As promised, I will keep updating this regularly with new developments. You’ll find the text of my original posts from 2/21 and 3/3 below, with new content since then highlighted in blue text. These past two weeks there hasn’t been as big a splash as the Flynn or Sessions revelations of weeks past. Instead, there has been a slow build-up of corroborating evidence around what’s already known, setting of the first Congressional hearing dates, and increasing calls for an independent panel or prosecutor. With those hearings set for March 20th, late March/April is likely to be an interesting time for further developments. Also, if you think this is becoming a long read, Political Wire has produced a complete timeline of Trump-Russia affairs dating back to the 80s that runs over 100 pages! Sometimes, where there’s smoke, there really is fire…
Among my various ventures into activism since the election, I joined an online group where each member takes ownership of two issues. This group is based on the theory that nobody can be continuously engaged on all issues all the time. So, for our adopted issues, we each update the group on new information, issue action calls when appropriate, etc.
As an election wonk, one of my adopted issues is the midterm elections. The other I’ve chosen is keeping track of developments regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump official contacts with Russia. Being a Cold War kid from Reagan’s 80s Cold War relapse and a lifelong fan of spy fact and fiction, it was perhaps inevitable.
The good news is that I’ll be sharing my work not just with my group, but also with all of you! Below I’ve gathered some of the major news items relating to Russian interference/Russian contact, complete with links, arranged roughly chronologically, and sorted into “confirmed”, “probable” and “read this at your own risk” categories.
I have endeavored to provide sources from reliable journalistic outlets for the most part. Based on everything I read putting this together, I am developing some firm suspicions, and will share those, along with updates, along the way. But for now, to quote a well-known not always reliable journalistic outlet: I report, you decide.
- Evidence first emerged in July 2016 that Russian hackers were the source of the massive dump of hacked e-mails from the DNC and several other Democratic campaign-related organizations released shortly before the Democratic Convention.
- Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort was confirmed in August 2016 to have had former Ukranian-President Viktor Yanukovych as a consulting client. Manafort’s firm received over $12 million in payments from Yanukovych’s political party between 2007 and 2012. Yanukovych has close ties to Russia, and his push for Russian ties and alleged role in Russian incursions in the Ukraine was part of the impetus for his ouster as President following popular demonstrations. The status of Manafort’s communications with Russia are under FBI investigation.
- Some sources believe Manafort was behind the watering down of a plank to the Republican platform calling for U.S. support in arming the Ukraine. The plank had been introduced to the foreign policy sub-committee by a Texas delegate who was a Reagan-administration appointee and an observer in the Ukraine’s first free elections in 1998. It was then weakened to include only “non-lethal support” was under pressure from two pro-Trump delegates who were in cell phone communication with someone after saying they had to call to talk to “Mr. Trump.”.
The New York Times has reported that, in addition to Manafort, three other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election. American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee. The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election. Investigations into Manafort and the other three (Michael Flynn, Carter Page, and Roger Stone) are ongoing, but so far have not uncovered evidence of such cooperation.
- Despite his July 2016 campaign trail denials that he had any contact with Putin, several year’s worth of statements by Trump, including a 2013 video of him describing his strong personal relationship with Putin, have emerged.
- It is also known that, while Trump’s claim that he has “zero investments in Russia” is technically true, Russian financiers are heavily involved in backing many of Trump’s investments in other countries. Many of these financiers are closely tied to Putin and the circle of oligarchs that form his base of support.
- Christopher Steele, a former MI6 official posted in Russia in the 90s, produced a 35-page dossier detailing allegations of improper contacts between Trump and Russian officials. The research behind the memo originally began in September 2015 as part of opposition research by Republican opponents of Trump. Steele was hired by the firm doing the research, Fusion GPS , in June 2016 after Russian interference allegations surfaced. It was subsequently continued in the Fall with Democratic clients paying Fusion GPS for the research. The dossier is composed of multiple several page memos written between June and December 2016. Pieces of it had circulated among several news organizations, intelligence agencies, and senior officials including John McCain. An intelligence briefing on the memo was shared with President-elect Trump and President Obama in early January 2017. Multiple sources in British intelligence describe Steele as an experienced and professional asset, whose work was usually of very high quality.
- It is important to note that some details in the memos have been proven incorrect, most prominently a meeting between Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a Russian official in Prague. The news organizations that were in possession of the memos pre-election had not gone public with them because they could not confirm enough details to feel comfortable releasing them.
- In one indication of the general regard for his work, the FBI was revealed on 2/28/17 to have been about to hire Steele to further help with their investigation into Russian interference and possible Trump campaign ties. This wasn’t considered a necessary endorsement of all of his findings, but rather respect for the quality of his work. The plan was scrapped after the memos began to circulate and became controversial.
- In December 2016, the Russian government sold a 19.5% share of the state oil company, Roseneft. The sale was facilitated by finance companies in Qatar and Singapore, involves a Cayman Island holding-company, and the ultimate identity of the purchaser cannot be verified from public documents. The potential significance of this is that one of the allegations of the Steele memos is that Putin offered Trump a 19% share of Roseneft if he was elected and agreed to lift sanctions on Russia.
- Oleg Erovinkin, a former KGB official and key aide to Igor Sechin, the head of the Russian State Oil company Roseneft and prominent figure in the Steele memos, was found dead in Moscow on 12/26/16. Steele’s documents indicate one of his primary sources was a figure close to Sechin, and there is speculation that Erovinkin was that source. The death appears to be due to foul play.
- The U.S. intelligence community reiterated in December 2016 the October conclusion by 17 intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the hacking and leak of DNC e-mails embarrassing to the Clinton campaign. The December finding went beyond the October assessment, in identifying the hack as part of a more concerted Russian effort to influence the U.S. election, with the specific goal of electing Trump. Among the pieces of information bolstering this conclusion is the identity of the hackers who breached DNC servers and released private material from them, evidence that entities connected to the Russian government were bankrolling “troll farms” that spread fake news about Clinton, and high-level intelligence indicating that Putin was personally involved in deciding what information was leaked and how it was used.
- Russian media also announced that three senior officials of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, and a cyber-security contractor working with the FSB had been arrested and charged with treason on 1/28/17. Analysts believe that, given the timing, and the kinds of people involved, that this move likely has something to do with the U.S. intelligence finding on high-level Russian official participation in manipulating the U.S. election.
- A Trump associate with definite ties to Russia is now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. As head of ExxonMobil, Tillerson was instrumental in negotiating billions of dollars worth of business with Roseneft. He was even been awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin, one of the highest honors Russia gives to private citizens. Tillerson has also frequently spoken out in the past against the sanctions placed on Russia after its intervention in the Ukraine, perhaps not coincidentally because lifting those sanctions and pipeline access to the Ukraine, would make Exxon’s deal with Roseneft vastly more profitable.
- President Trump’s personal lawyer and a former business associate met privately in New York City in January 2017 with a member of the Ukrainian parliament to discuss a peace plan for that country that could give Russia long-term control over territory it seized in 2014 and lead to the lifting of sanctions against Moscow. The meeting with Andrii V. Artemenko, the Ukrainian politician, involved Michael Cohen, a Trump Organization lawyer since 2007, and Felix Sater, a former business partner who worked on real estate projects with Trump’s company.
- In a pre-Superbowl interview with Bill O’Reilly on 2/5/17, President Trump responded to O’Reilly’s questioning his support for the Putin regime given that Putin is a “killer” by saying, “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” This echoes statements he made in response to similar questions from Joe Scarborough in December 2015: “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing, a lot of stupidity.” Many, including some Republicans, questioned this latest assertion of moral equivalence between the U.S. and the Putin regime. Meanwhile, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov demanded an apology from Fox.
- In his first official call with Putin on 2/9/17, Trump denounced the 2010 “New START” treaty that caps US and Russian missile numbers. Putin had previously shown interest in October 2016 in reconsidering several of its nuclear treaties with the U.S.. On 3/10/17 the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff confirmed that Russia has deployed new missiles in violation of the treaty.
- Within the same 24-hour period as NSA advisor Michael Flynn’s 2/14/17 resignation due to questions about his pre-inauguration contacts with Russian officials, a Russian spy ship turned up off the shore of Connecticut, Russia conducted a cruise missile test in violation of treaties with the U.S., and Russian jets buzzed a U.S. Navy ship on the Black Sea.
- FBI Director James Comey met with the Senate Intelligence Committee on 2/17/17 to brief them on the FBI investigation into Russian election interference and possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. Both Democratic and Republican senators afterwards said they were reassured on the investigation. The Intelligence Committee subsequently sent formal requests on 2/20/17 to more than a dozen organizations, agencies and individuals, asking them to preserve all materials related to the Russia investigation. Besides the Intelligence Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and Foreign Relations Committee have also been holding hearings, though Intelligence is now taking the lead. Some Senators are satisfied with this, but others, including John McCain, have urged the creation of a bipartisan select committee or independent commission, which would be less under control of a single party.
- Meanwhile, the House is not so interested in doing investigations on Russian election interference, or on Michael Flynns’s Russian contacts. However, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter on 2/15/17 that urged the Office of Government Ethics to investigate who leaked information about Flynn to the media.
- Republican Senator Susan Collins made public calls on 2/22/17 for Flynn to testify to the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its ongoing investigation into Russian influence.
- One of the Trump associates being investigated for Russian contacts during the campaign, former campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page, maintained in a PBS interview on 2/15/17 that he had not had any meetings with Russian officials in the past year. The New York Times has reported, however, that he was in Moscow on 12/8/16, for what he described as meetings with “business leaders and thought leaders”. Page worked as in investment banker in Russia for several years in the 2000s, advising on major transactions involving energy-related state-owned companies.
- On 3/2/17, former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page reversed himself on multiple prior denials about having had any official contact, and revealed that he had, in fact, met with Russian Ambassador Kislyak during the Republican convention in Cleveland in 2016. These meetings also involved national security advisers to the Trump campaign J.D. Gordon & Walhid Fares. Gordon told CNN that he, Page, & Fares stressed to the Russian envoy that Trump would like to improve relations with Russia. Gordon added that at no time did any inappropriate talk come up about colluding with the Russians to aid the Trump campaign.
- It was revealed on 3/7/17 that Page also made a trip to Moscow in July 2016, which he had first cleared with then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. A few weeks before he traveled to Moscow to give a July 7 speech, Page asked J.D. Gordon, his supervisor on the campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee, for permission to make the trip, and Gordon strongly advised against it. Page then emailed Lewandowski and spokeswoman Hope Hicks asking for formal approval, and was told by Lewandowski that he could make the trip, but not as an official representative of the campaign. Lewandowski claims that he does not specifically remember the e-mail, but does not dispute the accuracy of the story.
- It was separately revealed on 3/2/17 that President Donald Trump’s senior aide (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner and ousted adviser Michael Flynn met with the Russian ambassador to the United States at a time when the Trump administration’s relationship with the Russians was under close scrutiny. Kushner and Flynn sat down in December at Trump Tower with Kislyak for what they described as an “introductory meeting” and “kind of an inconsequential hello.” Trump had previously maintained after the initial Flynn meeting revelations that he had not ordered, or known about, any meetings Flynn had with Kislyak.
- Also on 3/2/17, it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice with Ambassador Kislyak during the campaign. At the time of the meetings (June and September 2016) he was a U.S. Senator, and an active supporter of the Trump campaign. In his Senate confirmation hearings for the AG position, Sessions had previously indicated that he was not aware of any trump-campaign surrogates who had met with Russian officials, and that he had no such contacts himself. Post-revelation, Sessions maintains that he did not consider the conversations relevant to the lawmakers’ questions and did not remember in detail what he discussed with Kislyak. He has, however, now recused himself from any Justice Department investigations that may arise over Russian campaign interference or Trump campaign ties to Russia. Trump has stated that, while he does not think Sessions did anything wrong, he was not aware of any of Sessions’ meetings with Kislyak.
- On 3/4/17 it was reported that Alex Oronov, a Ukrainian businessman and longtime associate of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, had died at the age of 68. Further details on the death have not been released, but it has been established that Oronov was the person who organized the above-mentioned January meeting with Ukranian politican Andrii V. Artemenko, Cohen, and Trump associate Felix Sater to map out a plan for lifting sanctions on Russia over its interference with the Ukraine.
- A March 7th story revealed that Trump himself met Ambassador Kislyak at a VIP reception in Washington D.C. in April 2016. There is no indication that it was more than an inconsequential meet and greet, but it contradicts previous statements Trump has made about never having had any such meeting.
- The House Intelligence Committee announced that it will hold its first hearings on Russian election interference on March 20th, 2017. Invited to testify are: FBI Director James Comey, National Security Agency head Adm. Mike Rogers, former CIA director John Brennan, former national intelligence director James Clapper, former acting attorney general Sally Yates and two senior officials from the cybersecurity firm that first put the finger on the Russians for the breach of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). While former NSA head Michael Flynn is not on the list, it was Yates who first informed the administration of his lying about pre-inauguration meetings with the Russian Ambassador, shortly before the President fired her.
- In addition to the Intelligence Committee hearings, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham has announced that his Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism will hold hearings on Russian election interference. Graham is doing this in partnership with Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. The bi-partisan nature of the probe and Graham’s longstanding status as a Trump critic could make this probe much less prone to partisan pressure to protect the President than the Senate Intelligence Committee’s.
- It was revealed on 3/10/17 that Roger Stone, one of the four Trump campaign-related figures the FBI is known to be investigating for their Russian ties, had been in communication with the hacker responsible for providing the DNC files released by Wikileaks. Stone’s claim is that these August 2016 tweets with Guciffer 2.0 were casual communications praising him after the fact for the hacks, and that Stone had no indication that, as intelligence agencies have subsequently determined, the cyberattacks were arranged by Russian security forces. However, Stone’s tweets in the days after raised questions about whether he knew in advance that emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, would be imminently published by WikiLeaks. “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary,” Stone tweeted on August 21. And it has subsequently emerged that, despite at first saying it was only a handful of August tweets Stone in fact was in contact with Guciffer 16 times during the campaign season.
- Michael Flynn, the former NSA head who resigned due to still-being-investigated contacts with the Russian ambassador, was revealed on 3/15/17 to have received more than $67,000 in payments from Russian firms for various services during the 2016 election season.
- The Washington Post reported on 2/9/17 that NSA advisor Michael Flynn had several discussions before the inauguration with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on lifting sanctions. Such pre-inaguaration contacts are strongly against protocol. Flynn had earlier denied that this occurred, and then, after nine different sources confirmed it, “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.” In addition to the December conversations on sanctions, ongoing discussions between Kislyak and Flynn pre-date the election in November.
- While full details of Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak have not been confirmed, the FBI interviewed him in January because of their concerns, and as the story became public, and the denials he’d made to administration officials and they’d made on his behalf became increasingly embarrassing, Flynn resigned on 2/14/17. The timeline of Flynn’s contacts certainly makes it seem likely administration and Russian moves concerning sanctions were coordinated, or at least correlated. U.S. allies also seem to have intercepted some of Flynn’s communications and are conducting their own investigations of his Russian contacts, as well as those of other Trump business associates.
- CNN reported on 2/10/17 that several of the details of the Steele dossier have been confirmed by government investigators. Specifically, they are able to confirm that the dates and locations of many of the meetings between Russian officials mentioned in the dossier match actual movements of those officials.
- Shifts in Russian media coverage of Trump following Flynn’s resignation have led some to wonder if Russia is souring on Trump. Such media coverage is thought to usually takes its cues from Putin. This comes as Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson, and Vice President Mike pence have all made statements criticizing Russia and/or re-affirming support for NATO and Ukrainian independence.
- It was reported on 2/22/17 that White House press secretary Sean Spicer arranged calls between outside officials and reporters to dispute media reports that officials in Trump’s presidential campaign had contacts with Russia intelligence officials before the election. Spicer reportedly connected officials including CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr with reporters from The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. During the calls, journalists were told the story wasn’t true but weren’t given details.
- The New York Times reported on 3/1/7 that American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Mr. Trump’s associates.
Unconfirmed (use with extreme caution)
- Putin’s Chief Strategist, Alexander Dugin, has become the intellectual hero of Alt-Right “Traditionalists” around the world. There are many contacts between Dugin and his supporters and the U.S. Alt Right movement, Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and Breitbart.com, as well as more “traditional” Conservative organizations. Dugin has also influenced rightist movements throughout Europe, including the backers of the “Brexit” withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.
- The Steele Dossier has been published in full by Buzzfeed. As you’ll see above, some parts of it have been shown to be incorrect. And as you’ll also see above and below, other parts of it have been verified. You can find a link to the full document and a description of some of the controversy around it in the story here. As a still-uncorroborated source, I don’t plan to get into the gory details in this venue, but the gist of the document’s allegations are as follows:
- Russia has been cultivating ties with Trump for years.
- Part of this cultivation involves financial incentives promised to him should he become President and lift sanctions.
- Russian intelligence agencies also have compromising material on Trump that leaves him vulnerable to blackmail.
- There were extensive ties and cooperation between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence.
- The alleged but not confirmed to be from real-White House staff RoguePOTUS Twitter account alleged that House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ryan-ally White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had insisted that Vice President Mike Pence sit in on Trump’s 1/28/17 informal first call with Vladimir Putin, despite Trump’s reluctance, over concerns that the Russian leader does indeed have compromising material on the President. Trump’s behavior during the call was said to increase those concerns.
- Business Insider detailed on 2/11/17 that the timing of contacts between Trump campaign officials and supporters, actions by the campaign, and actions by the Russian government appear to support several of the allegations in the Steele dossier.
- I am extremely leery of “death lists” such as mysterious deaths associated with the JFK assassination, the Clinton “death list” etc. They tend to lump together genuine puzzlers with things that really aren’t that suspicious, have only a tangential relationship, and ignore the many not dead people also involved. But I will pass on this list of eight figures associated with the Steele dossier who have died. Some of these are not easy to directly relate to anything in particular, but others, like the deaths of Erovinkin & Oronov which are discussed in the “Confirmed” section above, are extremely interesting in terms of details and timing. I report, you decide.
- Security experts reviewing data patterns possibly related to election interference found that a Trump business server was in regular communication with servers belonging to a Russian bank throughout the campaign. This server connection to Alfa Bank was most active during Business hours in New York and Moscow, indicating some kind of direct communication between parties vs. passive ad serving or something of the like. It also appears to have had particular spikes of activity involving Denial of Service (DNS) attacks during key moments in the campaign.
- A purported cyberhack of the daughter of political consultant Paul Manafort suggests that he was the victim of a blackmail attempt while he was serving as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign chairman last summer.The undated communications, which are allegedly from the iPhone of Manafort’s daughter, include a text that appears to come from a Ukrainian parliamentarian named Serhiy Leshchenko, seeking to reach her father, in which he claims to have politically damaging information about both Manafort and Trump.
- While Manafort’s reponse to the initial hack claim was that the messages were “obviously fake”, a further body of thousands of text messages from Manafort’s daughters has been released by hacktivists, and has the appearance, both in volume and detail, of being genuine. In the messages, Manafort’s family expressed misgivings about the political consultant’s work for both Russia-aligned Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych and Donald Trump. The texts, posted on a darknet website run by a hacktivist collective, appear to show Manafort’s family fretting about the ethics, safety and consequences of his work for Yanukovych. And they reveal that Manafort’s two daughters regarded their father’s emergence as a key player on Trump’s presidential campaign with a mixture of pride and embarrassment.
- A Twitter user has put together a timeline of Attorney General Session’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Kisylak and statements by Russian officials during the October 2016 G20 summit that seems to show correspondences between positive changes in attitude toward U.S. relations by the Russian officials and Sessions’ meetings.
- Five days before the election, the private plane of Putin government-connected Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev was parked next to Trump’s plane on the tarmac in Charlotte, NC. Trump spokesmen claim that they did not meet then, and have in fact never met, despite the fact that Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to the Russian fertilizer magnate for $95 million in 2008. This is one of several times Ryoblev’s plane has been at an airport in close proximity to a Trump visit, and it should also be noted that Ryoblev’s chief aide is a former contributor to the London division of Trump Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s Breitbart.com.