relied upon information cautiously weighed by the intelligence agencies.[31] He said the president felt a need to warn the U.S. public and did.[31]

In a December 15, 2016 interview by NPR journalist Steve Inskeep, Obama said the U.S. government would respond to Russia via overt and covert methods, in order to send an unambiguous symbol to the world that any such interference would have harsh consequences.[171] He added that motive behind the Russian operation could better be determined after completion of the intelligence report he ordered.[171] Obama emphasized that Russian efforts caused more harm to Clinton than to Trump during the campaign.[171] At a press conference the following day, he highlighted his September 2016 admonition to Putin to cease engaging in cyberwarfare against the U.S.[178] Obama explained that the U.S. did not publicly reciprocate against Russia’s actions due to a fear such choices would appear partisan.[178] President Obama minimized conflict between his administration and the Trump transition, stressing cyber warfare against the U.S. should be a bipartisan issue.[179]

Sanctions imposed on Russia

 Executive Order 13694

Executive Order 13694, expelling Russian diplomats and enacting other retaliatory measures

On December 29, 2016, the U.S. government announced a series of punitive measures against Russia.[180][181] Namely, the Obama administration imposed sanctions on four top officials of the GRU and declared persona non grata 35 Russian diplomats suspected of spying:[182][Note 2] they were ordered to leave the country within 72 hours. Further sanctions against Russia were announced, both overt and covert.[122][184][185] A White House statement said that cyberwarfare by Russia was geared to undermine US trust in democracy and impact the election.[186] President Obama said his decision was taken after previous warnings to Russia.[187] On December 30, two waterfront compounds used by families of Russian embassy personnel were shut down on orders of the U.S. government, citing spying activities: one in Upper Brookville, New York, on Long Island, and the other in Centreville, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore.[181][188][189] They had served as luxury retreats for various Russian diplomats over several decades.[190]

2017 developments

Dismissal of FBI director James Comey

A brief letter on an 8.5x11 sheet of White House stationery with a colored seal at the top and large signature in marker

Trump’s letter firing Comey (page 1 of 6 pictured)

On May 9, 2017, the Trump Administration dismissed Comey, attributing it to a recommendation from United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein,[191] particularly Rosenstein who had submitted a memo critical of Comey’s conduct in the investigation about Hillary Clinton’s emails.[192] Reportedly Trump had been talking to aides about firing Comey for at least a week before acting, and had asked Justice Department officials to come up with a rationale for dismissing him.[193][194] Trump later confirmed that he had intended to fire Comey regardless of any Justice Department recommendation.[195] Trump himself and a White House spokesperson also seemed to tie the firing to the Russia investigation, with Trump saying “When I decided to [fire Comey], I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.'”[196] [197] Trump was also reported to have told Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” adding “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”[198][199][200]

The dismissal came as a surprise to Comey and most of Washington, and was described as having “vast political ramifications” because of the Bureau’s ongoing investigation into Russian activities in the 2016 election.[201] The termination was immediately controversial. It was compared to the Saturday Night Massacre, President Richard Nixon‘s termination of special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who had been investigating the Watergate scandal,[202][203] and to the dismissal of Sally Yates in January 2017.[204]

White House attempts to influence the investigation

In May 2017 a February memo by James Comey was made public, describing an Oval Office conversation with Trump on February 14, 2017, in which Trump is described as attempting to persuade Comey to drop the FBI investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.[205][206] The memo notes that Trump said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” Comey made no commitments to Trump on the subject.[207] Comey reportedly created similar memos about every phone call and meeting he had with the president.[208] Earlier, senior White House officials had reportedly asked intelligence officials if they could intervene to stop the FBI investigation into Michael Flynn.[209]

In February 2017 it was reported that White House officials had asked the FBI to issue a statement that there had been no contact between Trump associates and Russian intelligence sources during the 2016 campaign. The FBI did not make the requested statement, and observers noted that the request violated established procedures about contact between the White House and the FBI regarding pending investigations.[210] After Comey revealed in March that the FBI was investigating the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Trump reportedly asked Director of National Security Admiral Michael S. Rogers to speak out publicly if he had not seen evidence of collusion. Trump also made a similar request to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats.[209] Both Coats and Rogers believed that the request was inappropriate, though not illegal, and did not make the requested statement. The two exchanged notes about the incident, and Rogers made a contemporary memo to document the request.[211][212]

Disclosure of classified information to Russia

According to a current and former government official, Trump discussed highly classified intelligence in a May 10, 2017 meeting in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, providing details on sources and methods.[213][214][215] The intelligence was about an ISIL plot.[213] During the same meeting, Trump told Russian officials that firing the F.B.I. director, James Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him. He stated, “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” He continued, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”[216][217]

Investigation by special counsel

Shoulder height portrait of man in his sixties wearing a suit and tie

Special counsel Mueller directed the FBI from 2001 to 2013.

Appointment of special counsel

On May 17, 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel in its investigation. Mueller will direct FBI agents and Department of Justice prosecutors investigating election interference by Russia.[30][218][219] As special counsel, Mueller will have the power to issue subpoenas,[220] hire staff members, request funding, and prosecute federal crimes in connection with the election interference.[221] On May 23, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts announced they had declared Mueller ethically able to function as special counsel.[222] In an interview with the Associated Press, Rosenstein said he would recuse himself if any of his (Rosentein’s) actions were to become a subject in the investigation due to his role in the dismissal of James Comey.[223]

Links between Trump associates and Russian officials

As of March 2017, the FBI is investigating Russian involvement in the election, including alleged links between Trump’s associates and the Russian government.[27] British and the Dutch intelligence have given information to United States intelligence about meetings in European cities between Russian officials, associates of Putin, and associates of then-President-elect Trump. American intelligence agencies also intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates.[134] The New York Times reported that multiple Trump associates, including campaign chairman Paul Manafort and other members of his campaign, had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials during 2016, although officials said that so far, they did not have evidence that Trump’s campaign had co-operated with the Russians to influence the election.[224]

Chest height portrait of man in his sixties wearing a suit and tie

Russian diplomat Sergey Kislyak met with a number of U.S. officials.

In particular, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak has met several Trump campaign members and administration nominees; involved people dismissed those meetings as routine conversations in preparation for assuming the presidency. Trump’s team has issued at least twenty denials concerning communications between his campaign and Russian officials;[225] several of these denials turned out to be false.[226] In the early months of 2017, Trump and other senior White House officials asked the Director of National Intelligence, the NSA director, the FBI director, and two chairs of congressional committees to publicly dispute the news reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia.[227][228]

Michael Flynn

National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced to resign on February 13, 2017, after it was revealed that on December 29, 2016, the day that Obama announced sanctions against Russia, Flynn had discussed the sanctions with Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. Flynn had earlier acknowledged speaking to Kislyak but denied discussing the sanctions.[229][230]

On March 2, 2017, The New York Times reported that Kislyak met with Flynn and Jared Kushner in December 2016 to establish a line of communication with the Trump administration.[231] In May 2017 it was further reported that at that December meeting, Kushner and Flynn asked the Russians to set up a direct, encrypted communications channel with Moscow, so that Flynn could speak directly to Russian military officials about Syria and other issues without the knowledge of American intelligence agencies. Kislyak was hesitant to allow Americans to have access to Russia’s secure communications network, and no such channel was actually set up.[232][233]

In December 2015 Flynn was paid $45,000 by Russia Today for delivering a talk in Moscow, and Russia provided him a 3-day, all-expenses-paid trip.[234] Two months later, in February 2016 when he was applying for a renewal of his security clearance, he stated that he had received no income from foreign companies and had only “insubstantial contact” with foreign nationals.[235] Glenn A. Fine, the acting Defense Department Inspector General, has confirmed he is investigating Flynn.[234] CNN reported that, during a phone call intercepted by American Intelligence, Russian officials claimed they had cultivated such a strong relationship with Flynn that they believed they could use him to influence Donald Trump and his team.[236]

Other Trump associates

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an early and prominent supporter of Trump’s campaign, spoke twice with Russian ambassador Kislyak before the election – once in July 2016 at the Republican convention and once in September 2016 in Sessions’ Senate office. In his confirmation hearings, Sessions testified that he “did not have communications with the Russians about the election”.[237] On March 2, 2017, Sessions recused himself from any investigations into Russia’s election interference,[238] deferring to Rod Rosenstein.

In April 2017, it was reported that Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, on his application for top secret security clearance, failed to disclose numerous meetings with foreign officials, including Ambassador Kislyak and Sergei Gorkov, the head of the Russian state-owned bank Vnesheconombank. Kushner’s lawyers called the omissions “an error”. The Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election plans to question Kushner in connection with the meetings he had with these individuals.[239]

The New York Times reported that campaign chairman Paul Manafort had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials during 2016. Manafort said he did not knowingly meet any Russian intelligence officials.[224] Intercepted communications during the campaign show that Russian officials believed they could use Manafort to influence Trump.[102]

Roger Stone, a former adviser to Donald Trump and business partner of Paul Manafort, stated that he had been in contact with Guccifer 2.0, a hacker persona believed to be a front for Russian intelligence operations, who had publicly claimed responsibility for at least one hack of the DNC.[240] Stone had predicted the Wikileaks release of the Podesta emails which damaged the Hillary Clinton electoral campaign.[241] Stone also reportedly stated privately that he has “actually communicated with Julian Assange“, although he has since denied this.[242]

Oil industry consultant Carter Page had his communications monitored by the FBI under a FISA warrant during the summer of 2016, after he was suspected to act as an agent for Russia. Page told The Washington Post that he considered that to be “unjustified, politically motivated government surveillance”.[243] Page spoke with Kislyak during the 2016 Republican National Convention, acting as a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump.[244][245] In 2013 he had met with Viktor Podobnyy, then a junior attaché at the Russian Permanent Mission to the United Nations, at an energy conference, and provided him with documents on the U.S. energy industry.[246] Podobnyy was later charged with spying, but was protected from prosecution by diplomatic immunity.[247] The FBI interviewed Page in 2013 as part of an investigation into Podonyy’s spy ring, but never accused Page of wrongdoing.[247]

On January 11, 2017, UAE officials organized a meeting in the Seychelles between Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater security company and a Trump campaign donor, and an unnamed Russian “close to Vladimir Putin”. They reportedly discussed a “back channel” between Trump and Putin along with Middle East policy, notably about Syria and Iran. U.S. officials told the Washington Post and NBC News that the FBI was investigating the meeting; the FBI refused to comment.[248]

On May 30, 2017, both the House and Senate congressional panels asked President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen,[249] to “provide information and testimony” about any communications he had with people connected to the Kremlin.[250][249]

On June 1, 2017, The Guardian reported that Nigel Farage, former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party and one the first foreign political figures to meet Trump following the election, was a person of interest in the FBI investigation, which Farage denied.[251]

Steele dossier

Christopher Steele, a former MI6 agent, was hired by Fusion GPS to produce opposition research on Donald Trump. His reports were first sold to Republicans, then to Democrats, and included alleged kompromat which may expose Trump to blackmail from Russia. A 35-page compilation was leaked to the press in October 2016 but was not published by mainstream media who doubted the material’s credibility.[252] On January 5, 2017, U.S. intelligence agencies briefed President Obama and President-elect Trump on the existence of these documents.[253] Eventually, the dossier was published in full by BuzzFeed on January 11.[254]

On March 30, 2017, Paul Wood of BBC News revealed that the FBI was using the dossier as a roadmap for its investigation.[255] On April 18, 2017, CNN reported that corroborated information from the dossier had been used as part of the basis for getting the FISA warrant to monitor former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page during the summer of 2016.[256]

Commentary and reactions

Public opinion

A Quinnipiac University poll conducted January 5–9, 2017, showed that 55% of respondents believed that Russia interfered in the election.[257] According to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted January 12–15, 51% of respondents said they believed Russia intervened in the election through hacking.[258] As of February 2017 public-opinion polls showed a partisan split on the importance of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election.[259] An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 53 percent wanted a Congressional inquiry into communications in 2016 between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.[260] Quinnipiac University found that 47 percent thought it was very important.[261] A March 2017 poll conducted by the Associated Press and NORC found about 62% of respondents say they are at least moderately concerned about the possibility that Trump or his campaign had inappropriate contacts with Russia during the 2016 campaign.[262]

According to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in late March and early April 2017, 68% of voters supported “an independent commission investigating the potential links between some of Donald Trump’s campaign advisors and the Russian government”.[263] An April 2017 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that respondents had little confidence in Congress’s investigation into the Russian interference in the election. The poll reported that “some 73% of adults in the survey said that a nonpartisan, independent commission should look into Russia’s involvement in the election”.[264] An ABC News/Washington Post poll conducted in April 2017 found that 56 percent of respondents thought that Russia tried to influence the election.[265]

A May 2017 Monmouth University poll, conducted after the dismissal of James Comey, found that “nearly 6-in-10 Americans thought it was either very (40%) or somewhat (19%) likely that Comey was fired in order to slow down or stop the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible links with the Trump campaign.” Like other recent opinion polls, a majority, 73%, said that the FBI investigation should continue.[266] A second May 2017 poll conducted after Comey’s dismissal by Quinnipiac University reported significantly higher levels of unease than in previous polls. The poll asked respondents if they thought that “President Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey because President Trump had lost confidence in his ability to lead the FBI well, or that President Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey to disrupt the FBI investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government”. 55% of the sample said that they thought Comey was fired to disrupt an investigation.[267]

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton said Vladimir Putin held a grudge against her due to her criticism of the 2011 Russian legislative election.[156]

On December 15, 2016, Hillary Clinton gave a gratitude speech to her campaign donors in which she reflected on Putin’s motivations for the covert operation.[268] She partially attributed her loss in the 2016 election to Russian meddling organized by Putin.[269] Clinton said Putin had a personal grudge against her, and linked his feelings to her criticism of the 2011 Russian legislative election, adding that he felt she was responsible for fomenting the 2011–13 Russian protests.[156] She drew a specific connection from her 2011 assertions as U.S. Secretary of State that Putin rigged the elections that year, to his actions in the 2016 U.S. elections.[268] During the third debate, Clinton stated that Putin favored Trump, “because he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States”.[270] Clinton said that by personally attacking her through meddling in the election, Putin additionally took a strike at the American democratic system.[269] She said the cyber attacks were a larger issue than the effect on her own candidacy and called them an attempt to attack the national security of the United States.[156] Clinton noted she was unsuccessful in sufficiently publicizing to the media the cyber attacks against her campaign in the months leading up to the election.[268] She voiced her support for a proposal put forth by U.S. Senators from both parties, to set up an investigative panel to look into the matter akin to the 9/11 Commission.[268]

Republican National Committee

The RNC said there was no intrusion into its servers, while acknowledging email accounts of individual Republicans (including Colin Powell) were breached. Over 200 emails from Colin Powell were posted on the website DC Leaks.[108][271] Chief of staff-designate for Trump and outgoing RNC Chairman Reince Priebus appeared on Meet the Press on December 11, 2016, and discounted the CIA conclusions. Priebus said the FBI had investigated and found that RNC servers had not been hacked.[112] When asked by Chuck Todd whether Russia interfered in the election, Priebus stated that despite the conclusion of intelligence officials, he still didn’t “know who did the hacking”.[272]

Donald Trump

Trump’s transition team dismissed the U.S. Intelligence community conclusions.

Prior to his presidential run, Donald Trump made statements to Fox News in 2014 in which he agreed with an assessment by FBI director James Comey about hacking against the U.S. by Russia and China.[273] Trump was played a clip of Comey from 60 Minutes discussing the dangers of cyber attacks.[273] Trump stated he agreed with the problem of cyber threats posed by China, and went on to emphasize there was a similar problem towards the U.S. posed by Russia.[273]

In September 2016, during the first presidential debate, Trump said he doubted whether anyone knew who hacked the DNC, and disputed Russian interference.[274] During the second debate, Trump said there might not have been hacking at all, and questioned why accountability was placed on Russia.[275] During the third debate, Trump rejected Clinton’s claim that Putin favored Trump.[270] After the election, Trump rejected the CIA analysis and asserted that the reports were politically motivated to deflect from the Democrats’ electoral defeat.[17] Trump’s transition team drew attention to prior errors emanating from the CIA,[18] namely stating: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”[108] The intelligence analysts involved in monitoring Russian activities are most likely different from those who assessed that Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.[276] Responding to The Washington Post, Trump dismissed reports of Russia’s interference, calling them “ridiculous”; he placed blame on Democrats upset over election results for publicizing these reports,[277] and cited Julian Assange‘s statement that “a 14-year-old kid could have hacked Podesta.”[278] After Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats and announced further sanctions on Russia, Trump commended Putin for refraining from retaliatory measures against the United States until the Trump administration would lay out its policy towards Russia.[279]

File:WATCH Trump says Russia will have greater respect for U.S..webmhd.webm

Excerpt of Trump’s press conference on January 11, 2017, discussing the issue.

On January 6, 2017, after meeting with members of U.S. intelligence agencies, Trump released a statement saying: cyberwarfare had no impact on the election and did not harm voting machines. In the same statement, he vowed to form a national cybersecurity task force to prepare an anti-hacking plan within 90 days of taking office.[280] Referring to the Office of Personnel Management data breach in 2015, Trump told The New York Times he was under a “political witch hunt”, and wondered why there was no focus on China.[281] Two days later, Reince Priebus reported that Trump had begun to acknowledge that “entities in Russia” were involved in the DNC leaks.[282] On January 11, 2017, Trump conceded that Russia was probably the source of the leaks, although he also said it could have been another country.[283][284]

WikiLeaks

In July 2016, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange stated he had not seen evidence linking Russia to the emails leaked from the DNC.[285] In November 2016, Assange said Russia was not the source of John Podesta’s hacked emails published by Wikileaks.[286] On January 3, 2017, he said that a “14-year-old kid could have hacked Podesta’s emails.”[287] On January 6, 2017, Reuters reported on a secret briefing given to Barack Obama by U.S. intelligence agencies on January 5, and scheduled to be shown to Trump a few days later. According to this assessment, the CIA had identified specific Russian officials who provided hacked e-mails to WikiLeaks, following “a circuitous route” from Russia’s military intelligence services (GRU) to third parties and then WikiLeaks, thus enabling WikiLeaks to claim that the Russian government was not the source of the material.[288]

Electoral College

On December 10, ten electors, headed by Christine Pelosi, wrote an open letter to the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper demanding an intelligence briefing on investigations into foreign intervention in the presidential election.[289][290] Fifty-eight additional electors subsequently added their names to the letter,[290] bringing the total to 68 electors from 17 different states.[291] The Clinton campaign supported the call for a classified briefing for electors, with John Podesta saying electors “have a solemn responsibility under the Constitution.”[292] On December 16, the briefing request was denied.[293]

United States Intelligence community

The CIA assessment, and Trump’s dismissal of it, created an unprecedented rupture between the president-elect and the intelligence community.[294][295][296] On December 11, 2016, U.S. intelligence officials responded to Trump’s denunciation of its findings in a written statement, and expressed dismay Trump disputed their conclusions as politically motivated or inaccurate. They wrote that intelligence officials were motivated to defend U.S. national security.[294] On the same day, The Guardian reported that members of the intelligence community feared reprisals from Donald Trump once he takes office.[297] Former CIA director Michael Morell said foreign interference in U.S. elections was an existential threat.[298] Former CIA spokesman George E. Little condemned Trump for dismissing the CIA assessment, saying that the president-elect’s atypical response was disgraceful and denigrated the courage of those who serve in the CIA at risk to their own lives.[299] Former NSA director and CIA director Michael V. Hayden said that Trump’s antagonizing the Intelligence Community signaled the administration would rely less on intelligence for policy-making.[300] Independent presidential candidate and former CIA intelligence officer Evan McMullin criticized the Republican leadership for failing to respond adequately to Russia’s meddling in the election process.[301] McMullin said Republican politicians were aware that publicly revealed information about Russia’s interference was likely the tip of the iceberg relative to the actual threat.[301]

Russia

The Russian government initially issued categorical denials of any involvement in the U.S. presidential election.[15] Already in June 2016, in a statement to Reuters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied any connection of Russian government bodies to the DNC hacks that had been blamed on Russia.[12][54] When a new intelligence report surfaced in December 2016, Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia, rejected the accusations again.[13][31] When ABC News wrote that Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved in the covert operation,[32] Peskov called this report garbage.[302] On December 16, 2016, Peskov called on the U.S. government to cease discussion of the topic unless they provide evidence to back up their assertions.[303] According to The New Yorker, a pro-Kremlin MP justified the Russian attacks as a possible counterpunch to U.S. interference in foreign elections via color revolutions.[304]

At the Valdai forum in October 2016, Vladimir Putin denounced American “hysteria” over alleged Russian interference.[14] During his December 23 press conference, Putin deflected questions on the issue by accusing the U.S. Democratic Party of scapegoating Russia after losing the presidential election. He also remarked that the Republicans won control of the House and Senate in state elections and wondered if Russia was deemed responsible for this as well.[305] In early 2017, it was reported that there was a purge of suspected traitors underway in Russia’s intelligence apparatus that mainly targeted computer security professionals, the arrested men being charged “with treason in favor of the United States”; expert opinions were voiced that those arrested might have provided the U.S. government with information that allowed the U.S. intelligence officials to accuse Russia of using hackers to try influence the 2016 presidential election.[306][307][113]

On December 30, 2016, commenting on his eventual decision to refrain from retaliatory measures to actions by the U.S. on December 29, Putin released a published statement that his government, while reserving its legitimate right to respond adequately, would not take action at that time; he also invited all the children of the U.S. diplomats accredited in Russia to New Year’s and Christmas celebrations at the Kremlin. The statement went on to say that Russia would take work on Russian-American relations under the administration of President D. Trump.[308][26][309] In May 2017, Russian banker Andrey Kostin, an associate of President Vladimir Putin, said the Washington elite was purposefully disrupting the presidency of Donald Trump.[310][311]

On June 1, 2017, Putin told journalists in St. Petersburg that “patriotically minded” Russian hackers could have been responsible for the cyberattacks against the U.S. during the 2016 campaign, while continuing to deny government involvement. Putin said that hackers “are like artists” stating: “If they are patriotically minded, they start making their contributions — which are right, from their point of view — to the fight against those who say bad things about Russia. Putin continued to deny Russian government involving, stating, “We’re not doing this on the state level.”[15] Putin’s comments echoed similar remarks that he had made earlier the same week to the French newspaper Le Figaro.[15]The shift in Russia’s stance mirrored Russia’s shift of public positions on the 2014 annexation of Crimea and conflict in eastern Ukraine: Putin at first categorically denied the involvement of Russian troops, but months later admitted that Russian forces had “of course” taken part.[15] The line between state and non-state actors in Russian influence efforts abroad is unclear: “Nominally private Russian citizens have fought alongside Russian-speaking rebels in eastern Ukraine and have taken part in various campaigns to advance Moscow’s agenda in Eastern and Central Europe.

Business projects of Donald Trump in Russia

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Donald Trump has repeatedly pursued business deals in Russia since 1987, and has sometimes traveled there to explore potential business opportunities. In 1996, Trump trademark applications were submitted for potential Russian real estate development deals. Trump’s partners and children have repeatedly visited Moscow, connecting with developers and government officials to explore joint venture opportunities. Trump was never able to successfully conclude any real estate deals in Russia. However, individual Russians have invested heavily in Trump properties, and following Trump’s bankruptcies in the 1990s he borrowed money from Russian sources. In 2008 his son Donald Trump Jr. said that Russia was an important source of money for the Trump businesses.

In January 2017, BuzzFeed reported the existence of the unverified Donald Trump–Russia dossier (also called the Steele dossier), which alleged connections between Trump associates and Russia. Trump responded the next day, and again at a February news conference, that he has no financial connections to Russia. In response to ongoing questions, White House press secretary Sean Spicer reiterated in May that Trump has no business connections to Russia. Also in May, Trump’s tax lawyers sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee saying Trump had not received any income from Russian sources over the past 10 years “with a few exceptions”.

Becoming well known[edit source]

In 1987 Trump visited Russia to investigate developing a hotel. In 1996 Trump partnered with Liggett-Ducat, a small company, and planned to build an upscale residential development on a Liggett-Ducat property in Moscow. Trump commissioned New York architect Ted Liebman, who did the sketches. In Russia, Trump promoted the proposal and acclaimed the Russian economic market. At a news conference reported by The Moscow Times, Trump said he hadn’t been “as impressed with the potential of a city as I have been with Moscow” in contrast to other cities had visited “all over the world.”[1]

By this time, Trump made known his desire to build in Moscow to government officials for almost ten years “ranging from the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev (they first met in Washington in 1987) to the military figure Alexander Lebed.”[1] Moscow’s mayor, Yuri M. Luzhkov, showed Trump plans for a very large shopping mall to be located underground in the vicinity of the Kremlin. The mayor complimented Trump’s suggestion that this mall should be connected to the Moscow Metro, a rapid transit system serving Moscow. Hence, Okhotny Ryad shopping center visitors now have access to the Metro (underground). Although the 1996 residential development did not happen, Trump was by this time well known in Russia.[2]

Expanding the Trump brand[edit source]

A wide-ranging business stratagem included Russia in ventures intended to internationally expand the Trump brand. It was in the mid-2000s that Trump transitioned from building and investing in real estate to simply licensing his name to hotels, condominiums, and commercial towers. Although a strategy of taking a percentage from the sales was successful in other countries, his terms were not agreeable to Russians and conflicted with their way of doing business with American hotel chains.[1][2]

Between 2000–2010 Trump partnered with a development company headquartered in New York represented by a Russian immigrant, Felix Sater. During this period, they partnered for an assortment of deals that included building Trump towers internationally and Russia was included. For example, in 2005 Slater acted as an agent for building a Trump tower alongside Moscow River with letters of intent in hand and “square footage was being analyzed.”[1][2]

In 2006, Trump’s children Donald Jr. and Ivanka stayed in the Hotel National, Moscow for several days, across from the Kremlin, to see promising partners, with the intent of doing real estate development deals.[1][3][4] Sater had traveled to Moscow with Ivanka and Donald Jr.[1][2]

Trump was associated with Tevfik Arif, formerly a Soviet commerce official and founder of a development company called the Bayrock Group, of which Sater was also a partner. Bayrock searched for deals in Russia while Trump branded towers were attempting to further expand in the United States. Sater said, “We looked at some very, very large properties in Russia,” on the scale of “…a large Vegas high-rise.”[1] In 2007, Bayrock organized a potential deal in Moscow between Trump International Hotel and Russian investors.[2]

During 2006–2008 Trump’s company applied for a number of trademarks in Russia with the goal of real estate developments. These trademark applications include: Trump, Trump Tower, Trump International Hotel and Tower, and Trump Home.[5][6] In 2008, he said as a speaker at a Manhattan real estate conference that he feared the outcome of doing business deals in Russia, but he really prefers “Moscow over all cities in the world” and that within 18 months he had been in Russia a half-dozen times.[1][2]

Business contacts[edit source]

In a 2015 interview, Trump said that his repeated attempts to launch business deals with Russians resulted in contacts 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.”[1][2]

Trump Super Premium Vodka, bottles glazed with 24-karat gold, debuted in 2007 at the Millionaire’s Fair in Moscow. It was successful only until sometime in 2009. Trump attempted to create a reality show in St. Petersburg, starring a Russian athlete. However, this was not successful.[1][2]

Business connections outside of Russia[edit source]

After his bankruptcies in the 1990s, Trump borrowed money from Russian financiers.[5][6] At a 2008 Manhattan real estate conference Donald Trump Jr. said one of Trump’s main sources of income are Russian customers, noting “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets… we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”[3][2][7][8]

A 2008 home sale in Florida has received extensive scrutiny. Trump bought a 6.3-acre estate in 2005 for about $41 million, and sold it to Russian oligarch Dmitry Ruybolovlev in 2008 for $95 million, billed as the most expensive single-family home sale ever. Ruybolovlev eventually tore down the house and subdivided the property.[9]

Individual Russians have invested heavily in Trump buildings and other real estate. One report said that 63 different Russians have purchased $100 million worth of apartments in Trump-branded Florida properties. This is probably an undercount since many of the properties were purchased by limited liability companies. The report added that there is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Trump in these purchases, and that many Russians regard American real estate as a good, safe investment.[10]

Trump’s responses[edit source]

On January 10, 2017, BuzzFeed reported the existence of the Trump-Russia dossier (also called the Steele dossier), a series of reports prepared by a private intelligence source in Great Britain. The unverified dossier alleged various connections and collusion between Trump associates and Russia before and during the 2016 presidential election.[11]The next day, January 11, Trump tweeted, “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”[12]USA Today evaluated that assertion as “not exactly true”.[13] At a February 16, 2017 press conference, Trump said, “And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia.”[14]

On May 9, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, “He [Trump] has no business in Russia. He has no connections to Russia.”[15] Also on May 9, 2017, Trump’s tax law firm sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which said a review of Trump’s tax returns for the past 10 years did not find income from Russian sources during that period, save for “a few exceptions”.[16] The exceptions were the sale of a Trump-owned estate in Florida for $95 million to a Russian billionaire, and $12.2 million in payments in connection with holding the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013, plus a number of “immaterial” deals. No independently verifiable evidence was provided, such as tax returns, and it has been noted that even disclosure of tax returns would not necessarily disclose Russian-source income. The letter also said Trump had received undisclosed payments over 10 years from Russians for hotel rooms, rounds of golf, or Trump-licensed products such as wine, ties, or mattresses, which would not have been identified as coming from Russian sources in the tax returns.[17] The letter was a response to earlier requests from Senator Lindsey Graham asking whether there were any such ties