By Avi Sato
The world is flooded with discussions of the almost-man-yet-somehow-President-of-the-United-States, Donald Trump.
The sewers of the Trump administration continue to overflow with lies. Grandson of German immigrant parents (while completely anti-immigration in one of his many stances that make absolutely no sense), it appears that he is far more closely tied to the east than we previously thought.
So, what is this Trump/Russia conspiracy theory all about? And is it actually true?
Since there’s an ongoing investigation by none other than the Federal Bureau of Investigation, we thought we should take a look at the progress.
Of course, this is a very summarized review of the many thousands of pages of findings, but if you haven’t been following all the Trump-loves-Russia news in the last five years, this should give you the basics.
(As an aside, I, too, am a lover of Russian culture, literature, music. This is a criticism of back-channel and potentially treasonous actions on the part of both the Russian Government and the somewhat-tenuous President of the United States… not of Russia as whole. Just to make that clear.)
Alright, now let’s buckle up and get ready to learn some shit.
Before he was President – the Trump campaign team and its links to Russia
Let’s start in January 2013 (more than five years ago – if only his presidency would fly by as fast as the time since then, we’d be far happier women!).
It all started when Russian foreign intelligence officer (aka, a Russian spy) Victor Podobnyy met with Trump’s campaign adviser, Carter Page.
Victor was later recorded saying Page was an excellent candidate for recruitment – “It’s obvious that he wants to earn lots of money”.
It was common knowledge in the political community that Page had worked as a banker in Moscow, but his personal investments in government-controlled Gazprom (a natural gas company) and his links to the government remain insufficient for prosecution. He admitted later that same year, however, that he had been an informal advisor to the Kremlin (aka the Russian version of the White House) on matters of energy.
So it’s already kinda fishy. Trump’s main campaign adviser has links to the Russian government.
And the Russia/Trump relationship just keeps growing…
Near the end of 2013, one of the Trump organization’s best known events, Miss Universe, was held in November in Moscow and Trump flew off with the intention of befriending Vladimir Putin and, one may assume, practicing his now-famous approach with women, although it’s unknown just how many of the Miss Universe contestants were the target of his “grab ‘em by the pussy” behaviour.
But I digress – back to intelligence (a subject difficult to contemplate, I know, when thinking of the Trump administration).
In April 2015, two months before Trump’s candidacy for the Republican nomination was announced, former head of the DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency), Michael Flynn, became directly involved with the construction of nuclear power plants in the middle east with Russian partners who were, at the time, under sanction from the United States.
Weeks later, a representative of the firm responsible for hiring the venue for 2013’s Miss Universe pageant reaches out to the Trump campaign to arrange a meeting between the orange candidate and the Russian President.
As the summer progresses, American intelligence reports clearly outline how Russian hackers broke into the network of the Democratic National Committee.
In the wake of this, Felix Salter, one of Trump’s associates, attempts to set up a deal between Vnesheconombank, a government-owned bank in Moscow (yet again under sanctions from the United States) and the Trump Organization.
Trump signed a letter of intent to endorse the project and by the end of the year, Nick Flynn was being paid by Russia Today, a government media outlet, to participate in a panel discussion.
Flynn was seen speaking frequently with the Russian Ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, from that point forward. British Intelligence shared troublingly suspicious discussions between the Russian government and senior members of the Trump administration – or at this point, the Trump election campaign.
So, again – members of Trumps election team are definitely in cahoots with the Russian government.
George Papadopoulos and the mysterious professor
Days before the Iowa primary, Trump abandoned the development project in Moscow, in spite of his letter of intent. The Washington Post printed a story in the spring of 2016 listing Trump’s top advisory team – Carter Page (remember him?) on foreign policy, and George Papadopoulos in a vague advisory role.
This role appears to have included meetings with Joseph Mifsud (a mysterious professor who said he has links to the Russian government) with the intent to set up direct meetings between Trump and Putin in the run-up to the election.
The next week, Paul Manafort was brought on board the Trump campaign to manage delegates – a man who has years of experience as a lobbyist for Russian government causes, including working directly for Putin’s compatriot, Oleg Deripaska. Coincidence? I think NOT!
By the spring of 2016, Papadopoulos was corresponding with suspected Russian Intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik after failing to convince the foreign policy team that Trump and Putin should meet.
He was put in contact with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he continued to try and arrange a meeting behind the scenes.
After hacking the Democrats’ network, Mifsud the professor directly contacted Papadopoulos to share that Russian Intelligence had damaging information on Clinton that may be used in the campaign, which he then shared in a drunken indiscretion with Alexander Downer, the Australian High Commissioner to the UK.
Weeks later, Trump becomes the official Republican nominee for President of the United States.
Trump’s son is sent an email from The Russian Crown Prosecutor, who “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father”.
The reply? “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
After this, their communications appear to have moved to voice and leave little paper trail.
In June 2016, Trump met with a Kremlin attorney, having publicly stated that he would have “very, very interesting” information about Clinton to share in a speech days later.
But despite his meeting with Russian lawyers, advocates and intelligence officers, his speech on the 13th only discussed national security after the Orlando massacre.
Two days later, a hacker using the pseudonym Guccifer 2.0 publicizes the Democrats’ research on Trump, more firmly linking the leak to the Russian Security Services.
In July, Carter Page gave a lecture in Moscow and met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkadiy Dvorkovich, where they discussed the benefits of close links and meetings between the future Trump Administration and the Russian Government.
Back at home, the FBI officially begins investigating Trump’s links to the Russian Government. The Trump campaign overrules the Republican Party’s decision to include support for arming the Ukraine against Russian military threats.
With the Democratic National Convention to begin on the 25th, WikiLeaks publishes emails taken from Democrats’ servers during a Russian-organized hack. Two days later on the 27th, during his last press conference while campaigning, Trump asks Russian Intelligence to release the emails taken from Hillary Clinton’s private server.
Later in 2016, Page is reported to have met with Kremlin officials and formally resigns from the Trump campaign during an interview with The Washington Post. The famous “grab ’em by the pussy” video is released (which I’m sure we have all seen, quoted, and mocked, while crying inside).
Email leaks continue, and the hack is linked more conclusively to Russian Intelligence sources as the data continues to flow from WikiLeaks.
In the first presidential debate, Clinton comes as close to an accusation as possible in political settings that Trump and Russia have colluded in the hacks and leaks, accusing him of being a puppet of the Russian government. Trump’s response is the traditional Washington non-denial denial.
Trump in office
Having won the presidency, Trump appointed Flynn the role of National Security Advisor, despite having been told repeatedly of his connections with Russian Intelligence and even after a direct warning from President Obama in person.
A matter of months later, Flynn is under investigation by the Justice Department but, in spite of this, he meets with Kushner to discuss the lifting of sanctions against Russia, allowing Russian money to flow to Trump-connected organizations and lessening the pressure on Russia to deal with the Syrian conflict in a humanitarian manner.
Page returns to Moscow to discuss his views on the Russian way forward with influential people in business and industry – given the quantity of industry in Russia that is both owned by the government and directly connected with Page’s past, one must draw one’s own conclusions here about what was discussed and with who he met.
January 2017 brings an FBI investigation into Flynn’s behavior and a joint intelligence report on Russian involvement in the hacking, leaks, and election.
It is incomplete and ongoing but it is the first of many shots to be fired. This month also brings with it Trump’s inauguration and his hand takes firm hold of the reigns of power in America.
That same week, Flynn is sworn in as National Security Advisor and immediately contacts his Russian partners in his nuclear construction deal stating conclusively that sanctions were as good as gone, and that the project could now go ahead.
In an interview with the FBI, Flynn lies about his Russian connections; days later Papadopoulos follows suit and lies to the FBI about his meetings with Mifsud the mysterious professor.
February brings us to Flynn filing public financial disclosures that leave out his payments from Russian government news agencies (Russia Today) and his sudden resignation from his position as National Security Advisor.
A day later, Trump personally asks James Comey, FBI Director, to stop his investigations into Flynn. He further asks the FBI to deny a New York Times report on communication between the Russian Government and the Trump Campaign; the FBI refuses, stating that this is improper influence.
March sees Comey publicly announcing in his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee his investigation of hacking, leaks, and links to between these, Russia, and the Trump campaign. Two months later, after unsuccessfully and repeatedly demanding that Comey publicly state that Trump is not under investigation, Trump fires him, going so far as to include in his reasons that he would not clear Trump’s name.
Robert Mueller is appointed to take up the investigation into Russian intervention in the election by the Deputy Attorney General. Trump almost immediately “appears” to request that he be fired but this is unsuccessful and Mueller’s team goes on to interview Comey. Papadopoulos is arrested attempting to leave the country, admitting that his evidence to the FBI had been false.
By the beginning of December 2017, Flynn has also pled guilty to lying to the FBI and a month later, former senator, Jeff Sessions is interviewed by the FBI.
This is, of course, only what has happened until now – but a picture of conspiracy is clearly forming. The only questions left to answer are really these: was Trump complicit in the Russian hijacking of his election or was he kept in the dark by his closest advisors? And to what extent was President Putin involved?
The answers remain to be seen… but we await them eagerly.