The Players

The Washington Post is providing a graphic representation of the connections between Trump, his associates, and Russian officials. The graphic and textual content are consistently being updated.

Sections of This Page


Donald Trump's tactics are conspicuous to anyone who follows his actions, and can be reduced to two overriding activities: (1) He lies consistently and persistently; (2) he cheats whenever the opportunity presents itself to do so, and (3) he tries to intimidate everyone with whom he deals. — John Dean
The Americans
Michael Flynn: A decorated Army veteran , Flynn was part of the 1982 invasion of Grenada, helped plan the 1994 invasion of Haiti, and then went to Iraq with the Joint Special Operations Command to take command of the unit's intelligence collection and analysis. He was part of the operation that took down the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He found it difficult to transition into his job as senior intelligence officer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff when he was reassigned to the Pentagon in 2008, with his irascible and sometimes challenging demeanor fitting in poorly with the decorum expected of his position. He again served in Iraq and then Afghanistan, where he was close to the lower ranks and, according to one advisor on the ground, "called bullshit when he saw it." He tended to flit from one absolute position to another, his colleagues recalled, proclaiming that the Taliban was nearly defeated and then the next day saying they were stronger than ever. He found the level and quality of intelligence in the region beyond poor, and co-wrote an internal report that was roundly ignored. The authors released it to an outside think tank, where it made an enormous impression after going public. Defense Secretary Robert Gates lauded it. His accelerating career hit a speed bump when in mid-2010, Rolling Stone wrote that he and his commanding officer, General Stanley McChrystal, were reported as getting drunk in public and vilifying the civilian leadership in DC. President Obama fired McChrystal the day after publication, angering Flynn. He returned to DC, where he joined the staff of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. At a luncheon in 2011, he met neoconservative firebrand Michael Ledeen, who had played a central role in the Iran-Contra scandal. Ledeen was obsessed with overthrowing the Iranian government, and Flynn found Ledeen very compatible with his own world views. Flynn was incensed at the 2011 decision by Obama not to attack an Iranian power plant in return for Iranian rockets killing six US soldiers in Baghdad. Despite Flynn's apparent contempt for the Obama administration, Obama made Flynn the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in April 2012. Flynn attempted to modernize and streamline the agency, but instead sowed chaos; former DIA official Peter Shelby later said, "Flynn came in and threw a bomb to explode the whole place, and then just let the dust settle." He became increasingly loose with the facts, and began insisting that groundless conspiracy theories should be taken seriously. Flynn insisted that the September 2012 attack on the US consulate in Benghazi was an Iranian operation, and his demands for a probe were ignored. He began forging ties with Russian governmental officials around this time, and went to Moscow in 2013 to speak to a group of GRU officials, a decision that raised eyebrows. His reputation in the administration was in tatters, and he was released from his DIA position in late 2013. He retired from the Army as a lieutenant general in August 2014, and was, a senior military intelligence official later recalled, obviously bitter. He began a private organization, the Flynn Intel Group, and worked with other strategic consulting firms. He also began speaking in public, and quickly acquired a reputation as a blunt, forceful, often extremist voice whose focus was on eradicating Islamist terrorism. He grew closer to Ledeen. He reserved some of his harshest criticism for the Obama administration over its agreement with Iran to curb that nation's nuclear program, and made what many called racist and bigoted remarks about Islam. Some Republican presidential candidates began soliciting his advice, and Flynn joined the Trump campaign in August 2015. In October 2015, Flynn appeared on RT, a Kremlin propaganda television and Internet news outlet, where he praised Vladimir Putin and vilified Obama. He went to Moscow in November 2015 to be part of RT's ten-year anniversary celebration, and was paid $40,000 to attend. Ledeen's daughter Simone begged him not to go; before he left, he was warned that any electronic device he may carry with him would be compromised by Russian intelligence hackers. In July 2016, he published his book The Field of Fight, co-authored by Ledeen and endorsed by Trump. The book was one long rant against Islamist terrorism in specific and Islam itself in general. Iran also plays a central role in the book, with Flynn and Ledeen accusing the Iranians of mounting massive espionage attacks against the US and accusing Hezbollah of planning to launch terror attacks inside US borders. He has long advocated an alliance with Russia against his personal "Enemy Alliance" of Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, and ISIS. Flynn does not acknowledge Russia's role in the destabilization of Syria, the occupation of Crimea, or other Russian militarism. Trump cited Flynn as a possible vice-presidential candidate, and named him his chief foreign policy advisor. Flynn made his son Michael Jr. his chief of staff. His immersion in the world of right-wing conspiracy fantasies increased, and he began engaging with white nationalists online. His son was a staunch follower of Alex Jones, as is Trump. Flynn has implied that Obama is a "secret Muslim," and his Twitter attacks against Hillary Clinton verged into the anti-Semitic. He also signed a contract with a Turkish businessman with close ties to the Erdogan regime to promote Turkish business interests well before the election. When he became National Security Advisor, he named Fox News pundit K.T. McFarland his deputy. His son was fired after engaging in online rants promoting "Pizzagate," the ludicrous conspiracy theory naming Hillary Clinton as part of a child-sex trafficking ring. Flynn brought Ledeen and his extremist views in to pass judgment on Trump's executive orders. And, like Trump, he pored over what the media was writing about him. Former Naval intelligence officer Malcolm Nance later writes, "Some members in counterintelligence said that twenty years ago [Flynn's actions] would have resulted in an extensive investigation to see if his 'tail was dirty,' a euphemism indicating that he was being handled without his knowledge, due to cash inducements." Flynn was fired from the Trump administration after the media learned that he had been in frequent contact with Russia's ambassador to the US during and after the campaign, and that he had lied to Trump officials about it. He continues to express his intense admiration for Trump.
Hope Hicks: Currently the White House Communications Director, Hicks, 28, had no political experience whatsoever before becoming the press secretary and then communications director for the Trump presidential campaign. She was a teenage model, and worked for a number of public relations firms, including Hiltzik Strategies, where in 2012 she began working for the firm's client Ivanka Trump. She joined the Trump Organization in 2014, working for Ivanka Trump in a Trump Tower office, where she modeled for the Ivanka Trump Collection and the collection's online store. Donald Trump selected her personally to be his campaign's press secretary in January 2015. One of her primary jobs was to decide who got to speak with Trump and who would be denied access. She also took dictation for Trump's official Twitter posts (not to be confused with his personal tweets). She joined the Trump administration in December 2016, receiving an annual salary equal to that of Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. She is considered one of the very few administration officials virtually immune from firing.
Jared Kushner:Kushner, a young real-estate magnate and the husband of Trump's daughter Ivanka, is probably the single most influential person inside the Trump administration. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, an informal Trump advisor, says: "Every president I've ever known has one or two people he intuitively and structurally trusts. I think Jared might be that person."
Devin Nunes: Nunes grew up on a large family farm in Tulare, California. In 2001, he was named California State Director for the US Department of Agriculture's Rural Development section by President George W. Bush, where he worked largely on behalf of large corporate interests. Later that year, he won a Congressional seat in the 21st District; in 2002, he won a seat from the newly created, Republican-heavy 22nd District. Nunes's rise to power is partially due to his affiliation with the far-right conspiracy site World Net Daily (WND). He wrote a book in 2010, Restoring the Republic, in which he called environmentalists "followers of neo-Marxist, socialist, Maoist or Communist ideals." He routinely insults Democrats as "Communists," and didn't hesitate to label fellow Congressional Republican Justin Amash "al-Qaeda's best friend in Congress" because Amash voted against a water bill for California that Nunes had sponsored. He routinely rails against the idea that global warming and climate change are real, calling proponents "hysterics" who belong to a "Doomsday cult," and in 2014 denied the very existence of the severe drought that plagued most of California for several years, instead blaming the federal government and environmentalists for the state's water shortages. He is an effective fundraiser for Republican and far-right causes. In January 2015 he was appointed chairman of the House Intelligence Committee by House Speaker Paul Ryan. He has no intelligence experience whatsoever. Before the Republican convention in 2016, Nunes joined the Trump campaign as an "informal" advisor on national security issues. He migrated from the campaign to the transition executive committee after the election, where he worked closely with Michael Flynn, and has vociferously defended Flynn after his firing in February 2017.
Carter Page: After graduating from the US Naval Academy, Page began his career as a Marine intelligence officer in Western Sahara, and won a fellowship from the Council on Foreign Relations, where he began learning about oil and gas policies. He obtained a business degree from New York University and a doctorate from the University of London before moving to Moscow. According to his bio on the website of his venture capital firm Global Energy Capital, Page served as a vice president of the Merrill Lynch office in Moscow between 2004 and 2007. The bio states that he served as an advisor "on key transactions for Gazprom, RAO UES and" other Russian and Russian-governmental owned firms. He told reporters in March 2016 that he advised Gazprom, the monolithic Russian energy conglomerate operated by the Kremlin, as it bought a piece of a Russian Far East oil and gas project called Sakhalin II. The Sakhalin Energy CEO later told other reporters that he didn't know Carter Page, and did not believe Merrill Lynch was involved in high-level negotiations for the deal, because they were political and the final approval came from Vladimir Putin. A RAO UES source said that while Page did indeed work on the deal, he "made no impression whatsoever. Whether he was there or not, it made no difference … When you're dealing with a pro, you see it. Page, unfortunately, did not leave that impression." Sergei Aleksashenko, who was Page's boss at the Moscow office of Merrill Lunch, said that Page "wasn't great and he wasn't terrible … without any special talents or accomplishments … What can you say about a person who in no way [is] exceptional?" Page came under surveillance by the US intelligence community for suspicion of being a Russian intelligence asset; Page later confirmed that he worked with one Russian intelligence operative, Victor Podobnyy, and passed documents regarding US sanctions against Russia to him, but gave Podobnyy nothing sensitive or classified. Court documents showed Podobnyy admitting to attempting to recruit Page, calling him an "idiot" who was almost pathetically eager to work with him. Page, Podobnyy said, "wrote that he is sorry, he went to Moscow and forgot to check his inbox, but he wants to meet when he gets back. I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am. Plus he writes to me in Russian [to] practice the language. He flies to Moscow more often than I do. He got hooked on Gazprom thinking that if they have a project, he could be rise up. Maybe he can. I don't know, but it's obvious that he wants to earn lots of money." In January 2015, Podobnyy and two other Russians were charged by the US Justice Department of acting as unregistered foreign agents and being part of a Russian spy ring. It is from this case that the US learned about Page and his connections to Russian intelligence. In 2008, Page founded an investment firm, Global Energy Capital, with Sergei Yatsenko, a former Gazprom official. Most of the firm's business is done in Russia and in former Soviet client states.
Rod Rosenstein: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has impacted the Russia-Trump collusion investigation in two ways: he wrote an internal Justice Department memo that Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions used to justify the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and he appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate the Trump administration's firing of Comey and its larger collusion with Russia. Rosenstein is widely considered an apolitical Justice Department official who was confirmed to his position by an overwhelming 94-6 vote in the Senate. Rosenstein joined the DOJ after graduating from Harvard Law School, first working in the Public Integrity section under then-President George H.W. Bush. He served as counsel to Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann, and took part in the Starr investigation of then-President Bill Clinton. In 2005, George W. Bush chose Rosenstein to become US Attorney for Maryland, where he stayed throughout the Obama administration. Both of Maryland's Democratic senators, Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, supported Rosenstein's appointment to DAG.
Jefferson Beauregard "Jeff" Sessions: Jeff Sessions has been Alabama's junior senator since 1997. During his entire judicial and Congressional career, Sessions has been an outspoken opponent of immigration in almost any form, legal or illegal. He is a climate change skeptic and an economic purist, saying that government spending should drop precipitously until all government debt is paid off. Perhaps his most controversial feature is his overt racism. In 1986, a Senate committee refused to approve him for a federal judgeship because of his frequent use of racial slurs and his public sympathy for the Ku Klux Klan. (Sessions denies he is a racist.)
Roger Stone: Roger Stone is a veteran GOP lobbyist and political operative, who once partnered with Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort in their lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone and XX. He got his start on the national stage as a political operative in the Nixon administration; in 1996, he was forced out of the Dole presidential campaign after having to admit posting graphic ads asking for participants to engage in group sex with him and his wife; he posted similar requests online in 2006. Stone is known for issuing crude, racially and sexually inflammatory slurs towards those he does not like. He has called a television pundit a "stupid negro," a former Clinton cabinet member a "disgusting lesbian dwarf," a female CNN pundit "borderline retarded," and labeled former Representative Michele Bachman a "tranny" with a "mincing, lisping husband." He has called his rhetoric "intemperate" and "two-martini tweets," but has never apologized for them. The Clinton family has long been a favorite target of Stone. He has long been banned from most television news networks. He has also been a close associate to Trump for over 30 years, serving Trump as a lobbyist, strategic advisor, and political consultant. Stone has urged Trump to run for the Oval Office since 1988. He once called Trump a "middle class phenomenon," and added, "The higher your level of education the more likely you are to loathe Trump." The Smoking Gun wrote: "Like Trump, Stone is vain, vindictive, and prone to declarations untethered to the truth. Both men are proteges of Roy Cohn, the reptilian attorney whose career initially blossomed at the elbow of Senator Joseph McCarthy and ended in disbarment weeks before his death from AIDS in 1986." Stone worked for the Trump presidential campaign well before Trump's June 2015 announcement. He left in August 2015; Trump claimed he fired Stone, while Stone told reporters he quit; apparently Trump officials were concerned that Stone was running a PAC that supposedly supported Trump, but actually funneled contributions directly to Stone. Shortly thereafter, Stone resumed working for Trump on an informal basis. He arranged for Trump to do an interview with Alex Jones, the far-right conspiracy theorist, in December 2015, which was broadcast live via Jones's Infowars website. Trump lavishes praise on both Jones and Stone, saying of Jones, "Your reputation's amazing" and promising: "I will not let you down. You will be very, very impressed, I hope." He called Stone a "patriot" and "tough cookie" who "has been so loyal and so wonderful." In January 2017 he claimed, without proof, that he had been poisoned with polonium to prevent him from testifying before Congress about how the Russians were not responsible for the Democratic Party cyberattacks. He proudly associates himself with the racist, nationalist "alt-right" movement. GOP consultant Ed Rollins has said: "I don't think you'll find anyone in the business who trusts him. Roger was always a little rat."
The Russians
Aras Agalarov: A Russian billionaire real-estate developer and close partner and friend of Trump's. Agalarov is known to have close ties to the Kremlin. The British media calls Agalarov a "Kremlin insider" who is "Putin's main property developer" and the primary "liaison between Putin and Trump." Born in Azerbaijan, Agalarov's father was listed by Forbes as one of the 100 wealthiest Russians, with a net worth of well over $1.3 billion. His son Emin is a popular singer and dancer, and is married to the daughter of Ilham Aliyev, the president of Azerbaijan. Agalarov is known as "Putin's right-hand man when it comes to carrying out development projects." Agalarov has admitted to taking "orders" from Putin and engaging in construction projects on demand. He was granted the Order of Honor, one of the highest civilian decorations a Russian citizen can receive, at Putin's behest, ten days before going into business with Trump in 2013. It is almost certain that Agalarov is an agent or asset of the Russian government. The Steele dossier claims that Agalarov is involved in efforts coordinated by Putin to move Trump towards a more pro-Russian stance, efforts that have been underway since well before Trump officially launched his campaign for president, and continue to the present day. Former law professor Seth Abramson writes on Twitter, "Agalarov has been DRAMATICALLY influencing Trump's actions since they met in June 2013, two years BEFORE Trump announced his candidacy."
Rinat Akhmetshin: A Russian-born Washington lobbyist who has deep, if murky, ties to the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin. Akhmetshin is a former Soviet intelligence officer who has a fondness for bicycles and motorcycles. He served in Soviet counterintelligence, and likely is still deeply connected to the Russian intelligence community, though he denies having any such ties. Along with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, he works to persuade Congress to overturn or limit the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which sanctions individual Russians suspected of fraud or human rights violations. American investor William Browder, who was involved in blowing the whistle on the massive fraud and money-laundering scheme that led to the passage of the Magnitsky Act, says there is a simple reason why it is tough to determine how deeply Akhmetshin is linked to Russian intelligence: "In Russia, everything is much more informal, that's what makes it so hard to pin down. None of these people are carrying KGB business cards." All of Akhmetshin's causes are either sponsored by or approved by the Kremlin, with the overturning of the Magnitsky Act a top priority. He formerly worked for Kazakh Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, who left Kazakhstan before he could be charged with corruption and imprisoned, and powerful Russian politicians such as Andrey Vavilov and Denis Katsyv, whose holding company Prevezon was charged with multiple felonies in connection with the money-laundering scheme. He was recently sued by a Dutch mining company owned by three Central Asian businessmen who accused him of hacking into its computer system on behalf of a Russian corporate client. The mining company eventually settled with the Russian firm, and dropped the charges against Akhmetshin. During the case, Akhmetshin claimed to have worked on behalf of the US government, helping the US negotiate a lease on an airbase in Kyrgyzstan and "helped save American lives" in Afghanistan by consulting with US officials on "surveillance of undercover agents and suspected undercover agents." Now, Akhmetshin is a registered lobbyist for a nonprofit, the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation, which is controlled by Katsyv and two other Russians. The organization's goal: to overturn the Magnitsky Act. Veselnitskaya works for that organization as well. Akhmetshin has secured the assistance of former Democratic Congressman Ron Dellums (who has said he no longer works with Akhmetshin's organization), Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), a former Treasury official, and others.
Sergei Gorkov: A prominent Russian banker who has met at least twice with Trump campaign and administration advisor Jared Kushner. Gorkov heads the Moscow-based Vnesheconombank (VNB), a haven of criminal financial activity. VNB is sanctioned by the US for its role in Russia's 2014 invasion of Ukraine's Crimea. Gorkov and VNB are closely aligned with Vladimir Putin; Putin's ally and Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev sits on VNB's board. Convicted Russian spy Evgeny Buryakov worked at VNB under the cover identity of a banker while spying on US affairs. (Buryakov was prosecuted by US Attorney Preet Bharara, who was fired shortly after Trump took office.) Gorkov served as deputy chairman of the executive board of Russia's largest state bank, Sberbank, which recently hired Trump's longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz to defend it in court. (Kasowitz has bragged that he "got Bharara fired" because Bharara posed a threat to the Trump administration.) Gorkov is also a graduate of the Academy of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the descendant of Russia's KGB.
Konstantin Kilimnik: A former employee of Paul Manafort's who worked in Kiev during Manafort's time working for the pro-Russian party headed by Viktor Yanukovych. Kilimnik is suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence. He served in the Russian Army, and learned English at a training school for intelligence agents.
Vladimir Putin: Born in St. Petersburg in 1952, Putin, who speaks fluent German, was determined at an early age to become an intelligence officer. On the advice of KGB officers, he studied law and joined the KGB, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He absorbed a heavy dose of Marxist/Leninist indoctrination and a full array of spycraft skills. He also became skilled in the use of computers to conduct surveillance and to steal foreign secrets, and developed his speciality of identifying and ferreting out foreign spies. He left the KGB in 1991 after some of that agency's "old guard" attempted to overthrow the Russian government of Mikhail Gorbachev and reintroduce Stalinist-era Communism. He was then appointed deputy mayor in St. Petersburg, where he began developing relationships with the nation's new class of oligarchs. St. Petersburg became known as the "Gangster Capital" during that period, and Putin was believed to have stolen large amounts of food as well as funds from the sale of assets and reconstruction. When President Boris Yeltsin and St. Petersburg Mayor Sobchak were both accused of corruption, Putin publicly supported them. Sobchak later died, apparently from poisoning, in 2000; by that time Yeltsin had brought Putin to Moscow to be his right-hand man and eventual successor. By 1998 he was the head of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, and by 1999 he was leader of the nation. Andrei Kozyrev, the foreign minister between 1990 and 1996, says: "As Yeltsin started to withdraw, the old system reconsolidated, and Putin finalized this regression. The fundamental problem was an inability to complete the economic and political reforms, and so we slipped back into confrontation with the West and NATO." The New Yorker writes: "Putin revealed his distrust for an open system almost immediately. He saw a state that had become barely functional, and he set about restoring its authority the only way he knew how: manually, and from the top. He replaced the freewheeling anarchy of Yeltsin's rule with something more systematized, casting aside or coopting the oligarchs of the nineteen-nineties and elevating a cast of corrupt satraps loyal to him – an arrangement that became known as Kremlin, Inc." All elements of the nation's political system are brought under Putin's control, including the press." During his tenure, Putin helped launch a Russian war on the separatist nation of Chechnya, justifying the war by accusing the Chechens of being rampant terrorists. A key event in the run-up to war was the bombing of four apartment complexes in Russia and Dagestan, killing over 300 residents; activists and journalists later proved that the bombings were conducted by FSB officials. Most of the journalists and activists involved in the exposure of the bombings were later murdered, including ex-KGB officer Alexander Litvinenko, who died from ingesting tea laced with polonium-210. When Yeltsin resigned in 1999, Putin won the presidential election. He was re-elected in a landslide in 2004. Putin built his popularity on a platform of strident nationalism and a period of economic growth primarily fueled by an oil boom. Ineligible to run in 2008, Putin helped install his crony Dmitry Medvedev as president and Putin assumed the position of prime minister. He won the presidency again in 2012, and will remain as president at least through 2018. Putin initially hoped that Russia's relations with the US could be cordial, but he became disenchanted with the US after the 2003 Iraq invasion, and with NATO's expansion into Eastern Europe and its solicitation for former Soviet client states to join the orgainzation. Obama's former national security advisor Thomas Donilon says that Putin is constantly monitoring and reacting to real and perceived threats to his regime: "From the outset of his second run as President, in my judgment, he was bringing Russia to a posture of pretty active hostility toward the United States and the West." After Putin refused American requests to extradite whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013 and Obama in return cancelled a planned summit meeting in Moscow, "The communication really broke after that." Putin began surrounding himself with intelligence personnel: "In sharp contrast to the Chinese situation, there's not a Russian national-security 'system.' He works with a very small group of individuals, namely, former KGB and FSB people." On his deathbed, Litvinenko wrote about Putin: "You may succeed in silencing me but that silence comes at a price. You have shown yourself to be as barbaric and ruthless as your most hostile critics have claimed. You have shown yourself to have no respect for life, liberty or any civilized value. You have shown yourself to be unworthy of your office, to be unworthy of the trust of civilized men and women. You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life. May God forgive you for what you have done, not only to me but to beloved Russia and its people." Former Naval intelligence officer Malcolm Nance writes that Trump is the perfect stooge for Putin's manipulations: "Trump's bluster and bravado is breezily transparent. He is exactly as they taught in KGB school: an egoist, a liar, but talented – he knows the mind of the wrestling-loving, under-educated, authoritarian-admiring white male populace. This is raw material Vladimir could use. Trump would just need to be coddled, supported, flattered, and indirectly tasked by the oligarchy and the conservative Americans who see Russia as a model for American authoritarianism. It would not be hard to believe that Trump could be convinced he could reestablish US-Russian relations."
Felix Sater: A Russian criminal who has murky ties to the FBI and US intelligence community. He was Donald Trump's business partner when he worked with a real-estate firm named Bayrock, whose offices were housed in Trump Tower.
Natalia Veselnitskaya: A lawyer who works with Rinat Akhmetshin and other Russians to persuade Congress to overturn or limit the Magnitsky Act. It is likely she works on behalf of the Kremlin, though that connection is difficult to conclusively prove. Between 2002 and 2011, Veselnitskaya represented the FSB, Russia's top intelligence agency, in court, refuting Kremlin claims that she has no connections to the Russian government. She once served as a prosecutor in the Moscow region, where she became a close colleague of Yuri (or Yury) Chaika, who now serves as the prosecutor general for Russia. Russian journalist Oleg Kashin believes her "sudden" involvement with the Trump campaign has more to it: "Instead of the highest [Russian] officials, spies, and the famous diplomat [Sergei] Kislyak, we now get a Moscow region mover and shaker with a reputation for as a 'fixer,' who fits into the scandals at the local, regional level, but seems absurd as part of the world of geopolitics." American investor William Browder, who helped uncover the massive fraud and money-laundering scheme that led to the passage of the Magnitsky Act, says of Veselnitskaya: "She was probably the most aggressive person I've ever encountered in all my conflicts with Russians. She is vindictive and ruthless and unrelenting." Veselnitskaya is at the heart of a Kremlin-led operation to blame Browder and his former employee Sergei Magnitsky for the fraud scheme, which was actually carried out by Russian oligarchs and high-level Russian government officials. Veselnitskaya has worked on behalf of the Katsyv family since at least 2002. Pyotr Katsyv, the head of the family, is a regional oligarch who later served as the Moscow region's transportation minister. His son Denis is part of his business empire. Veselnitskaya served as Denis Katsyv's lawyer when he was charged with money laundering and theft (of $14 million from Browder) by US officials in 2013; his holding company Prevezon was part of the massive criminal enterprise unearthed by Magnitsky. After Donald Trump fired US Attorney Preet Bharara, who had been aggressively prosecuting the case against Katsyv and Prevezon, the US suddenly settled the case for a paltry $6 million, with no admission of wrongdoing. Now Veselnitskaya and her colleagues are working to get the Magnitsky Act repealed. So far they have been unsuccessful; the Global Magnitsky Act, an expanded version of the original law, was passed in December 2016. She represents a nonprofit organization, the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation, which supposedly works "to help restart American adoption of Russian children." (Putin banned Americans for adopting Russian children after the Magnitsky Act. The organization is another part of Veselnitskaya's activities to get the Magnitsky Act overturned.) She is a vocal supporter of the Trump presidency, and openly opposes abortion, gay and immigration rights. She also routinely launches attacks against leading Democrats via her social media presence, circulates far-right conspiracy theories, attacks the US and Russian press, and has stated that "liberalism is a fucking mental disorder."
Dmitri "David" Zaikin: A Ukrainian colleague of Michael Flynn who has, since at least 2015, secretly coordinated pro-Turkish lobbying efforts in Washington. Zaikin denies any connections to Flynn's lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkey. Zaikin has achieved Canadian citizenship. He brokered the sale of condos in Trump Tower Toronto, and has worked closely with business and governmental allies of Vladimir Putin.
The Hackers
COZY BEAR: Also known as "the Dukes" or "Cozy Duke;" classified as APT 29, for advanced persistent threat. COZY BEAR is almost certainly affiliated with Russia's FSB, though some sources believe it is actually affiliated with the SVR, Russia's foreign intelligence burear. COZY BEAR is responsible for the aggressive hack of the State Department's unclassified computer network in November 2014. They are also responsible for the extraordinarily effective hacking attacks on governmental targets in Chechnya between 2008-2015 and a number of attacks on Georgian and Ukrainian governmental targets. In October 2014, COZY BEAR successfully breached the White House's computer network through the use of an infected email. All of the Russian hacking groups are known collectively as CRIMINAL BEARS. The BEAR terminology originated with the cybersecurity group CrowdStrike.
FANCY BEAR: Classified as APT 28, for advanced persistent threat, and sometimes known as "Sofacy" or "Operation Pawn Storm." FANCY BEAR is almost certainly affiliated with Russia's GRU, though some sources believe it is actually affiliated with the FSB/SVR. FANCY BEAR's hackers may lack some of the expertise of their counterparts in COZY BEAR. It tends to use the same methodologies whether it is hacking Democratic Party networks, German governmental systems, or Ukrainian military servers. Moscow cybersecurity expert Ilya Sachkov says of FANCY BEAR: "I've never seen a group that doesn't change its style of work after it has been detected. What logic led them to not adjust their methods?" Another cybersecurity expert, Charles Carmakal of the American firm FireEye, says that even sophisticated hackers often leave forensic trails: "Even the best teams make mistakes, and, a lot of times, the guys who are great at hacking are not forensics guys who also know how to do investigations and understand all the artifacts that they're leaving on a machine." Like COZY BEAR, FANCY BEAR has mounted frequent attacks on governmental computer networks in Georgia. It is also resposible for the cyberattack on France's TV 5 network, which it attempted to blame on ISIS. It also launched a massive 2015 cyberattack on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) after that agency recommended banning all Russian athletes from the 2016 Olympics due to massive steroid and other abuses. Like the later creation of "Guccifer 2.0," FANCY BEAR created a false persona, "Anonymous Poland," that tried to take credit for the attacks. All of the Russian hacking groups are known collectively as CRIMINAL BEARS. The BEAR terminology originated with the cybersecurity group CrowdStrike.
VENOMOUS BEAR: Responsible for a severe attack on US Central Command in 2008, widely reported as "the worst breach of US military computers in history." Because the hack was precipitated by an infected flash drive, the Defense Department issued a worldwide ban on military use of flash drives. VENOMOUS BEAR has not been identified as one of the groups to hack Democratic computer networks in 2015 and 2016. All of the Russian hacking groups are known collectively as CRIMINAL BEARS. The BEAR terminology originated with the cybersecurity group CrowdStrike.
Internet Research Agency: Russia's paid "troll farm." Not hackers per se, but personnel tasked with the duty of infiltrating American and other nations' social media, news story comment pages, and such to plant pro-Putin and anti-others messages, discussions and memes. The IRA, sometimes nicknamed "Trolls for Olgino," was formerly housed in a nondescript building in St. Petersburg. In the US, they were primarily responsible for planting "fake news," both politically based and more generic, mostly in Facebook and Twitter. The stories run the gamut from nonexistent terrorist attacks on US military bases in Turkey, to Ebola outbreaks that never occurred, to police shootings that did not actually take place. One example is the fake report of a chemical plant explosion in Louisiana. Within minutes, fake posts overwhelmed social media, residents received frantic text messages, fake CNN screenshots went viral, and clone news sites appeared. The IRA is almost certainly run by a Putin business associate named Engeny Prigozhin, who, the New York Times writes, has "industrialized the art of trolling." Times reporter Adrien Chen gave an interview where he said the purpose of the IRA was "to kind of pollute the Internet, to make it an unreliable source for people, people, and so that normal Russians who might want to learn about opposition leaders or another side of things from the Kremlin narrative will just not be able to trust it." By 2014, the IRA had begun flooding American social media as well as the comments sections of publications such as Politico, Huffington Post, and Fox News. with the stated purpose of reversing what one project team member described as the negative depiction of Russia in the Western media. In 2016, the IRA began focusing on right-wing sites, and its trolls began posting praise and support messages for Donald Trump.
The Private Organizations
Alfa Bank: Alfa Bank was founded by Ukrainian oligarch Mikhail Fridman in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, as part of the rush to create a post-Soviet economy – and to profit from it. Fridman partnered with economist Pyotr Aven, a colleage of Vladimir Putin who allegedly helped Putin dodge accusations of corruption during Putin's time in St. Petersburg. Alfa Bank because extraordinarily profitable, and Fridman became one of Russia's wealthiest men. Fridman and his Alfa colleagues become close to Putin, though not part of his innermost circle. The US District Court for the District of Columbia found during the course of a libel suit filed by the two, "Aven and Fridman have assumed an unforeseen level of prominence and influence in the economic and political affairs of their nation." Alfa has always operated smoothly in the West, and never been encumbered with sanctions. Fridman and Aven are well-known for their philanthropy, and in 2015 received an award for "Corporate Citizenship" from the US government-funded Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The bank hired numerous lobbyists with ties to Republican administrations, including former Reagan official Ed Rogers, Trump colleague Richard Burt, and others. Burt sat for a time on Alfa's senior advisory board. Fridman and Aven met twice with Obama administration during Obama's first term. Fridman and Aven have sunk millions into the American ride-sharing company Uber, and have promised to invest up to $3 billion in US health care. Slate journalist Franklin Foer writes: "According to a former US official, Putin tolerates this condition because Alfa advances Russian interests. It promotes itself as an avatar of Russian prowess." Fridman himself recently told the Financial Times: "It's our moral duty to become a global player, to prove a Russian can transform into an international businessman."
WikiLeaks: WikiLeaks was founded in 2006 by Australian internet activist Julian Assange. In 2008, its mission statement read in part: "Our primary interest is in exposing oppressive regimes in Asia, the former Soviet bloc, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East, but we are of assistance to people of nations who wish to reveal unethical behavior in their governments and corporations." For years, WikiLeaks gathered and released documents with the idea of forcing accountability on a number of governments, particularly (but not limited to) the US. Some of its most well-known releases include: gunsight footage from a 2007 US airstrike in Baghdad which killed Iraqi journalists; a trove of documents from the Afghanistan and Iraqi wars that helped determine numbers of civilian deaths; files related to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp provided by US whistleblower Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning; and diplomatic cables hacked from the US State Department in 2010. By 2015, the organization claimed to have published over 10 million documents. However, some of the documents they have published have exposed private citizens' Social Security numbers, credit card information, medical records, and the like. In 2012, Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, to avoid extradition to Sweden over rape and sexual assault charges. Shortly thereafter, Assange began forging a relationship with Russia, hosting a news show on RT in 2012 and refusing to post anything on WikiLeaks that the Kremlin might find objectionable. He also became what Malcolm Nance calls "a vocal and vehement enemy of Hillary Clinton" after her repudiation of WikiLeaks over the State Department leaks. Author Christopher Hitchens wrote of Assange: "The man is plainly a micro-megalomaniac with few if any scruples and an undisguised agenda. As I wrote before, when he says that his aim is 'to end two wars,' one knows at once what he means by the 'ending.' In his fantasies he is probably some kind of guerrilla warrior, but in the real world he is a middle man and peddler who resents the civilization that nurtured him." When WikiLeaks began releasing Russian-provided hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee in July 2016 and afterwards, clearly timing the releases to do maximum damage to the Clinton presidential candidacy, it became clear that WikiLeaks was working in concert with Russia against the Clinton campaign. John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation observed in the aftermath of the DNC leaks: "It's become something else. It's not striving for objectivity. It's more careless. When they publish information it appears to be in service of some specific goal, of retribution, at the expense of the individual." Nance will write that by the time of the campaign, "WikiLeaks was now a wholly owned subsidiary of the FSB and essentially the cyber equivalent of a laundromat, a Russian laundry – ready to clean and give a white appearance to the dirt."