6 Minute Guide To The Trump-Russia Collusion Story

Over the last few years, a clear picture of the potential conspiracy between Trump and Putin has crystallized. It’s the most consequential story of greed and treachery in presidential history. And it didn’t end after election day…

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shake hand at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, shake hand at the beginning of a meeting at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Monday, July 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Updated March 29, 2019: AG William Barr claims Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign. We’ve yet to see the report, but below is our article that outlines all of the improper contacts between Russia and Trump associates.

“It turns out that the United Russia has won the elections in the United States!” — then-Russian Governor Viktor Nazarov, November 9th, 2016

The day was November 9th, 2016. The mood was joyous in the Kremlin as President Vladimir Putin, along with Russian officials, celebrated the election of Donald J. Trump as 45th President of the United States. Champagne was reportedly popped and toasts were made, as this foreign adversary celebrated American democracy. Why?

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After documenting every day of the Trump presidency and covering the story of a potential conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government for years, a great number of dots have connected. There is a great deal of circumstantial evidence of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government. There are also direct communications that prove the Trump campaign was very receptive to Russia’s efforts to help candidate Trump. What we don’t have is a smoking gun that proves there was a formal agreement to commit the criminal conspiracy. But Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report isn’t public and we don’t know the full extent of what’ he’s uncovered…yet. Based on Mueller’s indictments, all available reporting, and public records, here’s a 6-minute-read of the important facts related to the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russia, including my theory on the potential quid pro quo:

For decades, President Trump has sought a Trump Tower in Moscow (the Moscow Project) as well as explored a presidential run. In November 2015, months after Trump announced his run for the presidency, his personal fixer Michael Cohen was offered “political synergy” from Russian officials while he was seeking the Moscow Project with Trump’s longtime Russia-connected associate Felix Sater (who infamously said in an email about the project to Cohen: “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected”).

If there was an agreed upon quid pro quo, it would’ve been for Trump to help Putin undermine what was widely expected to be Hillary Clinton’s inevitable presidency in exchange for the Moscow Project, which would garner Trump hundreds of millions of dollars. That rings true with the Intelligence Community’s assessment of the initial goals of Putin, who at first sought to damage the predicted Clinton presidency he thought was a certainty and undermine Americans’ faith in their democratic institutions. Putin had accused Clinton of sowing discord in his own nation after Clinton questioned the legitimacy of Russia’s 2011 parliamentary elections. Putin wanted Clinton to come into office beleaguered by congressional investigations and a divided United States.

Once Trump’s presidency became more likely, Putin’s goals would later shift to achieving relief from the crippling sanctions the Obama administration levied against Russia, which he could only achieve under a Trump presidency. Along with a Trump presidency, would also come a weakened NATO alliance, which is also in Russia’s interest. Trump, already compromised due to his alleged history of laundering money for Russian oligarchs and obsessed with the prospect of doing business in Russia (which was very obvious at the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow), was the perfect candidate.

Trump built his campaign team with Russia-friendly folks for a reason. His National Security Adviser Michael Flynn spoke at the Russia Today anniversary event in 2015. His Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, and his deputy Rick Gates, had a history of working for and with Russian oligarchs and interests. His Campaign Adviser Carter Page was under FISA surveillance after meeting with a Russian spy. Heading into the 2016 presidential primaries, it became clear Trump had a real shot of winning the Republican nomination. Russia then began more overt outreach efforts to Trump’s Russia-friendly campaign team. As The Washington Post reports, at least 14 Trump associates interacted with Russian nationals during the campaign and transition. I’ll briefly summarize some of the key contacts during the campaign and touch on the ones during the transition in a later paragraph.

George Papadopoulos sought a meeting between candidate Trump and Putin in early 2016 and was told of Russia’s “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in April. Michael Flynn engaged with then-Russain Ambassador Sergey Kisylak during the campaign and transition speaking about how the incoming Trump administration could lift sanctions on Russia. Then-Senator Jeff Sessions, who would later become Attorney General, reportedly met with Kislyak several times, including at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016 during a Trump campaign speech. In the Summer of 2016, Manafort reportedly offered a briefing on the campaign to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and was in communication with his old ally and suspected Russian Intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik. It’s now been revealed that Manafort met with Kilimnik in Madrid and gave him polling data related to the 2016 election and discussed a Ukraine Peace deal. Carter Page took a campaign-approved trip to Moscow in July of 2016 to meet with Igor Sechin, the chairman of the Russia State-owned oil company Rosneft, and allegedly discussed the prospect of lifting sanctions on Russia. Page then met with Kislyak at the Republican Convention weeks later. There were also efforts to arrange a meeting between Candidate Trump himself and Russian Oligarch Alexander Torshin, which Donald Trump Jr. attended in his stead at the NRA convention in 2016 (more on the overall Trump-Russia-NRA connection here).

Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with Russian lawyer/informant Natalia Veselnitskaya and other Russian operatives on June 9, 2016 in Trump tower after being offered dirt on Hillary Clinton over email. As president, Trump later admitted his campaign sought dirt on Clinton during that meeting and spoke of adoptions (Magnitsky Act Sanctions relief) among other things that have yet to be made public. Candidate Trump was at Trump Tower the day of the meeting and it’s hard to believe he wasn’t aware of it. Days before on June 7th, Candidate Trump said he was going to do a speech about Hillary Clinton’s wrongdoings (the speech never happened). That date is important because Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani confirmed that Trump’s campaign held a preparatory meeting on June 7th, the same day as the speech announcement. One person allegedly in attendance, Rick Gates, is now a cooperating witness with Mueller.

The at least 14 Trump associates who have been in contact with Russian nationals - doesn't include Erik Prince (The Washington Post)

The at least 14 Trump associates who have been in contact with Russian nationals – doesn’t include Erik Prince (The Washington Post)

Michael Cohen and Felix Sater continued working the Trump Tower Moscow deal well into June 2016, and according to Rudy Giuliani, up until November 2016. Over the course of the next several months, Wikileaks published Clinton’s stolen emails, propaganda was spread by Russian bots, and candidate Trump was one of the main disseminators. The reason the Moscow Project talks may have ended the same month of the Trump Tower meeting, just before the July Republican Convention, is not a coincidence. Trump was now the de facto nominee. The quid pro quo could then fully focus on actually making Trump the next POTUS in exchange for Russia-friendly policies from the incoming administration. And if he lost, he could always just re-up the Moscow Project. Pro-Russia language was then added to the GOP platform at the convention in July. After the convention on July 27, 2016, Russians began spear phishing campaigns targeting Clinton’s personal office emails for the first time and also targeted Clinton’s campaign. This was the same day Donald Trump publicly stated: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” (this was revealed in Mueller’s hacking indictment of 12 Russians). Important to note, now-deceased GOP operative Peter Smith was seeking Clinton’s stolen emails in coordination with Michael Flynn and his son.

Shortly after the convention, Trump was briefed by senior FBI officials about Russia’s effort to infiltrate his campaign. This did not stop him from spreading their propaganda. Trump said the word “Wikileaks” at least 164 times in October 2016 and remained on message with Russia. In the days ahead of the election, longtime Trump associate Roger Stone had foreknowledge of incoming Wikileaks and his indictment reveals he spoke to the Trump campaign about incoming Wikileaks drops. Michael Cohen also claims that Roger Stone told Trump directly over the phone in July 2016 about Wikileaks drops. Trump went on to win the election, and the collusion didn’t stop during the transition. Flynn talked sanctions relief with Kislyak again. Kushner sought a secret back channel line of communication between Trump and Russia from Kislyak at a secret meeting in Trump Tower – Flynn also attended. Kushner also met with a Russian bank that was under sanctions. When it comes to the inauguration, Russian oligarchs attended the parties and reportedly funded Trump’s inaugural committee.

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Upon taking office, the Trump administration immediately tried, and failed, to lift sanctions on Russia. Meanwhile, Cohen and Sater worked the secret Russia-Ukraine peace deal (which would’ve lifted sanctions) and reportedly delivered it to Michael Flynn. Won’t go too deep into the details because you’ve lived it, but Trump ran a presidency friendly to Russia until Congress literally forced his hand to apply new sanctions. Trump’s anti-NATO stance continued nonetheless. It all culminated at Trump’s summit with Putin at Helsinki in the Summer of 2018. Trump publicly sided with Putin over the U.S. Intelligence Community in front of the entire world. Russia, who has an economy smaller than that of New York and California, had the President of the United States in the palm of his hand. Their relationship has appeared to deteriorate in the months since, as pressure continues to be applied to the administration for a tougher stance on Russia.

If there were any omissions of specifics, they’re expanded upon in the links I’ve cited. I tried to keep this as brief as possible. Here is an article outlining how this collusion could be considered a criminal conspiracy against the United States. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of what we know related to Russia. Mueller knows far more given the cooperation of witnesses like Flynn, Gates, and Cohen. Mueller has established the underlying crimes on the part of the Russians. What we are waiting on is details of the subsequent effort to obstruct justice on the part of President Trump and his allies. Also, there is still much to be uncovered in potential conspiracies with other foreign powers like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Israel who also reportedly sought to buy the Trump presidency. There are also domestic crimes Michael Cohen has implicated the president in and criminal investigations into his inaugural committee, the Trump Organization, and the Trump Foundation.

Needless to say, as it’s been reported, President Trump is rightfully worried about potential impeachment and possible indictment after he leaves office from the New York probes. Or both.

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Opinion // Donald Trump / Donald Trump Jr. / Michael Cohen / Paul Manafort / Robert Mueller / Russia Investigation / Vladimir Putin