Trump Officials w/Russian Ties

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— 1980s —

UNITA members

1985-1989: GOP Lobbyist Works to Protract Brutal African Civil War

Lobbyist Paul Manafort, a principal of the firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, works with a number of despotic and violent regimes around the globe, including the brutal guerrilla leader Jonas Savimbi of Angola. The lobbying firm is one of Washington's most powerful, and has close ties to the Reagan (and later the Bush) administration as well as Congressional Republicans.

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Legally, the firm is actually two: Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly represents powerful business and international interests, while Black, Manafort, Stone and Atwater work the American political scene. Charles Black insists that the two firms keep their interests separate. However, Democratic media consultant Robert Squier says the lines are quite blurred: "You are someone's political adviser, then you sell yourself to a corporation by saying you have a special relationship with Congress. … It's a gray area." Fred Wertheimer of the public-interest lobbying group Common Cause is more blunt, saying, "It's institutionalized conflict of interest." The firm's proposal soliciting the Bahamas as a client touted the "personal relationships between State Department officials and Black, Manafort & Stone" that could be "utilized to upgrade a backchannel relationship in the economic and foreign policy spheres." Manafort is currently working for Jonas Savimbi, a guerrilla leader trying to overthrow the Marxist government in Angola. Manafort has managed to recast Savimbi in the eyes of the Reagan administration and the American public into something of a savior for Angola, when in reality Savimbi is as brutal and violent as the leaders of the regime he is trying to overthrow. Savimbi and his his guerilla army, UNITA (National Union for the Total Independence of Angola), are the benefactors of what Time labels "Savimbi chic. The magazine says, "Doors swung open all over [Washington, DC] for the guerrilla leader, who was dapperly attired in a Nehru suit and ferried about in a stretch limousine." Manafort gleaned $600,000 for the firm in 1985. In return, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole – after being lobbied by Black, his former Senate aide – prevailed on the State Department to send shipments of military weaponry to UNITA. In 1989, Savimbi paid Manafort and his firm to orchestrate an American media blitz, getting him on prestigious news shows such as 60 Minutes and Nightline, and providing him luxurious hotel stays at the Waldorf-Astorial and Grand Hotel. Nairobi's Daily Nation later reported, "It greatly helped repackage Savimbi as a valiant anti-communist 'freedom fighter'." Manafort works to keep UNITA fighting even after Savimbi signals that he is ready for peace talks to end the brutal civil war. According to Spy, the firm's "hawkish congressional lobbying for more military aid" significantly prolongs Angola's civil war. A congressional aide sympathetic to Savimbi tells the magazine, "Clearly, Savimbi wanted peace negotiations for a longer time than Black, Manafort wanted negotiations." In his memoir, former Senator Bill Bradley gives Manafort, Black the credit for lengthening the war: "I thought we were making a colossal blunder in Angola. I had no sense that Jonas Savimbi, our client guerilla warrior, was any more committed to democracy than was the country's dictatorial leftist leadership. When Gorbachev pulled the plug on Soviet aid to the Angolan government, we had absolutely no reason to persist in aiding Savimbi. But by then he had hired an effective Washington lobbying firm, which successfully obtained further funding." Between 1986 and 1987, the Reagan administration provides $42 million in cash and arms to UNITA. In return, according to author Joy James, UNITA "maimed or killed tens of thousands, creating one of the largest amputee populations in the world through its laying of landmines in farm fields, roads, and school yards." A Human Rights Watch report says of UNITA: "Indiscriminate killings, mutilation of limbs or ears, and beatings were used by rebels to punish suspected government sympathizers or as a warning against betraying UNITA. … UNITA continued to forcibly recruit men and teenage boys to fight. Girls were held in sexual slavery and used as a source of forced labor." (Daily Beast, Time, Guardian, photo of UNITA soldiers via Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training)

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1985-1998: Manafort's Lobbying Firm Works with Dictators, Torturers Worldwide

Lobbyist Paul Manafort, a principal of the firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, works with brutal despotic regimes all over the world. One of his most notable positions was as a senior advisor to the violent guerrilla army of Jonas Savimbi in Angola, but that is not his, and his firm's, only experience with violent autocrats.

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Black, Manafort has earned the sobriquet "The Torturer's Lobby" for their efforts. The organization who originally gives them that name, the Center for Public Integrity, notes in 1992 that their firm was one of the ones earning the most from doing business with foreign governments that violated their people’s human rights. The firm gleaned $3.3 million in 1992 and 1993 alone. From 1990 to 1993, Black, Manafort took in over $1.4 million from Kenya to lobby the US government for aid; during that time, the US was highly critical of Kenya's human rights record, even as it garnered $38.3 million in US aid, in part due to the efforts of their high-priced lobbyists. Manafort himself worked for Zaire's dictator Mobuto Sese Seko, who is described by the Guardian as "one of Africa's most flamboyantly corrupt leaders." Mobuto is a proponent of government-sanctioned torture, detainment, and rape. In 1997, a UN official will tell a reporter: "Quantitatively, I think Zaire has the worst human rights record in Africa. In terms of social and economic rights and the number of state actors violating those rights, it's massive. And the bulk of human rights violations in this country never will be known. It's a black hole." Manafort earned $1 million a year from representing Mobuto and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo.) Founding partner Charlie Black says that his firm always "informally" clears a client with the State Department before agreeing to represent them. "In the case of Mobutu, he told US he would have democratic elections for a parliament. US State asked us to organize those elections," Black says. "We did. He did not like the results and fired us." In 1985, the firm lands a deal with the Chamber of Philippine Manufacturers, Exporters, and Tourists Associations as a client. That group is closely tied to dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who placed his nation under martial law and implemented widespread torture of his opponents. Marcos also embezzled somewhere between $5 and $10 millionfrom the Phillippines. Marcos solicited Black, Manafort to clean up his image, and paid the firm $900,000 for its efflrts. When the Reagan administration finally gave up on its support for Marcos, its officials gave the firm a heads up before cracking down. The New York Times will report in 2008: "The firm was so entwined with the Reagan White House that administration officials gave it a heads-up so it could cancel its contract with a client, President Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines, two hours before Reagan withdrew his support." In 1998, Manafort, who is also associated with another firm, Davis, Manafort and Freedman, works with that firm to represent Sani Abacha of Nigeria to tell Americans that Abacha is the leader of an emerging Western-style democracy. Manafort handled the Abacha account himself, according to his partner Richard Davis. Abacha, like Marcos and Mobuto, is a proponent of torture. A 1997 State Department report contains the following: "[D]etainees frequently died while in custody, and there were credible reports that security officers seeking to extract confessions regularly beat suspects, detainees, and convicted prisoners. Security officers tortured prisoners with whippings, suspension by the limbs from the ceiling, burning with candles, and extraction of teeth." Manafort lobbies Congress during the mid-80s on behalf of Saudi Arabia to prevent the US from moving its Israeli embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Manafort apparently ignores Saudi Arabia's reprehensible human rights record, and accepted some $1.5 million from that government. His firm earns $450,000 representing now-deposed dictator Siad Barre of Somalia. Barre, who is overthrown after a 22-year reign of terror. Barre tried to forge close ties with the then-Soviet Union before switching gears and seeking American aid. (Daily Beast, Time, Guardian)

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— 1990s —

1995: Manafort Paid by Middle Eastern Arms Dealer to Advise French Politician

During the failed 1995 French presidential candidacy of Prime Minister Edouard Balladur, Republican lobbyist Paul Manafort is hired to advise Balladur, the mentor of right-wing French politician Nicholas Sarkozy.

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Manafort is paid by Lebanese arms dealer Abdul Rahman al-Assir, chairman of Interstate Engineering. The deal becomes known in France as an element of "the Karachi Affair," after the public learns that al-Assar is angling to sell three French Agosta 90 class submarines to Pakistan for $950 million. A French probe finds that Balladur's campaign was likely funded in part by illegal bribes from those weapons sales, along with a $250,000 loan from a Middle East arms dealer. (Guardian, The Plot to Hack America, by Malcolm Nance)

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Russian oil platform

1999: ExxonMobil Signs Deal with Russian Oil Giant

ExxonMobil president Rex Tillerson meets Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin both at Putin's villa in Sochi and on the Arctic island of Sakhalin as part of a business deal with Russian state-owned oil monopoly Rosneft, and Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin, a former KGB official and a close Putin ally.

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The island's three offshore oil fields will produce an enormous amount of oil for Russia, who will sell the oil primarily in Asian markets. ExxonMobil will provide the technology Rosneft needs to extract the oil from the seabed. Tillerson has worked since the early 1990s to rebuild Exxon's relationship with Russia and Putin; in the early 1990s, Exxon's predecessor Lee Raymond tried to buy the Russian oil company Yukos-Sibneft was forcibly thwarted by Putin, who seized Yukos and sold it to Rosneft for a pittance. Putin also revoked Exxon's license to develop the oil fields around Sakhalin Island. Tillerson's efforts paid off when Putin and Sechin chose Exxon to help Rosneft develop the offshore oil drilling platforms. Author and journalist Steve Coll has written that Tillerson was chosen to succeed Raymond as CEO in 2006 because of his relationships with top members of the Putin government's inner circle. (Business Insider, Fortune, Russian oil platform image via Vox, Newsweek)

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— 2000s —

2006-2009: Manafort Secretly Works with Putin Ally to Advance Russian Interests

Republican lobbyist and campaign operative Paul Manafort secretly works for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska to advance the interests of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin.

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Manafort's work with Deripaska, an aluminum magnate and close Putin ally, begins in 2005 when he proposes an ambitious, sometimes violent strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition among a number of foreign Soviet republics, including Ukraine. The US is attempting to curb Russia's aggression towards these former client states; Manafort is apparently working in direct contradition to US foreign policy. In 2006, Manafort signs a $10 million annual contract with Deripaska. In the 2005 memo, Manafort writes: "We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success. [The effort] will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government." Under Putin, Deripaska became one of the wealthiest men in Russia, and has used his business dealings to benefit Putin and the Kremlin. US diplomatic cables from 2006 describe him as "among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis" and "a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin's trips abroad." Manafort plans to open a Moscow office for his Washington firm, but those plans never come to fruition. Deripaska directs at least some of Manafort's work in Ukraine. For his part, Manafort writes to Deripaska that he is promoting policies as part of his work in Ukraine "at the highest levels of the U.S. government – the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department." He adds that he has hired a "leading international law firm with close ties to President Bush to support our client's interests," though the documents obtained by the press do not identify the firm. He also tells Deripaska he has unidentified legal experts for the effort at leading universities and think tanks, including Duke University, New York University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In strategy memos, Manafort advises Deripaska that he and Putin will benefit from lobbying the US and other governments to allow oligarchs like Deripaska to keep possession of formerly state-owned assets in Ukraine, and advises the building of "long term relationships" with Western journalists. He proposes extending his work into Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Georgia to help bolster Putin-friendly governments and undermine anti-Putin figures. Manafort does not tell the Justice Department of his business with Deripaska, which is likely a felony; Manafort is obligated under the Foreign Agents Registration Act to provide detailed reports about their actions to the DOJ. Manafort does not work directly through his lobbying firm, Davis Manafort, but uses a shell company, LOAV Ltd, that has the same address as his lobbying and consulting firm in Alexandria, Virginia. Other LOAV records show the company as having the same address as Manafort's Alexandria home. (Manafort will sell that home in 2015 and move into an apartment in Trump Tower.) One document shows it is written by Manafort and his business partner, Rick Davis, but Davis later says he believes Manafort used his name without permission on the strategy memo. In 2014, Manafort will take almost $19 million from Deripaska to invest in a Ukrainian television company called Black Sea Cable, but, according to legal documents that will be filed by Deripaska, Manafort and his associates will refuse to respond to Deripaska's queries about the disposition of the funds. Deripaska's representatives will accuse Manafort of fraud, but when Trump wins the Republican presidential nomination, Deripaska's representatives say they will no longer discuss the issue. (Associated Press via Talking Points Memo)

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plaque commemorating protest

2006: Manafort Orchestrates Violent Protests Against Ukrainian Government, NATO

Veteran Republican political operative Paul Manafort, currently employed by the pro-Russian Party of Regions in Ukraine, engages in political activities designed to sabotage US interests in Ukraine and foment violent protests by Russian nationalists in Crimea.

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Russia will invade and annex Crimea in March 2014. In 2016, Ukrainian prosecutors will consider charges against Manafort of "conspiring with a criminal organization [and] inciting ethnic hatred and separatism," though charges will not be brought due to lack of documented evidence. According to prosecutors, Manafort orchestrates a series of anti-NATO, anti-Kiev protests on behalf of the Party of Regions and its leader, Viktor Yanukovych, a confidant and ally of Russian despot Vladimir Putin. The prosecution will state in a document: "It was his political effort to raise the prestige of Yanukovych and his party – the confrontation and division of society on ethnic and linguistic grounds is his trick from the time of the elections in Angola and the Philippines [Manafort worked for dictators in both those nations]. While I was in the Crimea I constantly saw evidence suggesting that Paul Manafort considered autonomy [from Ukraine] as a tool to enhance the reputation of Yanukovych and win over the local electorate." Manafort organizes a series of anti-NATO and anti-Kiev demonstrations that force the cancellation of a scheduled series of NATO exercises, "Sea Breeze," in and around the Crimean Peninsula. The protests are organized and executed at the behest of Yanukovych. A legal document from a Ukrainian prosecutor later leaked to the London Times reads in part: "It was [Manafort’s] political effort to raise the prestige of Yanukovych and his party – the confrontation and division of society on ethnic and linguistic grounds is his trick from the time of the elections in Angola and the Philippines." The document states that the prosecutor "constantly saw evidence" indicating that Manafort considers Crimean autonomy from Ukraine as a tool to enhance the reputation of Yanukovych with Crimean voters. (In 2014, Russia will invade, occupy and annex the Crimea region.) Retired Lieutenant Colonel Tom Doman will later recall his unit of Marines being targeted by angry protesters in Feodosia during May 2006. "We had rocks thrown at us. Rocks hit Marines. Buses were rocked back and forth. We were just trying to get to our base," Doman later says. Marine Colonel Bill Black later recalls "Ukrainian cocktails" – flaming bombs made from plastic bottles and diesel fuel -- being thrown at the Marines. The Marines were there for an annual NATO training exercise with Ukrainian special forces and other NATO military personnel. "Ukraine wanted to come into NATO. We were trying to build our relations," Doman will recall. "It was a total surprise we would get that type of [reception]." Manafort ensures that the protesters believe the NATO forces coming to their country are coming as part of a planned occupation force. The Marines cut short their exercise and left the country shortly thereafter; the larger training exercise, "Sea Breeze," was canceled due to the protests. US President George W. Bush later cancels a planned trip to Ukraine for that month. Black later adds: "Unfortunately the civilian population was extremely sad when we left. We were there to do some construction work, build a new soccer field, children's play area" as well as take part in military exercises.

Manafort Brings Pro-Russian Stance to 2016 Trump Campaign

Manafort will become the campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in 2016, and Trump will quickly become known as a pro-Putin politician who will state he would consider recognizing Crimea as a "legitimate" portion of Russia. (London Times, Daily Beast, Fusion, photo of commemorative plaque near Fedosia via Fusion)

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2006: Manafort Buys Trump Tower Condo

GOP consultant Paul Manafort, who has just begun working with Russian billionaire and criminal Oleg Deripaska, purchases a condo in Trump Tower for $3,675,000 through a holding company called John Hannah. Manafort's middle name is John, and Hannah is the middle name of his business partner, Rick Davis. The condo will be transferred to Paul and Kathleen Manafort in 2015, and shortly thereafter, Manafort will take out a $3 million mortgage on the condo fhrough USB Bank USA. (NBC News)


May 14, 2008: McCain Campaign Consultant Worked for Ukrainian Political Party Close to Putin

Rick Davis, co-owner of the lobbying firm Davis Manafort Inc, is a senior consultant to the presidential campaign of Republican Senator John McCain. The Wall Street Journal has now learned that Davis's firm worked on behalf of a Ukrainian political party backed by Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin.

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The information comes from documents filed with the Justice Department. Davis Manafort did the work through an affiliate, the public relations firm Daniel J. Edelman Inc, at the same time the firm was being paid by the McCain campaign. McCain opposes the pro-Putin position of the Ukrainian Part of Regions, the party Davis Manafort worked for. McCain spokesperson Brian Rogers says Davis receives no income from Davis Manafort, though he still owns a share of the firm: "He earns no money from their activities while he is on leave." Davis's work on behalf of the Party of Regions is not relevant to the McCain campaign, Rogers continues. "There has been no greater enemy of the status quo and corrupt lobbying practices in Washington than John McCain," he says. Davis Manafort has also worked to land business deals with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of Putin's who was barred from the US in 2007 for allegedly lying to the FBI about his ties to Russian organized crime. Edelman employee Chris Deri tells the Journal that his form worked for the Party of Regions during the summer and fall of 2007 and focused almost all of their efforts on the US media to try to move American public opinion closer to the Party of Regions and, by extension, Putin. Manafort refuses to comment on the issue; Manafort has close ties to the head of the Party of Regions, Viktor Yanukovych. Davis Manafort has never registered as a foreign agent. (Wall Street Journal)

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June 9, 2008: ExxonMobil CEO, Others Speak at Russian Economic Forum

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson attends the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, along with the heads of BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, ConocoPhillips, Total, Schlumberger and Dow Chemical. They are joined by the chairman of the Russian energy giant Gazprom and the president of the Russian oil company Lukoil.

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The New York Times writes: "The busy executives of the global energy industry, by their very willingness to sit together at an economic conference here over the weekend, were sending a powerful message that big Western businesses were in Russia to stay." Russia is in the midst of political and economic turmoil: Vladimir Putin is leaving the presidency, tensions are mounting on Russia's southern border with its neighbor Georgia, and the Russian economy is faltering. In his address to the conference, Tillerson chastizes the Russian government, saying that it "must improve the functioning of its judicial system and its judiciary. There is no respect for the rule of law in Russia today." Regardless of his words, as the Times notes, neither ExxonMobil or the other energy giants are going to stop "swarming around the honey pot for large contracts and access to the resources of Russia, one of the world's largest energy exporters and fastest growing economies in an era of $130-a-barrel oil." (Politico, New York Times)

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— 2010 —

2010: Manafort Aids in Ukrainian's Presidential Victory

Lobbyist Paul Manafort, a principal of the firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly, helps Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych win the presidency of his nation.

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Manafort, who has made a career out of representing despots and tyrants around the globe, was introduced to Yanukovych by the Ukraine's richest citizen, industrialist Rinat Akhmetov, a client of Manafort's. Manafort's job was repairing Yanukovych's reputation as a brutal Russian puppet. Among Manafort's statements: "[T]he West has not been willing to move beyond the Cold War mentality and to see this man and the outreach that he has extended." The reinvented Yanukovych, who once portrayed himself as the coarse ex-convict turned party boss that he is, has told Ukrainians that he is now a reformer who opposes corruption and wants closer ties with the West. In 2004, Yanukovych rose to notoriety when he allegedly had a political rival, Viktor Yushchenko, poisoned with dioxin. Manafort has smoothed and polished Yanukovych's reputation since then, helping him write more refined speeches and restraining his campaign appearances. (Ironically, Yushchenko has hired rival American lobbyists and pollsters to counter Manafort's influence.) After Yanukovych won the 2004 election under fraudulent circumstances, and ultimately lost that seat to Yushchenko, most Ukrainians believed Yanukovych's career as a politician was over. But Manafort reinvented his client and helped him take advantage of Yushchenko's failures. Yanukovych's adversaries concede that Manafort's reinvention program has been remarkably successful, even though they insist that he is still the same Soviet-style autocrat he always was. For his part, Manafort told the New York Times in 2007: "I am not here just for the election. I am trying to play a constructive role in developing a democracy. I am helping to build a political party." (Daily Beast, New York Times)

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2010: Flynn "Inappropriately Shared" Classified Intelligence with Foreign Allies

Major General Michael Flynn, the head of US military intelligence in Afghanistan, "inappropriately shared" classified information with British and Australian allies, a secret military investigation shows.

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The media does not learn of the investigation until December 2016, as the Trump transition team is preparing to announce Flynn as the new administration's National Security Advisor. He is not reprimanded or disciplined, as the investigation concludes he did not "knowingly" share classified information, and "there was no actual or potential damage to national security as a result," according to Army records. Former US officials will say that Flynn told allies about the activities of other agencies in Afghanistan, including the CIA. The details of Flynn's intelligence leaks are not publicly known, as the investigation is still classified. Flynn has previously admitted to sharing information with British and Australian recipients, but has claimed he had permission to share that information, a claim that will be proven false. The investigation is opened after a US Navy intelligence specialist charges that Flynn has violated rules by "inappropriately" sharing secrets with "various foreign military officers and/or officials in Afghanistan." A former senior US intellligence official later says of the sharing, "It was a general intelligence briefing that included stuff that shouldn't have been on those slides" and revealed "stuff the intelligence community was doing that had a much higher level of classification." Other former US officials will say that in 2009 or 2010, Flynn also disclosed "sensitive information" to Pakistan about secret US intelligence capabilities being used to monitor the Haqqani network, an insurgent group accused of repeated attacks on US forces in Afghanistan. Flynn received a verbal reprimand from the Pentagon's top intelligence official, James Clapper. The investigation delays Flynn's promotion to lieutenant general and his elevation to assistant director of national intelligence. (Washington Post)

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— 2011 —

August 30, 2011: Exxon Signs Arctic Oil Deal with Russia

ExxonMobil and the Russian government-owned oil company Rosneft agree to a deal to jointly drill for oil in Russia's Arctic Sea shelf, and in the deeper waters of the more southerly Black Sea.

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Rosneft will, in return, be able to join in with Exxon's ventures in the Gulf of Mexico and Texas, as well as future joint operations in other nations. Exxon will invest $3.2 billion in drilling for oil and gas in the Kara Sea, an arm of the Arctic Ocean located to the south of an island chain known as Novaya Zemlya. Global warming has freed this and other locations from the deep ice that previously blocked drilling operations in these areas. Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson was the primary negotiator for Exxon in the deal. Tillerson says: "This large-scale partnership represents a significant strategic step by both companies. This agreement takes our relationship to a new level and will create substantial value for both companies." In the same Exxon press release that includes Tillerson's statement, Rosneft president Eduard Khudainatov says: "We have a clear vision for Rosneft's strategic direction. This venture comes as a result of many years of cooperation with ExxonMobil and brings Rosneft into large scale world-class projects, turning the company into a global energy leader." The deal is a relatively small one for Exxon, but, says one analyst, "[w]ith the potential that those Russian fields hold, this is certainly a win for Exxon and opens them up for a lot of potential oil growth in the future." The Exxon deal is critical for Russia, as a similar proposal between Rosneft and BP, one that had the blessing of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, collapsed in May. Putin attends the deal closing ceremonies, held in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. (Politico, Washington Post, CNN Money)

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— 2012 —

2012: Manafort, Gates Secretly Funnel $2.2 Million from Ukraine to US Lobbyists

Paul Manafort, a Republican political operative working for Ukrainian despot Viktor Yanykovych, helps secretly route at least $2.2 million in payments to two high-profile Washington, DC lobbying firms. The money transfer is done in apparent violation of US law, and is designed to hide Yanukovych's attempt to influence US policy.

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Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates worked to provide the funds to two groups, Podesta Group Inc. and Mercury LLC. The money was provided through a newly created Ukrainian nonprofit organization, the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, which was created by parliament members from Yanukovych's ruling party. The firms are being paid to lobby on behalf of the Ukrainian government, including lobbying against a Congressional resolution pushing Yanukovych to release a political rival jailed at Yanukovych's behest. The lobbying firms will continue their work until after Yanukovych flees the country in February 2014 due to a political uprising. The Associated Press will receive statements from current and former employees of the Podesta Group in 2016, after both Manafort and Gates become prominent members of the Donald Trump campaign team. Gates will deny any illegal actions, but admits hiring the two lobbying firms. A former Podesta employee will tell the AP that Gates described the nonprofit's role as designed to hide the source of the money, which was from Ukrainian politicians allied with Yanukovych. Both firms determined that it was not necessary for them to inform the Justice Department of the monetary transactions. The Podesta firm is largely allied with Washington Democrats, while Mercury is associated with Republicans. (Associated Press)

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— 2013 —

January — June 2013: Future Trump Advisor Passes Information to Russian Spy

Oil industry consultant Carter Page meets with Russian intelligence operative Victor Podobnyy and passes documents to him concerning the oil industry and US sanctions against Russia. In 2016, Page will become a foreign affairs advisor for the Trump presidential campaign.

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In January 2015, Podobnyy will be charged by the US government for acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign government. Two other associates of Podobnyy's will also be charged with the same crime. The charges come after US investigators expose a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions against Russia, as well as American attempts to develop alternative energy sources. In April 2017, web news outlet Buzzfeed obtains a court filing by the US government that contains a transcript of a recording between Podobnyy and another in the spy ring, Igor Sporyshev, discussing their efforts to recruit someone identified as "Male-1." Page will confirm that he is Male-1. Buzzfeed reporter Ali Watkins will write: "The revelation of Page's connection to Russian intelligence – which occurred more than three years before his association with Trump – is the most clearly documented contact to date between Russian intelligence and someone in Trump's orbit. It comes as federal investigators probe whether Trump's campaign-era associates – including Page – had any inappropriate contact with Russian officials or intelligence operatives during the course of the election. In the transcript, Podobnyy says: "[Page] 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 rise up. Maybe he can. I don’t know, but it's obvious that he wants to earn lots of money. I also promised him a lot … This is intelligence method to cheat, how else to work with foreigners? You promise a favor for a favor. You get the documents from him and tell him to go fuck himself." Page meets Podobnyy in January at an energy conference in New York, and for the next six months, Page meets with, emails with, and "provide[s] documents to [Podobnyy] about the energy business." The Russians's interest in Page comes from his connections with the Russian state-owned Gazprom oil company. Podobnyy is working at Moscow's United Nations office in New York under diplomatic cover that masks his identity as an SVR agent. The FBI interviews Page about his interactions with Podobnyy, Sporyshev, and Evgeny Buryakov, the third Russian spy later charged by the US government, in June. Podobnyy and Sporyshev were spirited out of the US before they could be charged by the Justice Department; Buryakov will plead guilty to a charge of conspiring to work as a foreign agent and will be sentenced to 30 months in a federal prison. Before admitting that he is Male-1 in the transcript, Page sends a message to Buzzfeed that reads: "I'm very careful when i say never but even if I had inadvertently had 'contact' such as briefly saying hello to someone who might fall under that label in passing nothing i ever said to them or anyone else would've ever broken any law." After admitting his identity, he says "it is so obvious" that he is Male-1 that he does not bother to deny it. Page is cited in the Steele dossier as someone the Kremlin tried to recruit, and who had been paid by Russia to visit. Page will deny these allegations. He later tells ABC News: "I didn't want to be a spy. I'm not a spy." (Buzzfeed, Washington Post, ABC News, Just Security, US Department of Justice)

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June 2013: Flynn Visits Moscow, Meets with GRU

Lt. General Michael Flynn, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, enjoys a three-day visit to Moscow. He lays a wreath at Russia's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, visits the headquarters of the Russian military agency GRU, and gives an hour-long address on leadership and intelligence to an audience of young GRU officers.

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Finally, Flynn hosts an unprecedented dinner for his GRU counterpart at the US Embassy. Many of Flynn's guests had never been allowed on the "US soil" of the embassy before. Russia's ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, helped arrange Flynn's visit to Moscow, Flynn later says. (Defense One, Washington Post)

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June 21, 2013: Putin Awards Tillerson Russian Order of Friendship

Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin awards ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson Russia's Order of Friendship for what the Kremlin calls "[ExxonMobil's] big contribution to developing cooperation in the energy sector." The Order of Friendship was initiated by former Russian president Boris Yeltsin, and is given to foreign nationals who try to improve relations between their nations and Russia. Other American recipients of the award include American-Israeli basketball coach David Michael Blatt and American pianist Val Cliburn. (Kremlin, CBS News)

— 2014 —

2014-Early 2015: Page Lavishes Praise on Russian Oil Executive, Compares US Sanctions on Russia to Slaveholding Techniques

Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page, who is under surveillance by the FBI as a possible Russian asset, makes some unusual and disturbing posts on the Global Policy Journal blog that indicate his high level of support for Russia, and his virulent antipathy towards the Obama administration.

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After the US added Rosneft chairman Igor Sechin to its sanctions list in 2014, limiting his ability to travel in the US or do business with US companies, Page lavishes praise on Sechin, who is one of Vladimir Putin's closest allies. "After the US added Rosneft chairman Igor Sechin to its sanctions list in 2014, limiting his ability to travel in the US or do business with US companies, Page lavishes praise on Sechin, who is one of Vladimir Putin's closest allies, writing, "Sechin has done more to advance U.S.-Russian relations than any individual in or out of government from either side of the Atlantic over the past decade." In February 2015, he compares the 2015 National Security Strategy rationale for imposing sanctions on Russia to an 1850 publication advising slaveowners on how to produce "the ideal slave." On March 31, 2015, he writes a post entitled "ISIS Response Self-help Principles for Would-be Warriors of the West" which cites Dale Carnegie's self-help book How to Win Friends and Influence People as a strategy for dealing with the terrorist group. (Washington Post)

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March 4, 2014: Page Blames US for Orchestrating Ukrainian Revolution and Russia's Invasion of Crimea

Future Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page, who will soon go under FBI surveillance due to suspicion of his acting as a Russian intelligence asset, writes a screed for his blog Global Policy Journal that blasts the US's reaction to Russia's invasion of Ukraine's Crimea reason and implies that the US is to blame for "instigating" a "revolution" in Ukraine, referring to the Euromaidan resistance that led to the ouster of pro-Putin strongman Viktor Yanukovych.

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Page predicts that the Russian response to American "interventionism" will be sharp and ruinous to the US's interests in the region. With no evidence except for bizarre allegations in a YouTube video, he accuses State Department official and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt of "play[ing] active roles in orchestrating the revolution which transpired over recent months." He concludes: '[T]here may be advantages of not instigating revolutions and resultant separatist tendencies like this in the first place. From Baghdad to Maidan and beyond, be careful what you wish for." (Global Policy Journal)

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Summer 2014: FBI Begins Surveilling Page Under Suspicion of Being Russian Intel Asset

The FBI begins monitoring American businessman Carter Page's communications under a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant, because in 2013, Page passed documents about US sanctions on Russia to a Russian intelligence agent.

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The FISA warrant will be renewed more than once. In March 2016, Page, still under surveillance, will become a foreign affairs advisor for the Trump presidential campaign. Page will visit Moscow in July 2016 and roundly insult the US, but will later claim the trip was personal and not related to the campaign. Page will be proven to be a liar. He will meet with Russia's Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak that same month, along with two other campaign officials. Page will be outed as a Russian asset in the Steele dossier, which he will try and fail to label as a compendium of falsehoods. (Washington Post, Just Security, BuzzFeed)

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Summer-Fall 2014: American, Russian Billionaires Buy Bank of Cyprus

American billionaire Wilbur Ross partners with Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg and other plutocrats to buy the failed Bank of Cyprus, that country's largest financial institution. The bank collapsed in 2013 while having billions in deposits from wealthy Russians, including what Mother Jones will call "presumably dirty money or funds deposited there to escape Russian taxation …"

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(Putin declined to invest Russian government funds in the bank to save it.) During the restructuring of the bank after its bankruptcy, those depositors' money was converted into shares, giving them putative control of the bank. Ross and Vekselberg lead a massive takeover of the bank that buys out those shares. Ross is the primary shareholder, and Vekselberg's conglomerate, the Renova Group, is the second-largest shareholder. Vekselberg, one of the richest men in Russia, and Renova have a history of close ties to Vladimir Putin, as well as a number of allegations of criminal activity in his past. Ross becomes one of the Bank of Cyprus's board of directors, along with Renova executive Maksim Goldman, who represents Vekselberg's interests. Former KBG official and Putin associate Vladimir Strzhalkovskiy also joins the board. The chairman, as selected by Ross and Vekselberg, is Josef Ackermann, the former head of Deutsche Bank. Ackermann is a director of Vekselberg's Renova Management AG. Ross says Ackermann "knows practically everybody in Europe, everybody in Eastern Europe and huge numbers of people in the US and elsewhere." Ross and Strzhalkovskiy become the vice chairmen. Ross cites Cyprus's natural gas reserves as one reason he invests in the bank: "I think Cyprus has a very good potential for turnaround, if for no other reason than that it has tremendous natural gas reserves … given that Cyprus only has fewer than a million people in population, this could be a very, very dramatic impact on that economy." Russian propaganda outlet RT wrote in September 2013, "The substantial minority [of Russians on the board] demonstrates the large stake Russia had, and will continue to have, in the Cypriot banking system." RT went on to note that all of the Russian board members "were nominated by law firms with close ties to Russian and Chinese investors." (Mother Jones, CNBC, Bloomberg News, RT)

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June 10, 2014: Exxon, Other Energy Companies "Dancing Around" US Sanctions on Russia

The New York Times reports on how deftly American oil and energy firms such as ExxonMobil are "dancing around" the sanctions imposed on Russia by the United States.

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Last month, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson did not attend a major business forum in Moscow, but he sent his company's exploration chief, Neil Duffin, in his place. Duffin signed an agreement with Igor Sechin, the head of Russian oil firm Rosneft, to expand the Exxon-Rosneft agreement to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean, as well as agreeing to explore for shale oil in Siberia and to help build a liquefied natural gas plant in Vladivostok. The US sanctions prohibit American businesses from doing personal business with Sechin, a former KGB agent and a longtime aid to Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin, but not with Sechin's corporate interests. The Times reports, "Despite the push by Western governments to isolate Moscow for its aggression in Ukraine, energy giants are deepening their relationships with companies here by striking deals and plowing more money into the country." Apparently the risk of violating future sanctions with Russia is worth the reward of partnering Russia in its aggressive oil and gas drilling projects. Former State Department official David Goldwyn says: "They are likely to continue to engage until there is a clear policy signal that they should stop. It is not rational to think they would act in any other way. If the government wants them to stop, it needs to say louder they should stop." The current sanctions do not explicitly bar firms like Exxon and others from doing business with Moscow. An executive order issued by President Obama on March 20 has not yet been put into effect, and a third round of sanctions that may go into effect in the near future would indeed cut off dealings with major sectors of the Russian economy like finance, metals and energy. French oil giant Total, who is involved in multiple deals with Rosneft and Lukoil, another Russian oil companies, says via its CEO Christophe de Margerie: "My message to Russia is simple … it is business as usual." Tillerson and other oil magnates are speaking out against the US sanctions against Russia. Tillerson tells reporters, "Our views are being heard at the highest levels. … There has been no impact on any of our business activities in Russia to this point, nor has there been any discernible impact on the relationship" with Rosneft. (New York Times, Politico)

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August 2014: DIA Warns Flynn Not to Accept Foreign Payments

The Defense Intelligence Agency warns former head Michael Flynn not to accept payments from foreign countries as he begins his retirement from the agency and from the US Army. The media does not learn of the DIA warning until April 2017.

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Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) will say: "These documents raise grave questions about why General Flynn concealed the payments he received from foreign sources after he was warned explicitly by the Pentagon." Flynn's lawyer, Robert Kelner, will tell reporters that Flynn will alert the DIA as to payments he will accept from Russia and other foreign nations, but Cummings will cite documentation showing no evidence of Kelner's claim; the document states: "DIA did not locate any records referring or relating to LTG Flynn's receipt of money from a foreign source. … DIA did not locate any records of LTG Flynn seeking permission or approval for the receipt of money from a foreign source." (CNN, House Oversight Committee)

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September 29, 2014: ExxonMobil Suspends Operations with Rosneft due to US Sanctions

ExxonMobil suspends cooperation with Russia's government-owned oil and gas company Rosneft on its offshore drilling deals due to US sanctions against Russia.

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Both Rosneft and its head, Putin ally Igor Sechin, are among the targets of the sanctions, which were imposed after Russia invaded Ukraine's Crimea and occupied that territory. Exxon says it has been given a brief extension to wind down a drilling rig in the Kara Sea. A reporter for the Russian media outlet Kommersant says: "Theoretically, there was a possibility to continue the work, but it was necessary to obtain a new permit. But [ExxonMobil] failed to get it. ExxonMobil should stop work and evacuate its personnel by mid-October." By October 2016, Exxon will be reported to lose some $1 billion because of White House sanctions. (Reuters, Politico)

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— 2015 —

2015: Kushner Engages in Huge Real Estate Deal with Russian Oligarch Involved in Money-Laundering Scheme

Jared Kushner, the real estate mogul who is Donald Trump's son-in-law, engages in a massive financial deal with Russian oligarchs who will later become the focus of an investigation into a huge Russian money-laundering scheme.

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Kushner is one of several New York real estate moguls and Trump insiders involved with the Russian financiers. One of Kushner's deals involves the purchase of the old New York Times building, a deal that also involves billionaire real estate and diamond oligarch Lev Leviev, a confidante of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. Kushner pays $295 million to the US branch of Leviev's firm, Africa Israel Investments (AFI), and its partner, Five Mile Capital. Kushner then obtains a $285 unsecured loan from Deutsche Bank to refinance the loan. Leviev is a business partner in Prevezon Holdings, which took part in a huge money-laundering scam that involved dozens of wealthy Russians, many of whom either had high positions in the Russian government or were closely allied to Putin. The scheme was brought to light in 2008 by lawyer Sergei Magnitsky, who was falsely arrested, jailed, and beaten to death by prison guards; after his death, Putin and his cronies have attempted to claim that Magnitsky was the actual mastermind of the money-laundering scheme. After Trump wins the Republican presidential primary, Kushner will meet with Prevezon lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower. After Trump is elected, he will fire US Attorney Preet Bharara, who is actively investigating and prosecuting the case against Prevezon, and the case will be settled for a relatively paltry fine of $6 million with no admission of guilt or any findings of fault. Veselnitskaya will hail the settlement as so slight that "it seemed almost an apology from the government." Deutsche Bank is one of the largest financial institutions that took part in the money-laundering scheme. AFI is also under investigation in the Prevezon case, as a business partner of the company. Veselnitskaya is now engaged in an effort, approved and financed by the Putin government, to lobby the US government to repeal the Magnitsky Act, a law passed after Magnitsky's death that sanctions specific Russians involved in financial crimes or human-rights violations. (Guardian)

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February 10, 2015: Page Compares US Foreign Policy to Slaveholding in Racist, Anti-American Screed

Future Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page, who is under FBI surveillance due to suspicion of his acting as a Russian intelligence asset, writes an astonishingly racist and anti-American op-ed for his blog Global Policy Journal that compares Russia, Iran, China, and other nations as "slaves" to American foreign policy.

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After posting quotes from a Kanye West song that indicates a vast misunderstanding of the rapper's lyrical intentions, Page writes that Russia, Iran, China and other nations he says have suffered under the heel of oppressive US foreign policy are beginning to "fight back" against their oppressor. He lauds Russia's criminal kleptocracy as a paradigm of modern capitalism, and says the US and the European Union refused to allow Russia to create a modern capitalist society after the fall of the Soviet Union. He blames State Department official Victoria Nuland as one of the prime architects of Russian suffering, and cites Secretary of State John Kerry and his predecessor Hillary Clinton "as relatively detached supervisors of these early shenanigans." After once again insulting African-Americans by quoting a passage from US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas's memoirs that blames "left-wing zealots" for the racism endemic to American society, he writes, "From US policies toward Russia to Iran to China, sanctimonious expressions of moral superiority stand at the root of many problems seen worldwide today." He attacks National Security Advisor Susan Rice, blames Nuland for the Ukrainian revolution that so angered Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin, and says the National Security Strategy as described by Rice "closely parallel[s] an 1850 publication that offered guidance to slaveholders on how to produce the 'ideal slave.'" He closes by twisting a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr to serve his ends, compares the Russians of today to America after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, and writes: "Given the biased philosophies and draconian tactics of both the US and the EU, Russia has shifted its attention eastward. Recent efforts by Gazprom, the world's largest publicly-traded energy company, have refocused on the strong prospects in Asian markets. This economics-focused initiative stands in stark contrast to the military-focus of the US pivot to Asia. Whereas China also sees evidence that the increased presence of military overseers in its backyard might stand as part of a new US containment policy, the move reflects part of the mutual concern that Beijing shares with Moscow." (Global Policy Journal)

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June 2015-January 2017: Flynn Promotes Russian-Tied Nuclear, Arms Project for Middle East While Trump's National Security Advisor

Trump's National Security Advisor Michael Flynn secretly promotes a controversial private-sector nuclear power plant construction scheme that involves Russian companies. Congressional Democrats later claim that Flynn violates the law by refusing to disclose his involvement with the project before accepting the NSA position, and will inform the Mueller investigation of their concerns.

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Behind closed doors, Flynn advocates for a group of former senior US military officers with whom he had worked while in the private sector; before joining the White House, Flynn had advised companies that want to provide security for the plants. If the plan had come to fruition, it would have involved the construction of dozens of nuclear plants in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East. The American firms would partner with the Saudi government and with Rosatom, Russia's government-run nuclear energy agency to build 16 nuclear energy plants in Saudi Arabia. That nation would then sell the energy to other Arab countries, including Egypt and Jordan. The nations involved would also agree to buy military hardware from Russia, in deals likely facilitated by Russia's state-run weapons exporter Rosoboron. That firm is under US sanctions for providing weapons to Syria, Iran and North Korea. Flynn files disclosure forms with the White House that claimed he terminated his involvement with the project in December 2016, but those claims are lies. Flynn continues working on the project at least through January 2017. Flynn's contacts with the former military officers, National Security Council staffers later tell the Wall Street Journal, are unusual, occurring "outside normal channels" and prompting speculation among staffers that Flynn is engaging in actions that amount to conflicts of interest. The actions, one former NSC staffer will say, are "highly abnormal" and "not the way things were supposed to go." Flynn ignores a recommendation by NSC ethics advisors to remove himself from the project. Flynn began his involvement with the project in June 2015, just as the Trump campaign is getting underway. Flynn quickly becomes one of Trump's most trusted foreign policy advisors, and after being considered for Trump's vice president, is named National Security Advisor in January 2017. Flynn will be fired from his position a month later. During his time as National Security Advisor, Flynn attempts to meet with the former military officers. A meeting between the officers and NSC staffers takes place, but, according to a Trump administration official, Flynn "was instructed that it would be inappropriate for him to attend and he did not attend. Whether he did something we don't know about? We don't know what we don't know." House Democrats Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) will write: "It appears that General Flynn violated federal law by omitting this trip and these foreign contacts from his security clearance renewal application in 2016 and concealing them from security clearance investigators who interviewed him as part of the background check process." The letter will be sent to Robert Mueller, the head of the federal investigation into the accusations of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. House Oversight Committee chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) will refuse to sign the letter; a spokesperson says it is because Gowdy does not want to interfere in the Mueller probe. The project includes contracts with Russian countries to provide nuclear fuel and dispose of nuclear waste from the power plants. The officers' plan for Flynn, according to a person familiar with the project, is to use Flynn to "get into the administration [and] make sure the White House was on the same side" as them. Even though the plan began taking shape in mid-2015, apparently no one ever contacts Obama-era National Security Council members. In his disclosure forms, Flynn declares his involvement with two companies involved in the project, X-Co Dynamics and IronBridge (both consultancy firms created and staffed by former military officers), but does not reveal any payments he may have received. Both companies are to provide security for the plants. Later, Flynn amends the form to include a third company in the venture, ACU Strategic Partners, and discloses he was paid more than $5000 for his participation. ACU will later tell the House Oversight Committee that its payments to Flynn are to cover travel expenses for Flynn's flight to the Middle East on behalf of the company in June 2015. ACU advisor Dr. Thomas Cochran will write to Congressional committees confirming that Flynn "firmly believed in the necessity of the project from a US National Security perspective," and confirming that Flynn "traveled to Egypt and Israel to explain the ACU project's importance." Flynn fails to disclose those trips on his forms. Even after Flynn's abrupt departure from the White House, the former officers will continue to push the plan with Trump officials. In April, members of the group will meet with top Trump economic advisor Gary Cohn, and billionaire Thomas Barrack, who helps plan the administration's May trip to Saudi Arabia. The White House will claim that the plans for the power plants were not discussed during that trip because of "time constraints." The White House will acknowledge Cohn's attendance for the meeting, but will claim Cohn was there to do nothing but listen to the proposal. In June 2017, Newsweek reporter Jeff Stein will write that some experts consider the entire nuclear plan construction scheme to be "harebrained," saying that while the scheme will enrich the consultancy companies as well as some US nuclear firms, the near-trillion dollar cost of the networked power plants is beyond absurd, and something that the Saudis are highly unlikely to approve. Other payments Flynn fails to disclose includes $11,250 by the Russian cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, another $11,250 by Russian charter cargo airline Volga-Dnepr Airlines, and multiple payments from the Russian propaganda television network RT. (Wall Street Journal, Business Insider, CNN, Newsweek)

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November 29, 2015: Flynn Says Russia's Presence in Syria Important

Former DIA chief Michael Flynn, now an outspoken opponent of the Obama administration's foreign policy in the Middle East, gives a wide-ranging interview to Der Spiegel. In the course of that interview, Flynn advises that Russia's presence in the Middle East, particularly Syria, is ongoing and important.

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He advises the US and its allies to focus on specific sectors of the Middle East, with individual countries "taking responsibility for these sectors" under a coalition military command structure and overall supervision from the UN. "The United States could take one sector, Russia as well and the Europeans another one. The Arabs must be involved in that sort of military operation, as well, and must be part of every sector. With this model, you would have opportunities — Russia, for example, must use its influence on Iran to have Tehran back out of Syria and other proxy efforts in the region. … We have to work constructively with Russia. Whether we like it or not, Russia made a decision to be there [in Syria] and to act militarily. They are there, and this has dramatically changed the dynamic. So you can't say Russia is bad, they have to go home. It's not going to happen. Get real. Look at what happened in the past few days: The president of France asked the US for help militarily [after the Paris attacks]. That's really weird to me, as an American. We should have been there first and offered support. Now he is flying to Moscow and asking Putin for help." (Der Spiegel)

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December 10, 2015: Flynn Sits Near Putin at Celebratory Dinner for Kremlin Propaganda Outlet

RT, formerly Russia Today, the Kremlin's foreign-language propaganda outlet, celebrates its 10-year anniversary by hosting a conference about "Information, messages, politics." Among the invited guests is retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the former head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency and a frequent guest on RT.

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Other guests include former London mayor Ken Livingstone; former Czech Republic foreign minister Cyril Svoboda; Jill Stein, the head of the US Green Party; German politicial Willy Wimmer; Latin American news broadcaster Patricia Villegas; former CIA operative Ray McGovern; and RT's editor-in-chief Margarita Simonyan. The conference is held at Moscow's Metropol Hotel. Flynn later admits he is being paid to make the appearance through his speaker's bureau LAI, though he refuses to say how much he is being paid. (The press later learns that he was paid approximately $40,000.) He later tells a reporter that he sees no difference between the content provided by RT and that provided by American news outlets such as CNN. Flynn will say he advised Putin to behave more responsibly in foreign affairs, but according to former US officials, Putin's impetus in bringing Flynn to Moscow was to use Flynn as a propaganda prop. He will explain: "The gig was to do an interview with [RT correspondent] Sophie Shevardnadze. It was an interview in front of the forum, probably 200 people in the audience. My purpose there was I was asked to talk about radical Islam in the Middle East. They asked me to talk about what was going on in the situation unfolding in the Middle East. … The speaking agreement was done before Russian went into Syria, which was actually more interesting to me because … one of my discussions, I talked about the attacks in France … and the negative role that Iran was playing where I thought Russian could actually have a role. The statement that I made was actually: 'Russia ought to get Iran to back out of the proxy wars they are involved in,' to include Syria, so we, the rest of the international community, could settle this situation down." The right-wing media outlet Accuracy in Media (or AIM) writes: "Flynn's attendance at the RT 'gala celebration,' including a special seat at the head table at the anniversary dinner, suggests that [Flynn] views Russia as a potential US ally in the war on terror." Flynn gives a talk on world affairs and the threat of Islamist terrorism. At the anniversary dinner, Flynn and Stein are seated at the same table as Vladimir Putin. Putin himself addresses the audience, calling RT a free and independent news provider. He says, "You compete on the same playing field as international news giants, and are already beating them according to many parameters. In some regions of the world, you have higher ratings than traditional news organizations that have long been operating in the international information market. … We do not control you … and we do not meddle." AIM will write, "Moscow is obviously proud of what it has accomplished, with the cooperation of foreigners who appear on the channel and give it credibility." AIM is highly critical of Flynn's participation, writing: "We need military officials willing to fight and win. But Flynn's participation in the RT anniversary celebration raises questions about what the DIA and other US intelligence agencies know, or think they know, about the Russian role in global conflict and RT's role in propaganda and disinformation. What we can say for sure at this point is that it was not an accident that the former head of the DIA showed up in Moscow to celebrate the 10th anniversary of a TV channel that serves the interests of Moscow's intelligence establishment. Flynn … must surely have known what he was getting into. It’s not called KGB-TV for nothing. … In trying to attract and confuse an American audience, RT regularly features Marxist and radical commentators in the U.S. such as Noam Chomsky, Gloria La Riva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and 9/11 'inside job' advocate and radio host Alex Jones. It is preferable for the Russians to use foreigners, especially Americans, to make their propaganda points. Flynn is probably the most important American ever snared in RT's web. He has added propaganda value because of his impressive background and years of service in the US Army." Flynn is promoting his book about "radical Islamic terrorism," titled The Field of Fight and co-written by radical right-wing pundit Michael Ledeen. It concludes: "The participation of a former chief of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the event was a major coup for RT. Film and photos of his participation will help the Russians in their ongoing propaganda campaign to depict the state-funded entity as simply a respectable source of alternative news and opinion that offers different views." Politico's Michael Crowley writes: " … RT is a strange place. It styles itself as an edgy CNN or BBC, delivering unvarnished news and commentary with a mostly hip, young cast. But just under the surface is a bought-and-paid-for propaganda vehicle trying to nudge viewers toward Russia's side of the story at a time when Moscow has increasingly become an international pariah, estranged from the West over its military aggression in Ukraine, Syria and elsewhere, its elites sanctioned and its economy struggling with isolation, decaying infrastructure and collapsing energy prices." Obama administration officials are taken aback at Flynn's presence; a former Pentagon official later tells Crowley, "It was extremely odd that he showed up in a tuxedo to the Russian government propaganda arm's party." (Politico, RT, Newsweek, Accuracy in Media, Washington Post, Washington Post, Daily Mail, Heavy, New York Daily News)

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— January 2016 —

January 27, 2016: Avowed White Nationalist Joins Trump Campaign

Stephen Miller, the communications director for Senator Jeff Sessions, joins the Trump presidential campaign as a senior policy advisor after working informally for the campaign.

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Sessions and Trump already have a close working relationship, with Sessions frequently speaking out on behalf of Trump. The Miller appointment is praised by right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, who posts on Twitter: "I'M IN HEAVEN! Trump hires Sen. Sessions' brain trust, Stephen Miller. He's not backing down on immigration." Both Trump and Sessions espouse hardline stances against immigration. Miller will work with Trump campaign co-chair Sam Clovis, writing white papers and assisting Trump with debate preparations. Miller formerly worked for House members Michele Bachmann and John Shadegg, and has worked with Sessions for seven years. Before long, Miller will begin "warming up" the crowds at Trump rallies, launching attacks on Hillary Clinton, asserting that a "vast conspiracy" exists throughout the political spectrum to keep ordinary Americans down, and saying lines like: "Everybody who stands against Donald Trump are the people who have been running the country into the ground, who have been controlling the levers of power. They're the people who are responsible for our open borders, for our shrinking middle class, for our terrible trade deals. Everything that is wrong with this country today, the people who are opposed to Donald Trump are responsible for!" He will routinely lead cheers for Trump's infamous "wall" between Mexico and the US, saying: "We're going to build that wall, and we're going to build it out of love. We’re going to build it out of love for every family who wants to raise their kids in safety and peace … We're building it out of love for America and Americans of all backgrounds." He will also begin defending Trump in guest slots on broadcast news shows, where he will vilify immigrants, particularly Muslims, as killers who pose an existential threat to America. Miller soon announces that he will take a leave of absence from working in Sessions's office while he is with Trump.

Building a Brand of Racism, Gender Bias, and Controversy

Like his patron Sessions, Miller is widely viewed as something of a racist; it was Miller who wrote much of the material Sessions used to attack Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor's Hispanic background during Sotomayor's Senate confirmation hearings. According to Miller, he abandoned his youthful liberalism after the 9/11 attacks, when he was a high school junior, and became a loud and sometimes vitriolic advocate for hard-line conservative causes, especially anti-immigration and what he calls the "liberal indoctrination" of American education. His rhetorical attacks on gays and Native Americans – in one essay, he sarcastically says early American settlers "could have lived with the Indians, learning how to finger paint and make tepees, excusing their scalping of frontiersmen as part of their culture" – brought a lot of attention to the high school student. In his senior year, he wrote, "Osama Bin Laden would feel very welcome at Santa Monica High School." He became heavily involved in writing for conservative school publications during his time at Duke University, and considers David Horowitz, an avowed white supremacist who went from being a radical leftist to a fringe figure on the right, as his inspiration and mentor. He blames the "radicals" whom he says are in charge at Duke for his incendiary essays and pronouncements during his time there; he was only trying to be "a voice of justice and reason" in return. In his newspaper column, he called Senator Ted Kennedy a "traitor" for opposing torture, called blacks "paranoid" for complaining about the racially biased treatment they received, and once wrote that "worshipping at the altar of multiculturalism" undermines American culture and ignores the fact "we have shared with the world the cultural value of individualism and liberty, a value rooted in our unique and glorious history of settlers, pioneers and frontiersman [sic]." Presumably Miller meant that white Americans are the fount of that bounty. As for the battle for women's rights, he dismissed the concept altogether, claiming, "Women already have equal rights in this country. … Sorry, feminists. Hate to break this good news to you. … It's not chauvinism. It's chivalry." Miller welcomed the flood of angry rebuttals the Duke student newspaper ran in response to his writings, as the controversy helped build his personal brand. A student editor later recalls that Miller "was very businesslike" in the way he courted controversy. Duke public relations official John Burness will later recall: "Part of his standing out was he put a moral tone on every issue he touched on. If you did not agree with him, there was something immoral about you. He defined the term sanctimonious." His high point as a Duke editorialist was his defense of the Duke lacrosse team against the allegations of rape made by a black female stripper. His defense of the players hinged on his personal vilification of their accuser, saying her accusations were entirely racially motivated and calling her a hypocrite. He echoed these statements in an appearance on Fox News's anchor talk show The O'Reilly Factor and the syndicated Nancy Grace Show. White nationalist leader Richard Spencer met Miller while both attended Duke. Like Miller, Spencer wrote harsh criticisms of the woman who accused the Duke lacross players of rape. And the two worked together to being white nationalist Peter Brimelow to speak on campus. Miller later says: "I have absolutely no relationship with Mr. Spencer. I completely repudiate his views, and his claims are 100 percent false." In 2009, Horowitz helped Miller land his position on Sessions's staff. In 2014, conservative pundit invited Miller to write for his online publication The Daily Caller. Miller frequently wrote about immigration and trade issues that not only continued building his brand on the far right, but helped burnish Sessions's reputation among that audience. Miller also worked with media conservatives like Coulter, Laura Ingraham, Lou Dobbs, and Andrew Breitbart. When Breitbart, who died in 2012, launched his website, Miller organized a meeting for him with congressional staffers.

Branding the Trump Campaign

Miller, like several other Breitbart veterans, became well known to Trump campaign officials. Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon, who will become Trump's campaign co-chair, will say of Miller: "Whether the issue was trade or immigration or radical Islam, for many years before Donald Trump came on the scene, Senator Sessions was the leader of the movement and Stephen was his right-hand man." Bannon will call Sessions's attempt to kill immigration reform in 2014 analogous "to the civil rights movement in the 1960s," and will praise Miller for being part of that effort. Miller will say: "When I was in Sessions's office, this movement for nation-state populism, the intellectual framework for that was being formed. A big part of my day was being in touch with the people who were the key players in that. … We saw ourselves as a kind of think tank for immigration issues and linking that to the larger questions of globalism and populism." Bannon will say of Miller that he "is providing the intellectual architecture for an insurgency against the Republican Party." Both Miller and Sessions will help Trump write his first foreign policy speech. Of all the media outlets in existence, Miller prefers Breitbart News, which has now become a haven of right-wing conspiracy theories and openly racist/white supremacist diatribes. "Every movement needs a dialogue," he will say. "Breitbart was a big part of that." Miller and Sessions both worked closely with Breitbart and continue to do so. In return, Breitbart has become a mouthpiece for Sessions, writing news and op-ed stories at the request of Sessions or his staffers. Breitbart is now doing the same for Trump. A Breitbart reporter will say: "They're all in the same boat together, Sessions, Trump and Breitbart. There's no other politician that Breitbart does that for. They go above and beyond." (Washington Post, Politico, Alabama Today, Mother Jones, Ann Coulter)

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— February 2016 —

February 28, 2016: Sessions Endorses Trump

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) becomes the first senator to endorse Trump for president. Insiders consider the endorsement a setback for Trump's primary rival Ted Cruz (R-TX). Sessions is a favorite of the far-right "tea party" wing of the Republican Party.

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After Sessions joins Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) in endorsing Trump, Trump boasts: "I hate to say it, I'm becoming mainstream. I'm getting all these endorsements." Sessions is an outspoken opponent of immigration, and says Trump will "fix" America's "broken" immigration system. To a rally in Alabama, Sessions says: "I told Donald Trump this isn't a campaign, this is a movement. Look at what's happening. The American people are not happy with their government." In a statement, the Trump campaign calls Sessions "the nation's most highly respected official on the issue of illegal immigration." For his part, Sessions says: "This election is our last chance to save US sovereignty and to end the domination of the political establishment over the interests of working Americans. Trump alone has rejected the donor class, defending America's jobs and wages from open borders, uncontrolled immigration and the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership that will cede US authority to foreign powers. … We are nearing fast the point of no return. … Americans of all backgrounds and ethnicities, immigrant and US-born, are crying out for leadership that puts their needs first, that takes care of those living and dreaming here today, leadership that understands that there is no constituency other than the American constituency. Mr. Trump is that leader. We are witnessing an incredible movement, arising from the people. The events of history have aligned to give the people this fleeting chance to bust up the oligarchy – to take back control from the 'Masters of the Universe' return it to the good and decent and patriotic citizens of the United States." Columnist Jack Kerwick writes for BeliefNet that when Trump's primary opponent Senator "Marco Rubio [R-FL] and his fellow seven gangsters in the Gang of Eight tried to impose amnesty upon the country, … Sessions spearheaded the battle against it. There is no American senator that more strongly opposes amnesty and that more forcefully advocates on behalf of an American First immigration policy than the senator from Alabama. And on Sunday, February 28, just two days before Super Tuesday and three days after the anti-Trump 'conservative' pundits on Fox and in other outlets began talking themselves into thinking that Rubio would be the savior from Trump for which they’ve been searching, Sessions endorsed Donald Trump. This is a big deal." Sessions and Trump absolutely oppose any idea of "amnesty" for undocumented immigrants, Kerwick writes. (Politico, Business Insider, BeliefNet, New York Times)

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— March 2016 —

March 3, 2016: Sessions Named to Trump Campaign Team

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) is named the chair of the Trump campaign's National Security Advisory Committee.

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Sessions says, "I am grateful for the opportunity to recommend and facilitate discussions among exceptional and experienced American military and diplomatic leaders to share insight and advice with Donald Trump, regardless of their political views." Sessions, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, was the first US Senator to endorse Trump. He says he intends to assist Trump and military leaders in developing what he calls a "clear-eyed foreign policy rooted in the national interest," and adds: "We need to understand the limits of our ability to intervene successfully in other nations. It is time for a healthy dose of foreign policy realism. In the Middle East, this means forming partnerships based on shared interests, not merely overthrowing regimes in the dangerous attempt to plant democracies. … We must also combat the refugee crisis by creating regional safe zones, rather than depopulating the region by migration. The only path to long-term stability and resolution of this humanitarian crisis for the United States and our European allies is to work towards the safe return of migrants to their home countries, as Mr. Trump has noted. This strategy will also protect our own national security." According to Trump, Sessions has already advised his campaign on trade and immigration issues. Sessions is widely considered a racist; in 1986 he was denied a judicial appointment after the public learned of his opposition to civil rights and voting rights legislation, and after multiple sources testified that they heard Sessions tell a black man to "be careful what you say to white folks." He also has a consistent pattern of voting against gay rights and women's rights issues. (ABC News, Birmingham News, New Republic, New York Times)

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March 21, 2016: Trump Names Foreign Policy Advisory Team

In a wide-ranging, rambling, and sometimes incoherent interview with the Washington Post, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announces his foreign policy advisory committee. He cites several names: Walid Phares, whom he identifies as an advisor to the Republican House caucus and "counter-terrorism expert;" Carter Page, whom he only identifies as having a doctorate; "George Papadopoulos, he's an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy;" former Defense Department Inspector General Joe Schmitz; retired Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg; "and I have quite a few more. But that's a group of some of the people that we are dealing with. We have many other people in different aspects of what we do, but that’s a representative group."

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Both Page and Papadopoulos will come under intense scrutiny for their attempts to liaise with Russian agents as part of the campaign. Page has been under surveillance by US law enforcement since 2014 for passing information about US sanctions against Russia to a Russian intelligence agent. Papadopoulos, who will be describe internally as an ideal "surrogate" for the campaign with foreign governmental and business leaders, will make intensive efforts to set up meetings between Kremlin officials and Trump campaign officials, and will plead guilty to charges stemming from his work with the campaign.

Biographical Info on the Advisors

Papadopoulos graduated from DePaul University in 2009 and directs an international energy center at the London Center of International Law Practice. He came to the Trump campaign from the Ben Carson campaign. (He will later tell Greek journalists that Carson recommended him for the position in the Trump campaign.) He was an intern at the far-right Hudson Institute. Page is an energy executive whose firm, Global Energy Capital, primarily works with Russian and former Soviet client states' business interests. He is a strident proponent of pro-Russian policies, and an equally loud critic of US foreign policies. Schmitz, while Inspector General, slowed or blocked investigations of senior Bush administration officials, and spent money and accepted gifts in violation of ethics guidelines. He later went to work for the Prince Group, the parent company of the infamous mercenary company Blackwater. The executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, Danielle Brian, said of his move: "The inspector general is a standard-bearer for ethics and integrity for the Pentagon. To see a person who has been holding that position cash in on his public service and go work for one of their contractors is tremendously disappointing." Phares, who serves as a provost for BAU International University, won notoriety in 2012 when, as an advisor to the Romney campaign, he was found to have links to armed Christian factions blamed for abuses in Lebanon's civil war. He is a former Fox News analyst. Kellogg, a former commander of the 82nd Airborne, has worked at a number of defense contracting and consulting firms.

Other Issues Addressed by Trump in Interview

Trump hits some other topics: complaints about his "very, very bad" treatment by the Post and other media sources; praising his own real estate deals; insulting the Obama administration individually and generally, including some shockingly ignorant critiques of Obama's handling of a number of foreign policy issues; insulting African-Americans, including citing "bad condition[s]" in a number of majority-black urban areas (he says he could revitalize those areas by building stores for his businesses in those areas); praising the actions of police officers who brutalize minority citizens; insulting Mexico and Hispanics, including Hispanic-Americans; praising Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who will be found guilty of brutalizing and torturing prisoners; defending the violence he incites at his campaign rallies and lying about his offer to pay the legal fees for his supporters if they assault protesters; insulting NATO allies; and lying about his statements defending the size of his genitalia during a presidential primary debate. (Washington Post, Washington Post, New York Times, Politico)

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March 21, 2016: Wealthy Oil Executive with Russian Ties Joins Trump Team

Investment banker and millionaire Carter Page joins the Trump campaign as a foreign policy advisor. Page's qualifications, such as they are, seem to center on his deep connections with businesses in Russia and former Soviet states such as Georgia and Turkmenistan.

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He later says that when he was publicly named as a member of the Trump team, he received a flurry of congratulatory emails from his Russian contacts. He will say: "So many people who I know and have worked with have been so adversely affected by the sanctions policy," referring to the 2014 sanctions against Russia imposed by the US. "There's a lot of excitement in terms of the possibilities for creating a better situation." Page's pro-Russian stance slots nicely with Trump's own favorable attitude towards Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin. Page has consistently defended Russia in his online writings, and has attacked US lawmakers as being locked into an outdated Cold War mindset. "There's a very negative conventional wisdom that these are all crooks and bad guys," he will say of Russian governmental and business leaders. He will say his experience working with Russian companies and pitching deals in former Soviet states gives him a more practical perspective than what is available from "people from afar, sitting in the comfort of their think tanks in Washington." Page began building his fortune while a lower-level investment banker at Merrill Lynch, where he formed a relationship with Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk. His ties to Pinchuk led him to being named to the firm's Moscow office in 2004. In Russia, Page claims to have formed close working relationships with senior executives at Gazprom, the former Soviet gas ministry that was partially privatized during the 1990s. While Page was in Moscow, Putin ensured that the Russian government once again controlled Gazprom. Page supposedly worked on a number of large deals with Gazprom, including helping the company buy a stake in the Sakhalin oil and gas field in the Arctic Sea. He also helped the company bring aboard Western investors. Page's former boss in Moscow, Bernie Sucher, will say Page "has a nuanced and subtle appreciation of the interplay of politics and energy." However, another former Merrill executive in Russia, Sergey Aleksashenko, now an outspoken Putin critic, will say Page had only a superficial understanding of Russia. "I could not imagine Carter as an adviser on foreign policy. It's really surprising." In 2008, Page started his own firm, Global Energy Capital, and began investing heavily in Turkmenistan and Iraq Kurdistan, and has worked with Chinese investors who wanted to buy into the Russian oil fields. He has since then advised foreign investors on buying assets in Russia, and has formed a close bond with former Gazprom official Sergey Yatsenko, who is the only other partner of Page's firm. Yatsenko will say of Page: "He understands what's going on in Russia. He doesn't make strong judgments." Page admits that the sanctions have hurt his portfolio, particularly his investments in Gazprom. Interestingly, Julia Ioffe of Politico, who will describe herself as "a Russia wonk" with close ties to the expat community and a number of years spent living in Moscow, did not know who he was when his name was announced as part of Trump's team. Neither did many of her contacts. She will recall one Western businessman with decades of experience in Russia saying to her: "I had not heard of Carter Page before it came out in the media. But I am getting a lot of emails from friends asking, 'Have you heard of this guy'?" Bill Browser, a Western investor who fell out of favor with Putin, will tell Ioffe: "Strangely, I've never heard of Carter Page until this Trump connection. It's odd, because I've heard of every other financier who was a player on Moscow at the time." Few inside Trump's campaign know Page, either. But, Ioffe will write, after Page becomes a campaign team member, his profile among the business community in the region will begin to rise. In June, he will raise eyebrows by telling a group of Washington insiders that Putin is a better president than Barack Obama. As for Page's glittering Moscow resume, Ioffe will be unable to find anyone of significance who remembers him. Ian Craig, the CEO of Sakhalin Energy from 2004-2009 and who did such a commendable job as chief negotiator with Gazprom that he joined the firm as CEO, will say that not only does he not know the name Carter Page, he doesn't believe Merrill Lynch was involved in the deal. She will confirm Craig's account with Western investors involved in the deal. Artem Torchinsky remembers Page being involved in the reorganization and privatization of RAO UES, the Russian electricity giant. "His nickname was stranichkin," Torchinsky will recall, which translates to "little page." Page was part of the presentation team, Torchinsky will recall, giving slick Western-style presentations to potential investors and leaving the nuts and bolts of the negotiations to Torchinsky and his team. "It really irritated our team," Torchinsky will recall. "We worked around the clock, and then they would come in and say something incomprehensible and we'd have to correct them. These guys didn't know what they were talking about." As for Page: "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." Aleksashenko will say of Page's vaunted Russian expertise, "judging by the drivel he spews on Russia, you can tell he doesn't really understand the topic." Aleksashenko will laugh at Page's touted experience with Gazprom, saying that Page was a glorified "gofer" for the firm, arranging meetings and securing transportation for others. Page was, however, able to make a fortune by investing in the highly profitable firm. As for his own firm, it is registered out of his father's house in Poughkeepsie, New York, but the address given out publicly is a tony Madison Avenue address around the corner from Trump Tower, actually the address of a co-working space. Ioffe is unable to ascertain who brought him into the campaign team. Supposedly Richard Burt, a former US Ambassador to Germany and a longtime lobbyist for Alfa Bank, recommended him, but Burt will deny knowing Page. Other campaign spokespersons will deny knowing Page. One campaign staffer will tell Ioffe: "Carter is a red herring, not a Rasputin. He's never met Trump, never briefed him. He has zero influence, none." Apparently Page's campaign benefactor is Sam Clovis, the campaign's Virginia co-chair who apparently put Page's name on a list of possible foreign policy advisors for Trump. The staffer will tell Ioffe that "a lot of people came to Sam Clovis in February, March, and said, 'I want to be part of the team.' … He's just a guy on a list. Trump looked at the list and said, 'He's an adviser.' And now he's milking it for all it's worth." (Bloomberg News, Washington Post, Politico)

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March 21, 2016 and After: Papadopoulos Joins Campaign, Plays Larger Role than Trump Officials Later Admit

Newly ensconsced campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos has a brief telephone conversation with Donald Trump to discuss his new position, and, Papadopoulos will claim, a personal meeting with Trump. After news of Papadopoulos's plea deal with the FBI breaks in the media in October 2017, Trump campaign and administration officials will attempt to drastically downplay Papadopoulos's role in the campaign.

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Papadopoulos, an American of Greek extraction, gives several interviews with Greek journalists for the news outlet Kathimerini during the course of the campaign, where he expands on his role in the campaign. His descriptions of his role in the campaign are sharply at odds with Trump's description of his duties as well as other Trump officials, one of which will dismiss Papadopoulos's role as little more than being the "coffee boy". Papadopoulos tells the journalists that he has been given a "blank check" to choose a senior Trump administration job, and is authorized to represent the candidate in overseas meetings with foreign leaders and at a campaign event in New York. Like some other Trump campaign officials, Papadopoulos may be prone to exaggeration and self-aggrandizement, a trait noted both by the Greek journalists and at least one person close to him. The journalists write that in Greece, at least, Papadopoulos revels in a newfound status as a "senior" Trump advisor. "He had acquired a new status in Athens," the journalists write. He is being "bestowed with awards, wined and dined by prominent Athenians and even appointed to the judging committee of a beauty pageant on a Greek island." Papadopoulos tells the journalists that he receives the position with the campaign at the recommendation of his former employer, Ben Carson. Papadopoulos worked on the Carson presidential campaign. According to a December 2016 article in Kathimerini, Trump spoke briefly with Papadopoulos on the phone and invited him to join him at the March 21 camoaign rally at Trump's hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue. It is there that Trump names Papadopoulos one of his foreign policy advisors. Since the articles focus on what one of the journalists later calls "the Greek angle," some of the details about Papadopoulos's interactions with Trump are not published. Trump officials later claim that the only time Trump interacts with Papadopoulos is during a brief meeting on March 31 of the advisory committee at the hotel. It is during the March 31 meeting that Papadopoulos pitches the idea of a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin. Trump will call Papadopoulos a liar; Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a senior campaign advisor and chair of the foreign policy advisory committee, will at first deny remembering Papadopoulos's recommendation, but in November 2017 testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, he will change his story and say he advised Papadopoulos not to pursue any contacts with Russian officials. Two weeks before the election, Papadopoulos tells the Greek journalists he has "left the campaign" because he has "done his piece," but a week later, he tells them he has rejoined the campaign with the understanding that he cannot talk about anything else except the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. Two days before the election, he attends a campaign event in Astoria hosted by an organization representing Greek Cypriot Americans. He introduces himself as a representative of the campaign. (Vanity Fair, Politico)

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March 28, 2016: Manafort Takes Over Trump Campaign

Donald Trump hires lobbyist and veteran Republican operative Paul Manafort to head his campaign. Manafort is a veteran of a number of Republican campaigns as well as having a chequered history representing dictators and autocrats in Africa, the Philippines and Eastern Europe.

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Manafort has experience managing convention nomination fights, and may have been brought on to ensure Trump wins any disputed nomination and gains as many delegates as he can. Manafort takes the place of inexperienced campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Some insiders say the campaign is undergoing something of a "civil war," with campaign officials lining up behind either Manafort or Lewandowski. The deciding factor in favor of Manafort may be his close relationship with Trump's children. His ascension to power may give the campaign more discipline and focus, although it is not sure how much control Manafort may be able to wield over the recalcitrant, impulse-driven Trump. New York Magazine writer Gabriel Sherman writes that "a consequence of a newly professionalized Trump is that he could lose the insult-comic style that his fans crave. Insulting Heidi Cruz might be terrible politics, but it’s red meat for Trump's audience." Trump apparently asked Manafort to run the campaign as early as March 16. On March 17, his daughters Jessica Manafort and Andrea Manafort Shand text one another, with Jessica saying that Trump "called Dad last night" to ask him to run the convention, and Andrea responding that their mother "told me to get ready for Trump to be president and pick the position in the White House I want." On March 29, Andrea will claim that Manafort was brought in to "scale … back" Trump's negative behavior in public, and will add: "That's part of the reason he was brought on. He is refusing payment. [Because] he doesn't want to be viewed as Trump's employee. Only having his expenses covered. He is involved purely because he wants to help the country and he thinks trump is best, so long as trump gets trained a bit. PS this is all top secret, so please do not repeat." She adds: "Dude he is second in command. Perhaps arguably running it. The campaign manager is all for show. [Corey Lewandowski] doesn't do shit. Trump has been managing his own campaign." (New York Times, New York Magazine, Yahoo News)

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This is pure sport. He is a power hungry egomaniac. Yes. He is loving it. Conclusively. Him and [T]rump are perfect allies for this agenda. It's so weird he is my dad. — Andrea Manafort Shand, in an April 7, 2016 text about her father Paul Manafort
photo of Dmitry Firtash

March 31, 2016: Media Learns Manafort Helped Ukrainian Gas Billionaire Hide Millions in Offshore Real Estate Ventures

The media learns that Paul Manafort, the Trump presidential campaign's senior manager, helped Ukrainian gas mogul Dmitry (or Dmytro) Firtash hide millions of dollars in offshore real-estate investments. The information was revealed in documents linked to a federal racketeering lawsuit brought in 2011 by former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

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She accuses Manafort of being part of a scheme to exact retribution from her and her political allies for interfering with Firtash's business interests. The lawsuit also details Firtash's connections to political and criminal figures in Russia; Firtash got his start in business with the blessing of a notorious Russian crime lord, and made his initial fortune through "sweetheart" natural gas deals between Russia and the Ukraine. In 2014, Reuters wrote: "His success was built on remarkable sweetheart deals brokered by associates of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, at immense cost to Russian taxpayers." Manafort previously served as a political consultant to recently ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who has close ties to Firtash. Some suspect Manafort's close connections to Yanukoyvch and Firtash may explain Trump's own outbursts of praise for Putin, who backed Yanukovych's Kremlin-friendly government. Manafort's ties also mirror Trump's own affinity for Russian political and business interests. US military leaders consider Putin's political interests a serious threat to US national security. The lawsuit alleged that Firtash had funneled monies from allegedly criminal enterprises from a Ukrainian gas monopoly through business interests that helped him conceal his income from Ukrainian authorities. A US federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in 2014, saying that the allegations were outside the jurisdiction of US courts, and Tymoshenko failed to adequately demonstrate that Manafort's dealings with Firtash amounted to a conscious effort to assist Firtash in intimidating and harassing his political critics. The documents show how Manafort helped Firtash set up investments to conceal his fortune inside real estate ventures in the US and elsewhere. One of the people he worked with to set up those ventures was Brad Zackson, a former manager of the Trump Organization under Donald Trump's father Fred Trump. Documents show that Firtash was heavily involved in the negotiations with Zackson, who among other deals helped Firtash's company negotiate an $850 million deal to buy New York's famous Drake Hotel. Firtash's firm was planning to invest some $112 million in the property. The deal was put into place four days after McCain lost the presidential election in November 2008, but the deal eventually collapsed even after Zackson attempted to bring Donald Trump on board as an investor. Tymoshenko's lawsuit alleged that it was part of a larger plan to funnel Firtash's fortune into offshore real estate ventures. "By inviting Firtash to utilize the various U.S. based companies to facilitate Firtash's money laundering and political corruption activities, Manafort gave Firtash the opportunity to expand the scope of his money laundering activities into the United States," her lawsuit claimed. Around the same time, companies controlled by Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska paid $7.35 million towards management fees for Manafort and his partners in connection with an investment fund, a deal documented by court filings in the Cayman Islands. Deripaska, a member of Vladimir Putin's inner circle, was once denied entry into the US due to his connection to Russian organized crime. The deal is one of many between Deripaska, Firtash and Manafort. Currently Firtash is wanted by US authorities over bribery allegations in India, and lives in exile in Austria. The lawsuit also claimed that several Manafort-run firms on behalf of Firtash were also backed by Semion Mogilevich, a Ukrainian deeply involved in Russia's crime organizations. Firtash met with the US ambassador to Ukraine in 2008 and confirmed he had ties to Mogilevich, telling the ambassador that he needed Mogilevich's blessing to go into business, according to State Department cables released by WikiLeaks. Manafort, like his lobbying partner Rick Davis, worked on the unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain, at the same time he was on the payroll of Yanukovych's Party of Regions. Manafort was a key player in engineering Yanukovych's victory in the country's 2010 presidential election. In late 2016, economic reporter James S. Henry writes that without Firtash having close ties to Putin and Mogilevich, "it is difficult to explain how this former used-car salesman could gain a lock on trading goods for gas in Turkmenistan and also become a lynchpin investor in the Swiss company RosUrEnergo, which controls [Russian state-owned gas producer] Gazprom's gas sales to Europe." Along with his ties to Putin, Yanukovych and Trump, Firtash is known to have ties to Conservative politicians in Great Britain. Manafort denies having any ties to Firtash, and says his dealings with Deripaska were brief and aboveboard. (Washington Free Beacon, American Interest, Independent, NBC News, image of Dmytro Firtash from the Associated Press via NBC News)

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— Spring 2016 —

Spring 2016 and After: Flynn Partners with Firm Whose Head Pled Guilty of Selling US Secrets to Russian Spies

Former Defense Intelligence Agency head General Michael Flynn, who will become the Trump administration's National Security Advisor, partners with Subu Kota, a man who in 1996 pled guilty to attempting to sell stolen biotech material to the Russian intelligence agency then known as the KGB.

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Sota is now one of two board directors for Brainwave Science. Sota pled guilty after meeting for years with a KGB agent and taking part in espionage against the US, selling US missile defense technology to Russian spies. Sota attmpted to sell stolen biotech material to an FBI agent posing as a KGB spy. Kota's co-defendant was convicted of being a KGB operative; Kota avoided the worst of the charges against him by entering into a plea agreement with US prosecutors. Flynn's firm, Flynn Intel Group, is attempting to launch partnerships with a number of cybersecurity firms and defense contractors. Flynn is named to the board of directors of Brainwave Science, and attempts to help sell the firm's products – technology that purports to assess an interrogation subject's honesty via brain scans – to US defense and law enforcement agencies. He continues to accept payment from, and work with, the firm after beginning to receive classified intelligence briefings in August 2016 as part of his role with the Trump campaign. In September, Flynn and Brainwave president Krishna Ika pitch the firm's products to officials from the Bangladeshi defense ministry during a meeting in Flynn's offices. Flynn will deny ever meeting or speaking with Kota, his fellow Brainwave board member, and in December 2016 will claim that his firm has ended its association with Brainwave Science. Kota denies he was ever a Russian asset, though he has admitted to meeting at least four times with KGB agent Vladimir Galkin and receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in payment for stolen information. Kota says he believed Galkin was a businessman. Galkin was arrested by US officials in 1996, but was later allowed to leave the country. (Bloomberg News)

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— April 2016 —

April-November 2016: Kushner Has Secret Contacts with Russian Ambassador

Seven current and former US officials confirm that senior Trump campaign advisor Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law, has at least two contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak which he will refuse to disclose to the FBI and the general public after the election.

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The contacts, one during the month of April and another on November 16, are phone calls. Details of the discussions between Kushner and Kislyak are not known; Kushner's lawyer Jamie Gorelick will tell the press that Kushner has no recollection of those contacts. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza will later write, "Once again, the Russians seemed to have a level of access to the Trump campaign that other countries, including Western allies, could only dream of." (Reuters, New Yorker)

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April 7, 2016: Manafort's Daughter Calls Him an Amoral "Master Manipulator" Just Like Trump

Trump campaign official Paul Manafort's daughter Andrea Manafort Shand texts the following about her father to an unnamed friend. She denies he wants to be Trump's chief of staff in the White House, saying Manafort would find the role "[t]oo constrictive. Paul is a lone wolf. Has to go his own way. Do what he wants when he wants how he wants. He doesn't have room for other people and their needs/wants. … He likes the challenge. That's why he's doing this. It's a game for him. He isn't being paid. … This is pure sport. He is a power hungry egomaniac. Yes. He is loving it. Conclusively. Him and [T[rump are perfect allies for this agenda. It's so weird he is my dad."

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In another text exchange with a friend later that day, the friend calls Manafort a "master manipulator," and his daughter agrees: "He is very manipulative. I did inherit that ability. But I don’t exploit it like he does. I know all his tactics. They aren't that brilliant but they do work. … Like he just tells you the sky is green over and over. And eventually you are like is it? I don't possess the ability to just lie like he does. … It's confidence. When you say something unwaveringly, people start to believe it." The friend observes that Trump's similar abilities "got [him] where he is today, and Manafort Shand agrees. "Yup. Perfect allies. Trump probably has more morals than my dad. Which is really just saying something about my dad. My dad is a psycho!!! At least [T]rump let his wives leave him. Plus, Trump has been a good father. … I hope my dad pulls it off. Then I can sell my memoir with all his dirty secrets for a pretty penny." She then says that her father "was brought on to be convention manager, but really it was always to run shit. And now that's being publicly known. Or acknowledged I guess. … Dad and Trump are literally living in the same building and [M]om says they go up and down all day long hanging and plotting together." (Yahoo News)

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My dad loves challenges and [the Trump campaign] is like a chess game. He got a mistress because he was bored. Trump is his new mistress. — Andrea Manafort Shand, texting about her father Paul Manafort

April 13, 2016: Ukrainian Freedom Group Urges American Voters to Repudiate Trump

Pavel Yarmalenko of the Ukraine Freedom Support Group, which works to solicit aid from the US Congress for Ukraine, warns Americans not to support Donald Trump because of his hiring of lobbyist Paul Manafort as his campaign chair.

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Manafort helped get despised strongman Viktor Yanukovych elected as Ukraine's president in 2010; Yanukovych was forcibly deposed in 2014 over his lavish personal spending, overt corruption, and brutality towards protesters. Yarmalenko says: "Now we hear that an adviser of Yanukovych, Paul Manafort, has been hired by the Donald Trump campaign. This is someone who took part in perversion of democracy in Ukraine and if [Manafort's] role in that fiasco turns out to be substantial, then he should not be allowed within 100 feet of government buildings of any self-respecting democracy." (Daily Beast)

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April 27, 2016: Lobbyist with Russian Ties Co-Authors Trump's Foreign Policy Speech

Richard Burt, a former senior official in the Reagan administration, helped write the speech Trump delivers tonight, his first major pronouncement on foreign policy.

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Location

Trump delivers his speech to an audience at the Center for the National Interest (CNI), a right-wing Washington think tank. The location is significant. Originally named the Nixon Center, the CNI prides itself on its foreign-policy "realism." In actuality, the CNI is one of the most pro-Russian think tanks in the US conservative firmament. The location was almost certainly chosen by Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort; like the CNI, Manafort has deep ties to the Kremlin and its allies. The CNI and its publication, the National Interest, are, Politico's James Kirchik writes, "two of the most Kremlin-sympathetic institutions in the nation's capital, even more so that the Carnegie Moscow Center, which has evolved from a hub of Russian liberalism into an accomodationist, intellectually-compromised think tank." The CNI is directed by Dmitri Simes, a former Nixon aide with murky ties to the Kremlin. CNI has for years worked with the Kremlin-funded Institute for Democracy and Cooperation. Simes was called "my American friend and colleague" by Putin in 2013. The CNI's journal routinely calls Putin "Russia's Reagan," a "bold leader and visionary," and other such plaudits.

Pro-Russia, Isolationist Slant

Trump's speech is introduced by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US's ambassador to the UN under George W. Bush. During the speech, Trump calls for "improved relations with Russia" and an effort to "make a deal that's great" for "America, but also good for Russia." The Daily Beast's Michael Weiss will later write: "Large on generalities and short on specifics, Trump unveiled his nativist 'America First' doctrine, unaware he was echoing Charles Lindbergh's isolationist and pro-Nazi movement of the same name in the 1940s. In marked contrast to the conventional Republican Party wisdom since the era of Ronald Reagan (a man Trump also professes to admire), America First would 'put the interests of the American people, and American security, above all else,' divorcing it from the notion of enlightened self-interest: the idea that a safer, more stable and secure world is the best guarantor of security for the United States. Pax Americana, in his long-held view, is a pup: 'We have spent trillions of dollars over time – on planes, missiles, ships, equipment – building up our military to provide a strong defense for Europe and Asia. The countries we are defending must pay for the cost of this defense – and, if not, the US must be prepared to let these countries defend themselves." Weiss notes that Russia barely garners a mention in Trump's speech, and then not as an enemy, but as a nation with which the US has "serious differences." Weiss writes: "Pull back from entangling alliances, but confront aggressors with American strength. You see the contradiction here, and doubtless so did Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, who, in a break with standard protocol, is sitting in the front row at the Center for the National Interest as Trump delivered these remarks. Kislyak later told Politico that the real-estate mogul 'made some intriguing points … We need to understand what is meant in the implementation.'" The Nation's James Carden writes: "When Trump did try to leave the comfort of cliche for the terra incognita of policy, he fared about as well you'd expect: badly. … [T]he speech was, on balance, a confused and muddled effort." Carden acknowledge that the speech is "less hawkish" than one might expect.

Burt Downplays Role in Creating Speech

As for Burt, "I was asked to contribute material" for the speech, he later admits, but says he is not part of the Trump campaign. "I am happy to talk to people looking for advice on foreign policy issues," he will add. Burt is the managing director of McLarty Associates, a lobbying and consulting firm co-founded by President Bill Clinton's chief of staff Mack McLarty. Burt will say if Hillary Clinton asks his advice, he would be willing to provide it, though, he will say, "She's not going to."Burt's Russian Connections

Burt, a former ambassador to Germany and a State Department official under Reagan, worked as an unpaid advisor to Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). Burt was enlisted by Manafort to work with the Trump campaign. He is on the board of Alfa Bank, the largest commercial bank in Russia, and an investment fund with a large position in Gazprom, Russia's state-owned natural gas company. His job with McLarty includes being a paid lobbyist for Gazprom. He is a vocal advocate for a thawing in US-Russian relations, and a critic of President Obama's foreign policies. Politico's Ben Schreckinger and Julia Ioffe will later write of Burt, "A Republican lobbyist was earning hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote one of Vladimir Putin's top geopolitical priorities at the same time he was helping to shape Donald Trump's first major foreign policy speech." He has been paid $365,000 to push for a proposed natural gas pipeline owned by New European Pipeline AG, a firm wholly owned by Gazprom. The pipeline is opposed by the Obama administration and Poland. Burt also chairs Global Zero, an organization devoted to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. Burt says he has counseled Trump to pursue a "more realist foreign policy" if he becomes president, where the US would refrain from trying to implement "regime change" abroad and instead focus on protecting the US and its interests. Tonight, Trump says in part: "I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia – from a position of strength – is possible. Common sense says this cycle of hostility must end. Some say the Russians won't be reasonable. I intend to find out." Burt has echoed and defended Trump's policies for most of the campaign season, particularly the nationalist "America First" theme of the campaign. Recently he told a group of foreign policy experts who were deeply skeptical of Trump as a potential president that no matter how much they dislike Trump, his primary rival Ted Cruz (R-TX) would be more dangerous. Burt has also echoed Trump's disdain for NATO. A former State Department colleague says of Burt: "He is a weather vane with a tremendous sixth sense of knowing what a lot of people want or which way the wind is blowing and he will go that way, he is not a counter-culturalist, he is not someone who will speak truth to power, he will go with it. He is enormously valuable to observe because if he thinks this, it is the way power is trending." Many Republicans have denounced Trump's foreign policy statements, which have included multiple statements of support for Russia, implications that he would reduce the US's role in NATO or withdraw from that organization entirely, and advocating that nations such as Japan and Saudi Arabia be allowed to have nuclear weapons. Trump has received advice from a number of foreign policy advisors, most prominently Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, chair of Trump's national security committee. At the time of the speech, most in the US media are unaware of Burt's position as a Gazprom lobbyist, and will later begin working to unearth information about Burt's ties to Russia and his influence on the Trump campaign. Burt has attended at least two dinners this summer hosted by Sessions. Burt was invited to discuss issues of national security and foreign policy, and wrote white papers for Sessions on the same subjects. Sessions was reportedly quite impressed with Burt's work. When asked in October about Burt's ties to Russia, spokesperson Hope Hicks will lie about Burt's interaction with the campaign: "We have no knowledge of this. In fact, our team cannot verify his self-proclaimed contributions to Mr. Trump's speech and, I don't believe Mr. Trump or our policy staff has ever met Mr. Burt. To our knowledge he had no input in the speech and has had no contact with our policy team." Burt will respond by saying he has had no contact with Sessions or others in the Trump campaign since the dinners with Sessions. After the speech, Burt will also register as a lobbyist for the Ukrainian construction firm TMM, the Polish government-owned airline LOT and the Capital Bank of Jordan. (Daily Beast, McLarty Associates, Medium, Nation, New Yorker, Politico, Politico, Reuters, Washington Post, The Plot to Hack America, by Malcolm Nance)

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Trump is a dangerous, ignorant demagogue. To give him a platform, and hence legitimacy, is to be complicit in his rise. — former Bush State Department official Eliot Cohen

April 27, 2016: Trump, Sessions, Kushner Meet with Russian Ambassador

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the Trump campaign advisor for national security matters, meets with Donald Trump and a group of two dozen guests at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. The event is hosted by a conservative foreign policy organization, the Center for the National Interest (CNI), and organized by Dimitri Simes, the publisher of the National Interest.

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The attendees includes four ambassadors, including Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the US, who was invited by the CNI. (The CNI is closely tied to a Russian-funded organization, the Institute for Democracy and Cooperation, led by Putin advocate Adranik Migranyan.) Kislyak has a close working relationship with another senior Trump advisor, General Michael Flynn. Trump later delivers a foreign policy speech in the hotel's ballroom that calls for improved US-Russian relations. Kislyak is seated in the front row. Trump spoke with Kislyak before the speech, though it is unclear what, if anything of substance, the two discuss. Trump will repeatedly deny meeting with any Russian officials during his presidential campaign, a series of denials that are entirely false. In February 2017, he will state: "Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven't made a phone call to Russia in years. Don't speak to people from Russia." It is unclear whether Sessions and Kislyak actually speak directly. Sessions will refuse to disclose this encounter to the Senate during the hearings to approve him as Attorney General after Trump's election, nor will he disclose it in his amended testimony. The CNI later issues a statement that says it is "not aware of any conversation" between Sessions and Kislyak, and says, "However, in a small group setting like this one, we consider it unlikely that anyone could have engaged in a meaningful private conversation without drawing attention from others present." Trump spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders later calls any suggestion that Sessions and Kislyak met "absurd." She will also deny that Trump met with Kislyak. On March 8, 2017, the White House will finally admit that Trump met with Kislyak before the policy speech, and will call the meeting "brief and non-substantive." Senior White House advisor Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law, also meets with Kislyak. Kushner will later say that he barely remembers the event, and will say that some of the ambassadors offer to take him to lunch but he never followed up on those invitations. In July 2017, the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza will remind readers that this is something of a momentous event for Kislyak. The Russians had successfully hacked into the Democratic National Committee's networks, and into the email of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's campaign chair. Now Kislyak has been given an invitation to this event and a front-row seat. During the speech, Trump calls for "improved relations with Russia" and an effort to "make a deal that's great" for "America, but also good for Russia." (Huffington Post, Center for the National Interest, Salon, New Yorker, Washington Post, Think Progress, The Plot to Hack America, by Malcolm Nance)

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— May 2016 —

May 20, 2016: Manafort Named Campaign Chair

Donald Trump announces that veteran GOP operative Paul Manafort, who has deep ties to Russian oligarchs and politicians, is now his campaign's chairman and chief strategist, making him the single highest-ranking official in the campaign.

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Manafort replaces Corey Lewandowsky, though Lewandowsky will "continue overseeing day-to-day operations and will work with Manafort on political strategy and communications, among other things, through the general election," according to campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks. Rumors of infighting between Manafort and Lewandowsky loyalists in the campaign have riven the campaign for weeks. Lewandowsky has reportedly urged Trump to investigate Manafort's personal life and past lobbying work, a request Trump will apparently ignore. Manafort joined the campaign when it appeared that the convention would be contested between Trump and one or more primary challengers. In 1976, Manafort helped the Gerald Ford presidential campaign beat back an attempt by the Ronald Reagan campaign to contest the convention. Manafort later worked on the 1980 Reagan campaign, as deputy political director of the Republican National Committee, and as a campaign advisor for the presidential campaigns of George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, George W. Bush and John McCain. Manafort has a long and dark history on working on behalf of dictators and despots around the world, a history the campaign hopes will not be made into an issue. Manafort worked for Trump in the 1990s, when Trump hired the lobbying firm of Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly to protect his Atlantic City casino empire against the rise of Native American casino interests. The lobbying firm publicly slandered Trump's casino rivals; then-New York Govenor George Pataki levied fines on both Trump and Roger Stone, who was the point man in the effort. Manafort was involved to some degree. Manafort has lived in a luxury apartment in Trump Tower, Manhattan since 2006. (New York Times, Heavy)

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— June 2016 —

Early June 2016: Page Praises Putin, Lambasts Obama in Foreign Policy Meeting

Carter Page, a little-known member of Trump's foreign policy advisory team, addresses a meeting of foreign policy experts by lavishing praise on Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, and verbally attacking the Obama administration. The meeting, held at Washington's Blair House, is a round table held for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Participants are stunned at Page's off-topic, unwarranted commentary.

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Since 2014, Page has been under covert surveillance by the FBI after he passed confidential documents to a Russian intelligence agent. In Page's speech, he says a Trump presidency will be quite beneficial to US-Russia relations. The US and other Western nations have "criticized these regions for continuing methods which were prevalent during the Cold War period," Page will say in a speech given to a Moscow university a month later. "Yet ironically, Washington and other Western capitals have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change." Reportedly, Page's statements during the round table are very similar. Page's pro-Russia stance may be partially explained by his investment in the Kremlin-owned energy conglomerate Gazprom. Foreign policy experts, after learning of Page's comments, will say that his criticism of US sanctions against Russia, his almost fawning praise of Putin, and his lack of interest in criticizing Russia's occupation of the Crimea, distresses them. David Kramer, who oversaw the Russia and Ukraine bureau at the State Department during the second Bush administration, says, "It scares me." He finds Page's Moscow speech and Trump's advocacy for unilaterally lifting the sanctions "deeply unsettling." Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks will dismiss Page as an "informal foreign policy adviser" who "does not speak for Mr. Trump or the campaign." But as a Trump advisor, he has taken, and will take, part in high-level foreign policy events, including a closed meeting chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Republican consultant Vin Weber at Cambridge University. He will speak with Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich and Russian oil magnate Igor Sechin after the Moscow speech. At the Republican National Convention, he will attend at least two foreign-policy events, presumably on behalf of the campaign. Page has the support of Trump officials in his advocacy for Russia, including senior official Sam Clovis, a former right-wing talk show host who says of Trump's pro-Russian policies, "I think what we are offering is a very clear, mature, adult, realistic view of the world." Russian academic Fyodor Lukyanov, who chairs the presidium of Russia's Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, says: "I think Donald Trump is a very interesting internal American phenomenon. … I don't think he has any direct support here. What he's saying sounds very much refreshing to Russian ears. If he by chance were elected president, I think many people in Russia would love it." (Washington Post, Just Security)

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June 17, 2016: Trump's Favoritism towards Russia At Odds with US Policies, Allies' Positions

As detailed by the Washington Post, Donald Trump's indisputable favor of Russia in his foreign-policy pronouncements is in stark contrast to most Republicans as well as with the Obama administration's stance towards that nation.

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In 2012, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called Russia the US's single biggest geopolitical threat, a view that has only gotten stronger since then. But, in part because of his business experiences, Trump has a far softer view towards Russia. Though Trump and his campaign officials consistently deny having any business interests in Russia, those denials are lies. For years, Trump family members and senior Trump Organization officials have worked to cultivate business opportunities, and have made frequent trips to Moscow to do so. In 2008, Trump's son said flatly: "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets … We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia." The Post notes, "In a Republican Party in which an ability to stand up to Putin has been seen as a test of toughness, Trump’s relationship with the Russian leader is instead one of mutual flattery." Between Trump's profitable business interests and Putin's calculated flatteries, Trump's views of Russia are far more benign than almost anyone involved in American politics. Recently, he called for a new partnership with Moscow, and implied that the US might pull out of NATO in favor of a new alliance with Russia. Trump's campaign staff is filled with business magnates and functionaries with deep financial ties to Russia. Others have a far different view. Tina Khidasheli, the defense minister of former Soviet client state Georgia, says that Trump's campaign rhetoric is the "biggest dream of everyone in the Kremlin. It's scary, it's dangerous, and it's irresponsible." Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul says Trump's position on Russia "makes everyone I talk to around the world nervous – and it makes me nervous." And David Kramer, who served as deputy secretary of state under the George W. Bush administration, says he is "appalled" by Trump's stance. (Washington Post)

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— July 2016 —

July 2016: Trump Advisor Under Surveillance for Acting as Foreign Agent for Russia

The FBI renews a FISA Court warrant to monitor the communications of Carter Page, a foreign policy advisor to the Trump presidential campaign, as part of its larger investigation into links between Russia and the campaign.

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The FBI obtained the warrant after showing evidence to a FISA judge that Page is acting as a foreign agent of Russia and is knowingly engaging in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Moscow. Page is known to have passed information about US sanctions on Russia to a Russian spy. The warrant referenced this and other engagements Page has had with Russian intelligence agents. The warrant expires after 90 days; since the initial warrant's approval, it will be renewed multiple times. The media does not learn of the warrant until April 2017. Page has not been accused of any crimes. It is unclear whether the Justice Department will seek charges against him or others in regards to the Russian sabotage of the 2016 election. Page issues a statement denying any wrongdoing, and compares himself to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who was also surveilled by the FBI for his role in the civil rights movement. Page says: "This confirms all of my suspicions about unjustified, politically motivated government surveillance. I have nothing to hide." Page has said he wants to testify before Congress to clear his name. Officials later say Page is the only American to have his communications directly targeted by a FISA warrant in 2016. (Washington Post, Just Security)

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July 7-8, 2016: Trump Advisor Visits Moscow, Insults US Government, Meets with Deputy Prime Minister and Oil CEO

Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, a billionaire investment banker with deep ties to Russia and other former Soviet client states, takes a secretive trip to Moscow to meet with Russian business leaders, including Igor Sechin, the head of the Russian government-owned oil firm Rosneft, and Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich. The newsletter announcing his visit reads, "You are invited to a lecture by Carter Page, foreign policy adviser for Donald Trump's election campaign."

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Shadowy Dealings After Speech

It is not publicly known what Page discusses with Dvorkovich. (Page will not admit to this meeting until he testifies under oath to Congress in November 2017.) Sechin is a close ally of Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin. Page also meets with Sergei Ivanov, Putin's chief of staff. Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov later denies Page met with any Putin officials. Julia Ioffe of Politico will later write, "From what I could find about him, it's hard to imagine he could have secured those meetings without that mention by Trump." In his November 2017 testimony, Page will deny meeting with Sechin, but he will admit that during the trip, he meets with a Sechin subordinate, Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations, with whom Page has had a business relationship before. Page will admit that he and Baranov discussed sanctions in "general" terms, and that they might have discussed the planned sale of a large stake in Rosneft because it was "in the news."

Offered Huge Cut of Energy Deal for Sanctions Removal

Page also meets with former Russian security official Igor Diveykin, Putin's deputy chief for internal policy and one of the Kremlin officials later identified as being responsible for Russia's intelligence operation against the 2016 election. The Steele dossier will confirm Page's visit with Sechin, and will add that Page meets with Divyekin, who warns Page that the Kremlin has "kompromat" (compromising information) on Trump. Moreover, as US intelligence sources and the dossier will confirm, Page and Sechin discuss the sale of 19% of Rosneft to Page and other Trump allies in return for a lifting of US sanctions. (In December 2016, 19.5% of Rosneft will be sold to multinational commodity trader Glencore and Qatar's state-owned wealth fund, Glencore's largest shareholder. Sechin will begin looking for alternate buyers after he decides that Trump won't win the presidency.) The dossier will state: "Sechin's associate [Diveykin] said that the Rosneft president was so keen to lift personal and corporate western sanctions imposed on the company, that he offered Page and his associates the brokerage of up to a 19 per cent (privatised) stake in Rosneft. In return, Page had expressed interest and confirmed that were Trump elected US president, then sanctions on Russia would be lifted." The deal will be funded by Gazprombank, a financial institution owned by state-run Russian energy conglomerate Gazprom. Page holds investments in Gazprom. The dossier will also claim that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort asked Page to be the campaign's liaison between the campaign and Russian officials.

Attacks Obama, Praises Russia

Page makes international headlines when he speaks at the New Economic School of Moscow's commencement address, and savages the "hypocritical" American foreign policy in front of his Russian audience. He tells his listeners, "Washington and other Western powers have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change." Page urges "mutual respect" between the two countries, and says US lawmakers must abandon their policies towards Russia that are based on perceptions "prevalent during the Cold War." The school's board of directors includes Dvorkovich and Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev. Page says his visit is a private matter, and he is not in Moscow as a representative of the Trump campaign, a stance echoed by Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks. (Both statements are lies.) But the Kremlin is looking for ways to reach out to the Trump campaign, according to Sergei Markov, a consultant on Putin's staff. Page may make informal contact with some Putin officials. "Trump is promising an end to constant pressure against Russia and we're interested in finding out if this is just a populist promise or something more serious," Markov says. In a 2015 blog post, Page called the Obama administration's approach to Russia "sanctimonious," with an air of "moral superiority" comparable to that of a slave-owner to a slave. He defended Ukraine's Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych, and criticized the Obama administration for encouraging the Ukrainian resistance to the autocrat. Page will soon become a frequent guest on Russian television news shows, which will tout him as a "famous American economist" and "adviser to Donald Trump on questions of foreign policy." Pyotr Aven, one of the co-founders of Alfa Bank and the main benefactor of the New Economic School, says he does not know Page and if his money was used to bring him to Moscow, he does not know about it. Page's trip to Moscow will become the target of US intelligence scrutiny.

Campaign Approves of Trip

Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski approves the trip, it is revealed in March 2017. In Page's November 2017 testimony, he admits that he also tells senior advisor Jeff Sessions before departing. (In March 2017, when Page verifies that Lewandowski gave him permission to go to Moscow, he will say: "I'm very clear about this. I granted nobody permission to do that." Lewandowski will be lying. He will change his story in November 2017 after Page testifies before Congress.) Lewandowski advises Page not to represent himself as an "official" representative of the campaign. Page's supervisor on the campaign's National Security Advisory Committee, J.D. Gordon, later says he strongly advises Page not to make the trip, but Page then emails Lewandowski and Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks, going over Gordon's head. Lewandowski then approves the trip. Lewandowski and Hicks will initially deny the trip had anything to do with the campaign, but Lewandowski later admits that he may have granted permission for the trip. "Is it possible that he emailed me asking if he could go to Russia as a private citizen?" he will tell a Politico reporter. "I don't remember that, but I probably got 1,000 emails a day at that time, and I can't remember every single one that I was sent. And I wouldn't necessarily remember if I had a one-word response to him saying he could do something as a private citizen." A former campaign official will deny that anyone on the campaign discussed the trip before Page leaves for Moscow: "No one discussed the trip within the campaign and certainly not with candidate Trump directly." Lewandowski will double down on his denials about being involved with Page: "I've never met or spoken to Carter Page in my life." A former campaign advisor will say that the Trump campaign does not debrief Page after his return: asked what Page did in Moscow, the former advisor will say: "I have no idea. I didn't want to know." He will add: "Nobody talked about it. It was such an ugly topic. Even when I saw him at the convention, I didn't talk to him about it." Lewandowski's replacement, Paul Manafort, will say he had no knowledge of the trip. (Associated Press, The Atlantic, Bloomberg News, Business Insider, Guardian, Politico, Politico, Think Progress, USA Today, Vox, Washington Post, Yahoo News, Medium)

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July 11, 2016: Trump Campaign Vetting Flynn for Potential VP Slot

The Trump campaign confirms it is vetting retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) before being relieved of his position in 2014.

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He is rumored to be under consideration to run as Trump's vice presidential choice. Flynn has served as the Trump campaign's national security advisor. Since he left the DIA after clashing with other military officials and with Obama officials, Flynn has been virulently outspoken about both President Obama and Trump's opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Obama is a "weak and spineless" president, Flynn has said, and he believes Clinton should be in jail for her email issues. Flynn is a registered Democrat, but, he says, "I grew up as a Democrat in a very strong Democratic family, but I will tell you that the Democratic Party that exists in this country is not the Democratic Party I grew up around." An outspoken critic of the Obama administration's "soft" approach to terrorism, Flynn has co-authored a book, Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies, due out this month. The vetting Flynn is undergoing includes investigations into his background, his conduct as a member of the US Army and as an officeholder, his personal and professional finances, and more. (NBC News, Politico)

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July 12, 2016 and After: Manafort, Kushner Engineer Pence Selection for Vice President

Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort works to supplant Donald Trump's initial choice for his vice president, Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ), with Manafort's personal preference, Governor Mike Pence (R-IN).

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The media later learns that Trump actually offered the slot to Christie before reneging on the deal and choosing Pence. The day after Trump offers the position to Christie, Trump meets with Pence at the behest of Manafort; the two are to fly back to New York together, where Trump will announce Christie as his running mate. Instead, Manafort apparently maneuvers a fake "breakdown" of the plane slated to fly the entourage back to New York, forcing Trump to stay in Indianapolis overnight and have breakfast with the Pence family the next day. Trump is persuaded by what CBS News later calls "Pence's aggressive pitch" for the slot. The next day, Trump decides to choose Pence over Christie. At least one source says that another element involved in the decision is the input of Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and senior campaign advisor. Kushner dislikes Christie because, as US Attorney, Christie had sent Kushner's father to jail in 2009 for witness tampering, illegal campaign donations and tax evasion. The source says that "Pence showing up caught Trump off guard and pretty much boxed in the decision." Christie is still mired in the Bridgegate investigation, possibly another factor in Trump's withdrawal of the VP proffer. (CBS News)

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July 20, 2016: Sessions, Two Other Trump Advisors Meet with Russian Ambassador During Convention

During the Republican National Convention, Senator Jeff Sessions, a senior advisor for the Trump campaign, speaks at an event, the Global Partners in Diplomacy meeting, held by the Heritage Foundation. After the speech, Sessions speaks with a small group of ambassadors. Among that group is Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. Two other Trump advisors, Carter Page and J.D. Gordon, also meet with Kislyak.

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Gordon, the campaign's director of national security, later says, "I'd consider it an informal conversation just like my interactions with dozens of other ambassadors and senior diplomats in Cleveland." Gordon will explain that he and Kislyak discussed the Trump campaign's "goal to forge a better US relationship with Russia," and will claim that he briefed Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the meetings in March 2017. Sanders will downplay both the conversation with Gordon and Gordon's role in the campaign, saying that Gordon was merely "a volunteer on an advisory committee on the campaign." Page will refuse to disclose any information about his discussion with Kislyak, citing "confidentiality rules." He will say, "I had no substantive discussions with him." GOP delegate Hossein Khorram later describes the meeting: "Basically the ambassadors – including the Russian ambassador – they were expressing their, mainly, fears about the war on terror and collaborating with the United States. There was no promises made on behalf of the Trump administration." In March 2017, the Trump White House will say: "This was a widely attended 4-day event with dozens of ambassadors and hundreds of attendees. No interaction was substantive, and to insinuate otherwise is deeply dishonest." During Sessions's confirmation hearings for Attorney General, he states flatly, and falsely, that he has never met with any Russian officials. After Sessions becomes Attorney General, a Justice Department official will claim that this meeting was a public event, a claim that is not true. US intelligence considers Kislyak one of Russia's leading intelligence agents and spy recruiters, though the Kremlin disputes the characterization. (ABC News, CNN, USA Today, New York Times, Business Insider)

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— August 2016 —

August-November 2016: Flynn Hides Involvement in Turkish Propaganda Film

While retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn is barnstorming the country on behalf of the Trump campaign, his partner in Flynn Intel Group (FIG), Bijan Kian (or Rafiekian), is partnering with the former head of Turkish military intelligence, Kamil Ekim Alptekin, to create a "documentary" supposedly aimed at burnishing the Turkish government's image, but actually designed to attack an enemy of that government, Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

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Flynn, Kian and their company is paid $530,000 to produce the film, which will never be completed. The film is at the center of FIG's work for Turkish interests. Weeks after the failed coup against the Erdoğan government, Alptekin's Inovo BV signs a three-month contract with FIG to work on behalf of Erdoğan and his regime. Alptekin later says the film is envisioned to help Americans understand the dangers posed by Gulen: "We were thinking of a small, '60 Minutes' kind of a thing, where these conclusions are brought to the public. We thought that might have a good effect." Former Vice News journalist David Enders, who works on the project, later tells the Wall Street Journal that FIG hires professionals to make the documentary and then attempts to conceal its role in the film's production. The unfinished film will be shelved just days before Flynn is asked to become the Trump administration's national security advisor. On September 9. Alptekin's company pays $200,000 to FIG. Alptekin says the money does not come from the Turkish government. Four days later, FIG pays Alptekin's firm $40,000, calling the payment a consulting fee. Alptekin later says the $40,000 is a reimbursement due to FIG's inability to lobby the US government as initially planned. Both Enders and former CNN anchor Rudi Bakhtiar, who is to be the film's on-camera interviewer, later say that they know nothing about Flynn's work as a foreign agent. Bakhtiar will later say that she was misled about the intentions of the film. At the time of the film's production, she will later say, she believes that the film is to be an objective, investigatory documentary about Turkey and Gulen. Enders later says that during the production, Kian tells him he does not want people to know that he, Flynn and FIG are behind the documentary. "Bijan said they did not want to be connected to this in any way," Enders will later say. "He said: 'We don't want anyone to know the Flynn Intel Group has anything to do with this'." Enders will say that he thought the film would be a documentary about Iran; Enders will say he was hired to find documentary historic footage of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Iranian dictator who took power in 1979. Enders later says it became clear that Kian sees Gulen as the Turkish equivalent of Khomeini. Bakhtiar is initially put off when she learns that the Flynn Intel Group is behind the film, but she agrees to work on the film anyway, in part because Kian is a family friend. She films a day's worth of interviews with Turks lambasting Gulen, and later says she was denied permission to go to Turkey to get balancing views. "I said: 'I want to get both sides'," she later tells the WSJ. "I'm a journalist. [Kian] never said 'We're going to make a documentary that's going to crush Gulen.' I never would have done it." Lobbying firm SGR LLC, run by veteran DC consultant Jim Courtevich, is hired to promote the film, and the firm develops proposals to place the film on news shows such as PBS's Frontline. The firm is paid $40,000 for its efforts. Alptekin pays FIG another $185,000 after the Bakhtiar filming, shaving $15,000 from the fee due to FIG's failure to effectively promote the film. Shortly thereafter, FIG sends another "consulting fee" of $40,000 back to Alptekin, who will again term the payment a reimbursement. The film's production grinds to a halt in mid-October. During October, Kian meets twice with Miles Taylor, National Security Adviser to the House Committee on Homeland Security. One meeting takes place at Taylor's office, the other at the FIG office in Alexandria, Virginia. A US official later tells a reporter that in one of the meeting, Taylor rejects pressure to have the committee investigate Gulen. On November 8, a virulently anti-Gulen op-ed by Flynn is published, including comparisons between Gulen and Khomeini, and an illustration produced by SRG. On November 14, Alptekin sends a final payment of $145,000 to FIG. The next day, two days before Flynn is named National Security Advisor, Alptekin and FIG terminate their contract; Flynn closes down the firm days later. "They did a great job," Alptekin will say. Alptekin is the Turkish chairman of the US-Turkey Business Council and a close Erdoğan advisor, with deep ties to the Turkish security community. He chairs the board of ATH Defense and Security Solutions Co, which sells monitoring and intelligence equipment. ATH sells goods to the Turkish intelligence service MIT as well as the Turkish police's intelligence units. (Wall Street Journal, Talking Points Memo, Intelligence Online)

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Early August 2016: Manafort Dines with Russian-Ukrainian Colleague Just Before Ouster

Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort meets with a colleague from his days as a "fixer" for a pro-Russian Ukrainian autocrat for dinner in an exclusive New York City cigar bar. The colleague is Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian citizen who has dark and murky ties to Russian intelligence.

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Kilimnik had run the Ukrainian office for Manafort's international political consulting firm for a decade. Kilimnik later says in a statement provided to the press by Manafort's lawyer that he and Manafort "talked about bills unpaid by our clients, about [the] overall situation in Ukraine … and about the current news," including the presidential campaign. Manafort admits to talking about the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee. The meeting is of interest because of the deep, sometimes quite secretive contacts between Russian operatives and Trump campaign officials. The dinner is the second meeting Manafort had with Kilimnik; the first was in May 2016, shortly after Manafort became campaign chair. Kilimnik will state that his dinners with Manafort were "private visits" that were "in no way related to politics or the presidential campaign in the US." Two weeks after the cigar bar dinner, Manafort will be forced to resign from the campaign. Kilimnik will later become a focus of investigation by Congressional and federal law enforcement officials in regards to their probe into Manafort's financial and political interactions with Russian interests. Some Ukrainian officials say Kilimnik works with Russian intelligence, a charge not echoed by US intelligence. Kilimnik insists he has "no relation to the Russian or any other intelligence service." Manafort spokesperson Jason Maloni dismisses the visits as normal meetings between Manafort and a "longtime business associate." He adds: "It would be neither surprising nor suspicious that two political consultants would chat about the political news of the day, including the DNC hack, which was in the news. … We're confident that serious officials will come to the conclusion that Paul's campaign conduct and interaction with Konstantin during that time was perfectly permissible and not in furtherance of some conspiracy." During his time as Manafort's colleague, Kilimnik coordinated with Russian oligarch and Manafort patron Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate who is close to Vladimir Putin. (Washington Post, Politico)

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Trump advisor Roger Stone predicts a release of hacked emails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.

August 8, 2016: Trump Advisor Says WikiLeaks May Release Clinton Foundation Documents

Roger Stone, a longtime colleague of Donald Trump's and an informal advisor to the campaign, says he has been in touch with the founder of WikiLeaks and has information about that organization's plans to release more documents that could damage Hillary Clinton's campaign.

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Speaking to the Southwest Broward Republican Organization in Florida, Stone is asked for his "forecast" on what the "October surprise" Assange has promised might be. Stone responds: "Well, it could be any number of things. I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there's no telling what the October surprise may be." Stone is one of the advisors pushing the Trump campaign's groundless claims that the election is being "rigged" in Clinton's favor. Stone has predicted: "If there's voter fraud, this election will be illegitimate, the election of the winner will be illegitimate, we will have a constitutional crisis, widespread civil disobedience, and the government will no longer be the government" if Clinton wins. Talking Points Memo notes that Stone's claim is made "despite the overwhelming evidence that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent in the United States." An Assange spokesperson later says, "Wikileaks has had no contact with Roger Stone." Stone later says his communication was a "backchannel" method provided by an intermediary. Days after Stone's announcement, he will tell conspiracy maven Alex Jones that he has been hacked: "My personal accounts, my business accounts, my political work, a number of my bank accounts have been accessed." He will say the hack took place "as soon as it became publicly known that I was in communication with Julian Assange." (Talking Points Memo, Media Matters, Smoking Gun)

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August 10, 2016: New Trump Economic Advisor Has Deep Ties to Russia

Another of Donald Trump's campaign advisors is shown to have deep, murky ties to Russian business and governmental interests. Businessman and investor Howard Lorber is part of a newly announced slate of economic advisors to the Trump campaign.

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Called one of Trump's "best friends," Lorber has already donated the maximun $100,000 to the Trump Victory fund, and appeared once on Trump's reality TV show "The Apprentice." Lorber brought Trump to Moscow in November 1996 to explore possibilities for Trump to license his brand to development projects there. Trump told Russian politician Alexander Lebed after his visit, "Howard has major investments in Russia." He then said to Lorber: "See, they don't know you. With all that investment, they don't know you. Trump they know." Trump and Lorber discussed an early iteration of the oft-planned Trump Tower Moscow, this time as part of a project owned by a subsidiary of Lorber's firm. The project never reached fruition. Trump, who began working on investments in Russia and its former Soviet client states as early as 1987, went to Moscow in 2013 to host the Miss Universe pageant and discuss wide-ranging plans for Trump properties in and around Moscow. (Washington Post)

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Yanokuvych and Putin

August 14, 2016: Trump Campaign Manager Reported to Have Taken Millions in Illegal Payments from Former Ukrainian Leader

The New York Times reports that Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has apparently received $12.7 million from former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions. The report is based on secret records found by Ukrainian government investigators looking for evidence of corruption and looting under Yanukoyvch's tenure.

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Manafort was a senior political consultant for Yanukovych, a close ally of Russia's Vladimir Putin, and the Party of Regions for years, and as recently as May still maintained an office in Kiev. The payments spanned a six-year time period between 2007 and 2012, and, investigators say, were made illegally. Many in America who believe the Trump campaign has suspiciously close ties to Putin point to Manafort as evidence of that relationship, along with Trump's favorable statements about Putin's annexation of Crimea, the Trump campaign's insistence that the Republican party platform support the Crimea invasion, and suspected Russian hacking of emails and other communications between Democratic Party officials. Yanukovych, like Manafort's previous client Ferdinand Marcos of the Phillippines, was deposed in a popular uprising. Yanukovych fled to Russia where he now lives under Putin's protection. The payments to Manafort are "a very vivid example of how political parties are financed in Ukraine," according to Daria N. Kaleniuk, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kiev. They represent "the very dirty cash economy in Ukraine." The Times goes on to report that Manafort likely enriched himself in business deals gained through the connections he made in his political consulting, including Russian business mogul Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally. Some of those business deals are also under investigation by Ukrainian officials.

Denials and Counter-Attacks

Manafort's lawyer Richard Hibey denies any such payments, and says his client has broken no laws. Hibey says the allegations are "probably heavily politically tinged." For his part, Manafort slams the Times, saying: "Once again, the New York Times has chosen to purposefully ignore facts and professional journalism to fit their political agenda, choosing to attack my character and reputation rather than present an honest report." He admits to working on political campaigns in Ukraine and elsewhere, saying: "The simplest answer is the truth: I am a campaign professional. It is well known that I do work in the United States and have done work on overseas campaigns as well." However, he says he never worked under the auspices of the Ukrainian or other governments. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign manager Robby Mook says: "We have learned of more troubling connections between Donald Trump's team and pro-Kremlin elements in Ukraine. Given the pro-Putin policy stances adopted by Donald Trump and the recent Russian government hacking and disclosure of Democratic Party records, Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose … Manafort's and all other campaign employees' and advisers' ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump's employees or advisers are currently representing and or being paid by them." Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, now a paid political analyst for CNN, says: "The media is now focusing on a private person who had a private business model, which no one says there's anything illegal about what he did." Manafort will resign from the Trump campaign shortly after the Times story runs. (NewsweekNew York TimesFox News, photo of Yanukovych and Putin from Japan Times)

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August 19, 2016: Manafort Resigns from Trump Campaign

Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort abruptly resigns after a spate of news stories show he received $12.7 million in payments from the political party of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort has long been the focus of criticism for his previous work for pro-Russian oligarchs such as Yanukovych as well as the unfocused nature of the Trump campaign.

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Insiders believe Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, the husband of Ivanka Trump and the publisher of the New York Observer, played a key role in Manafort's ouster. Kushner, one of the campaign's top advisors, had once been a strong Manafort ally, and was instrumental in the firing of previous campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Manafort replaced Lewandowski. According to Eric Trump, one of Trump's sons, his "father didn't want to be, you know, distracted by, you know, whatever things Paul was dealing with. … my father just didn’t want to have the distraction looming over the campaign and, quite frankly, looming over all the issues that Hillary's facing right now." The campaign publicly blames Manafort for leaking information to the press about the campaign's internal squabbles, and notes Trump's increasing disfavor towards Manafort; the candidate has recently taken to calling Manafort "low energy," an insult he previously used against his primary opponent Jeb Bush (R-FL). Trump says in a brief statement: "This morning Paul Manafort offered, and I accepted, his resignation from the campaign. I am very appreciative for his great work in helping to get us where we are today." Manafort's resignation was apparently forced on him, in part due to advice given to Trump by Fox News chairman Roger Ailes. Campaign pollster Kellyanne Conway will take Manafort's position, joining Breitbart publisher and avowed white supremacist Steve Bannon as "campaign CEO." Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook says of Manafort's ouster, "You can get rid of Manafort, but that doesn't end the odd bromance Trump has with Putin." A Republican strategist says that Manafort's ouster was inevitable after the Ukraine revelations and the ascension of Conway and Bannon to power: "If you had had one of these things happen, it would have been survivable. But you had two of these things in concert. One thing I don't think Trump will tolerate is the focus being on someone else rather than himself." The strategist, echoed by associates of Manafort, say that Manafort knew he was taking a risk in joining the campaign. The strategist says: "He knows he's been doing this stuff. It was going to become an issue. He wasn't prepared to tamp it down. When he decided to re-enter high-profile American politics and he ratcheted it up with lots of Sunday shows and TV appearances, he had to know he was putting himself out there as a target." (New York Times, NewsweekPoliticoWashington Post)

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One has to ask: how in the hell do you get so many people working for you who have more vested financial interests in Russia than your own campaign? — "Pierre9045", member of the Daily Kos community

August 19, 2016 and After: Manafort Arranges for Huge Loans from Russian, Trump-Connected Financiers

The same day that Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort resigns from the campaign, he files papers to create a shell company, Summerbreeze LLC, that will soon receive $13 million in loans from two companies with ties to Trump.

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One of those businesses partners with Ukrainian-born billionaire Alexander Rovt, and the other is led by Trump economic advisor Stephen Calk. The loans are part of a larger $20 million loan package secured by properties belonging to Manafort and his wife. The purpose of the loans is unclear, but they may be in part due to Manafort's financial difficulties stemming from failed investments with his son-in-law XXX. The New York Times will later report: "The transactions raise a number of questions, including whether Mr. Manafort's decision to turn to Trump-connected lenders was related to his role in the campaign, where he had agreed to serve for free." Manafort often created shell companies to buy numerous properties in New York City, Florida, Virginia, and Los Angeles. Manafort is well known for his acceptance of millions in illegal cash payments from a Ukrainian political party with ties to the Kremlin. A handwritten set of accounts dubbed the "Black Ledger" was found in Ukraine and details the payments Manafort received; until some of the payments in the ledger were independently verified by other documentation, Manafort has insisted the ledger was a fraud. Now he claims that the verified payments were entirely legal. One of the Summerbreeze loans is from the private lending unit of Spruce Capital, a small New York investment firm with connections to Rovt. Rovt made his fortune in the fertilizer industry after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and is a financial backer of Spruce. The co-founder of Spruce is Joshua Crane, a developer of Trump hotel projects. Rovt, a Trump campaign donor who has partnered with Crane in some of the Trump projects, says he has never met Manafort and had no involvement in the Spruce loan. (Rovt also donated to the Clinton campaign.) Manafort says the Spruce loan is entirely innocent and aboveboard. Manafort joined the Trump campaign in early 2016, offering his services for free and claiming he did not need to be paid. But shortly after joining the campaign, he began what the Times will call "a borrowing spree," using the properties he owns as collateral. In November, after Trump wins the election, Summerbreeze receives a second loan for $9.5 million from the Federal Savings Bank of Chicago, headed by Calk. In January 2017, Manafort obtains another $6.6 million in loans from Calk's bank. Some of the loans may go to salvage investments lost in partnership with real-estate mogul Jeffrey Yohai, his son-in-law, whose business files for bankruptcy in December 2016. Yohai is facing a civil suit charging that he exploited his connections to Manafort "to meet numerous public figures and celebrities" and solicit investments from them, charges that Yohai denies. Manafort sunk $4 million into his investments with Yohai to salvage them, according to an affidavit he files in the bankruptcy case. Rovt is connected to fellow Ukrainian Andrii Artemenko, who in February will work with colleagues of Trump to present a Russia-friendly "peace proposal" to Trump. Rovt will deny being involved in the Artemenko proposal. In April 2017, Daily Kos contributor Eric Lewis will observe: "Millions in loans from businesses owned by Ukrainian billionaires? That is a classic Putin payment method. And the shell company receptacle's being set up the very same day he resigned, makes it highly suspicious. It suggests that the reason he offered to work for free for Trump was because he was being bankrolled by, um, someone else. To call it collusion might be an understatement." (New York Times, Daily Kos)

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August 27-30, 2016: Democrats ask the FBI to investigate Trump officials for their ties to Russia.

Late August 2016: Manafort Continues to Advise Trump, Explore Business Opportunities

Within days of resigning from the Trump campaign as its official campaign manager, Paul Manafort resumes advising Trump in private, giving the candidate advice on how best to function inside the Washington, DC establishment.

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This is confirmed in texts from Manafort's daughter Andrea Manafort Shand to an unnamed friend. She writes: "So I got to the bottom of it. As I suspected, my dad resigned from being the public face of the campaign but is still very much involved behind the scenes. He felt he was becoming a distraction and that would ultimately take a toll on the campaign. … He said that, in the next few weeks, we should hopefully be seeing a new Trump, so to speak. Last night's speech was a speech my dad had been pushing him to make for several weeks, and since it was so well-received, he thinks Trump will be more responsive to doing things a bit differently." He also begins exploring the possibility of entering into a private-equity deal with a major Trump donor and fundraiser, Thomas Barrack Jr. A spokesperson for Barrack, who is close friends with both Manafort and Trump, will deny any business relationship with Manafort. Manafort's former business partner Rick Gates continues to work with Barrack in support of the Trump campaign. (Wall Street Journal, Yahoo News)

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— Fall 2016 —

Fall 2016: Trump Consultant Working with Flynn on Behalf of Turkey

Jon Iadonisi is a colleague and friend of Trump senior advisor Michael Flynn who himself works on Trump's social media presence. Iadonisi is also helping Flynn, who is secretly a foreign agent on behalf of Turkey, with an investigative project on behalf of an ally of the Turkish government.

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The Trump campaign does not report any payments to Iadonisi or any of the firms he owns, but FEC reports later show that the campaign will pay $200,000 for "data management service" to Colt Ventures, a Dallas venture firm that invests in a social-media firm co-founded by Iadonisi called VizSense. Colt Ventures will be paid for a social media project that includes video-content creation and "millennial engagement" during the last month of the campaign, but the campaign will not comment on why it paid a venture-capital firm for such services. Washington campaign finance lawyer Daniel Petalas, a former head of enforcement for the FEC, says the arrangement with Colt Ventures may have broken finance law. Colt was founded by Dallas investor Darren Blanton, who will serve as an advisor to Trump's transition team. Blanton does his work for the campaign through campaign manager Steve Bannon, and meets frequently with Bannon at Trump Tower. Colt sends Bannon a report about work it has performed for the Trump campaign. Later, a Trump official will say that Bannon is "not aware of any of these companies or contracts." VizSense, a Plano, Texas firm, promises on its website to "weaponize your brand's influence" through "military-grade influencer marketing and intelligence services." It was founded in 2015 by Iadonesi, a former Navy SEAL, and Tim Newberry, a former submarine officer and nuclear engineer. It is an offshoot of their consulting firm White Canvas Group. That firm has received numerous Pentagon contracts. Iadonesi has told reporters that VizSense analyzes data, including online video performance, and identifies the best "targets" for social media campaigns. Iadonesi served with Flynn in Iraq, and has close personal and business ties with him, including his business sharing an office suite in Alexandria, Virginia with Flynn Intel Group. In December VizSense will praise Flynn's upcoming appointment as National Security Advisor. The project Iadonesi is helping Flynn with is the secret effort by Flynn to investigate Fethullah Gulen, an enemy of the Turkish government who lives in Pennsylvania. The research was funded by Turkish-American businessman Ekim Alptekin, who has close ties to both the government of Turkish autocrat Recip Tayyip Erdoğan and to Flynn. Erdoğan accuses Gulan of trying to foment a coup against him and wants him extradited to Turkey. Flynn pays White Canvas Group $15,000 for what it calls "public open source research." In August, the same month that Flynn begins working with Alptekin, Newberry temporarily joins FIG Cyber, a unit of Flynn Intel Group, as chief executive. He steps down in November, when the Flynn-Alptekin contract ends. Mark Sumner of the Daily Kos will write: "There's no doubt that the Trump campaign was shopping for a lot of online help, and Iadonisi's work could have been perfectly ordinary. It's also not unusual for services to be subcontracted in the middle of a campaign. But in a campaign where fake news spread through social media played a major role, it's certainly interesting that Donald Trump was paying a friend of Michael Flynn who is an expert in the area." (Washington Post, Daily Kos)

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— September 2016 —

September 2016: Putin Assured No Evidence of Manafort Payments

Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin meets with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in secret near the Russian city of Volgograd, where Yanukovych assured Putin that there is no documentation proving any payments were made to Yanukovych's former campaign manager Paul Manafort. Manafort recently resigned from the Trump campaign after allegations he received $12.7 million in illegal payments from Yanukovych's political party. Putin tells associates that he does not believe Yanokovych's assertions. This meeting was later revealed by unnamed Western intelligence sources. (Newsweek)


September 2016: Page Meets with Hungarian Officials on Behalf of Campaign

Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page, who is being investigated by the FBI for his secretive ties to Russia, visits senior governmental officials in Budapest, Hungary as a Trump campaign representative. After Page becomes a person of interest in the FBI/Justice Department investigation of the Trump campaign's potential collusion with Russia to throw the election, the campaign will try to paint him as a low-level campaign volunteer who had virtually no role in the campaign.

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The Hungarian meetings will serve as further evidence that Page had a far larger role in the campaign than campaign officials will admit. Page meets with Jeno Megyesy, a close advisor to Prime Minister Viktor Orban, where the two discuss relations with the US. Megyesy will admit to meeting with Page at the request of Hungary's ambassador to the US, Reka Szemerkenyi. He will say that he does most of the talking at the meeting, because Page seems ignorant of the issues facing Hungary and the region. "I had the impression he didn't deal with these issues on a regular basis," Megyesy will say. "I walked him through the politics and the issues with respect to Hungary." Page also meets with Szemerkenyi, whom he first met in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention. He will meet for a third time with Szemerkenyi at an embassy function in Washington. Szemerkenyi will later call the encounters "courtesy meetings." Orban will be one of the few world leaders to endorse Trump's candidacy. Orban is closely aligned with Vladimir Putin, and US intelligence believes Hungary is a hub of Russian intelligence activity. (ABC News)

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September 6, 2016: Two Trump Officials Meet with Russian Ambassador

Two members of the Trump campaign's national security advisory team, Carter Page and J.D. Gordon, speak with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, at the Global Partners in Diplomacy conference connected to the Republican National Convention.

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Several other Trump campaign officials are in attendance. There is no record of what Page and Gordon discussed with Kislyak. Trump officials later say the meeting is nothing unusual, contradicting dozens of denials previously issued by the campaign that claimed their officials never met with any Russian government officials. Gordon will say of his discussion with Kislyak, "I'd consider it an informal conversation just like my interactions with dozens of other ambassadors and senior diplomats in Cleveland." Page will cite "confidentiality rules" in refusing to talk about his meeting with Kislyak. He will say, "I had no substantive discussions with him." RNC delegate Hossein Khorram, who is not a part of the Trump campaign, tells reporters: "Basically the ambassadors – including the Russian ambassador – they were expressing their, mainly, fears about the war on terror and collaborating with the United States. There was no promises made on behalf of the Trump administration." In January, the White House will issue a statement about the meeting: "This was a widely attended 4-day event with dozens of ambassadors and hundreds of attendees. No interaction was substantive, and to insinuate otherwise is deeply dishonest." The Democratic National Convention held a similar diplomatic event, but as far as is known, Kislyak did not attend that event, nor did he attend the DNC. US intelligence considers Kislyak one of Russia's leading intelligence agents and spy recruiters, though the Kremlin disputes the characterization. (USA Today, Medium, CNN)

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September 8, 2016: Sessions Meets Privately with Russian Ambassador

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a senior advisor for the Trump campaign, meets privately with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. During Sessions's confirmation hearings for Attorney General, he will state flatly, and falsely, that he has never met with any Russian officials.

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After Sessions becomes Attorney General, a Justice Department official will claim that the meeting with Kislyak was announced publicly and attended by Sessions, Kislyak and Sessions's staff members. Spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores will claim that Sessions met with over 25 foreign ambassadors as part of his duties as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Sessions is the only one of the 26 committee members to meet with Kislyak during 2016. Flores will claim that the meeting had nothing to do with the Trump campaign, though a Justice Department official will admit that Kislyak and other ambassadors sometimes made "superficial comments about the election." Think Progress reporter Aaron Rupar later notes that considering Russia is currently engaged in the height of its campaign to disrupt the US presidential campaign and assist Trump in winning, "the full context of what was going on in the world at the time of [Sessions's] second meeting with the Russian ambassador makes it seem even more suspicious." Days before the Sessions-Kislyak meeting, Putin and Obama had a "tense meeting" at the G20 summit in Hangzhou, China. The day before the meeting, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper publicly stated that the hacks against Democratic computer networks were carried out by Russian agents. Trump disputes that claim the same day of the meeting during an interview on a Russian propaganda outlet. The day after the meeting, Trump publicly proclaims his desire to work closely with Russia, as does Trump's running mate Mike Pence, who tells an ABC news host that Putin is a stronger leader than Obama. Shortly thereafter, Russian media outlets state, "Moscow expects Washington to display political will on building good relations with Russia after the presidential elections, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said." Less than a week after the meeting, WikiLeaks will publish another batch of Democratic emails hacked by the Russians. Rupar writes, "Despite the fact that this week of September 8 appeared to signal a major shift for future Russia-US relations, and despite the unusually pro-Putin rhetoric espoused by Trump and Pence, Sessions [said] that he couldn't remember much of what was discussed during his meeting with Kislyak." Sessions later says of the meeting: "Well, it was just normal things, such as I started off by saying – I don't remember a lot of it, but I do remember saying I'd gone to Russia with a church group in 1991, and he said he was not a believer himself but he was glad to have church people come there. Indeed, I thought he was pretty much of an old-style Soviet type ambassador." Sessions will recall discussing "the Ukraine" and "terrorism" with Kislyak, and will add, "This was in campaign season, but I don't recall any specific political discussions." In a subsequent interview on Fox News, Sessions will reframe his recollection, saying he does not "recall any discussion of the campaign in any significant way" with Kislyak. But the meeting apparently has an impact on Sessions. In March 2015, Sessions told a reporter, in response to a question about Russia's aggressive military tactics in Georgia and Ukraine, that it "needs to be clear that Russia knows that there will be a high price to pay if this behavior continues." However, his views changed markedly after joining the Trump campaign. "I think an argument can be made there is no reason for the US and Russia to be at this loggerheads," he told an audience in March 2016. "Somehow, someway we ought to be able to break that logjam. Strategically it's not justified for either country. It may not work. Putin may not be able to be dealt with, but I don't condemn his instincts that we ought to attempt to do that." And after his first meeting with Kislyak in July, Sessions told CNN: "This whole problem with Russia is really disastrous for America, for Russia and for the world. Donald Trump is right. We need to figure out a way to end this cycle of hostility that's putting this country at risk, costing us billions of dollars in defense, and creating hostilities." US intelligence considers Kislyak one of Russia's leading intelligence agents and spy recruiters, though the Kremlin disputes the characterization. (Washington Post, ABC News, CNN, Think Progress, Daily Beast, New York Times)

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September 15, 2016: Flynn Firm Refuses to Register as Foreign Agents

Robert Kelley, the general counsel for Michael Flynn's firm Flynn Intel Group (FIG), files a lobbying disclosure report with Congress. The Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires that firms such as FIG that lobby on behalf of a foreign corporate client do not to need to register as foreign agents, as they are covered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act. Flynn and FIG determines, wrongly, that its work on behalf of a Turkish client to lobby Congress on behalf of the Turkish government falls under those provisions, and therefore FIG does not register under FARA. (Talking Points Memo)


September 19, 2016: Flynn Discusses Kidnapping Turkish Cleric from US with Turkish Government Officials

Retired Army Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, the former head of the DIA, meets with senior Turkish government officials to discuss the illegal kidnapping of a Muslim cleric from his home and spiriting him back to Turkey, at the behest of Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The cleric, 77-year old Fethullah Gulen, is considered an enemy of the Erdoğan regime. Currently he lives in Pennsylvania.

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Flynn is joined by members of his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group (FIG). The information is revealed to the press in March 2017 by former CIA Director James Woolsey, who attends the meeting. The meeting, which is not publicly reported, takes place in a New York City hotel during the United Nations General Assembly. Flynn will later be named Trump's National Security Advisor. Flynn's spokesperson Price Floyd will deny Woolsey's recollection. Both Woolsey and Flynn are Trump campaign advisors. Also at the meeting is Erdoğan's powerful son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, and possibly Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu. Woolsey will say that he misses the beginning of the meeting, telling CNN anchor Don Lemon: "What I saw and heard was sort of the end of the conversation – it's not entirely clear what transpired because of that. But it looks as if there was at least some strong suggestion by one or more of the Americans present at the meeting that we would be able, the United States would be able, through them, to be able to get hold of Gulen, the rival for Turkey's political situation." He will add, "The reason I'm being cautious about how this was worded is because I wasn't there for much of this meeting." He will call the meeting "suspicious" and "concerning," and will continue, "I felt I needed to say something to somebody, but was it a clear plot that they were going to seize him? No." Even so, the idea of the kidnapping is, Woolsey will say, "a covert step in the dead of night to whisk this guy away. … You don’t send out folks to haul somebody overseas" Woolsey will call the idea "naive" in thinking they could bypass the US legal process and Gulen's constiutional rights. Flynn is covertly operating as a Turkish foreign agent during this time, and will not register as such until March 2017. He is currently working for the Turkish-aligned company Inovo BP. Some reports will allege that Congressman Devin Nunes (R-CA), another Trump campaign advisor and the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, also attends the event, but those reports remain unverified. (Wall Street Journal, CNN, Think Progress, Business Insider, Associated Press via Business Insider, Talking Points Memo, Snopes)

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September 23-25, 2016: Trump Advisor Under Investigation for Russian Contacts

US intelligence officials have opened an investigation into Trump advisor Carter Page, the media reports. The investigation will determine whether Page engaged in private communications with senior Russian officials in defiance of US sanctions against Russia – and whether or not he discussed the likelihood of Trump lifting the sanctions if he becomes president. Page is already under surveillance by the FBI because of the fear that he has been "turned" by Russian intelligence, and now operates as a Russian asset.

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Senior members of Congress have been briefed on Russia's efforts to undermine the integrity of the presidential election, and some of them were reportedly "taken aback" upon learning of Page's contacts in Moscow. Reporter Michael Isikoff writes that those members view those contacts "as a possible back channel to the Russians that could undercut US foreign policy," according to one of his sources. Reports on Page's talks with senior Russian officials close to President Vladimir Putin are being "actively monitored and investigated." Trump identified Page as part of his "foreign policy team" in March, but last week campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks called him an "informal foreign adviser" who "does not speak for Mr. Trump or the campaign." Trump spokesperson Jason Miller tells Isikoff Page "has no role" in the campaign and adds, "We are not aware of any of his activities, past or present." Both Hicks and Miller are lying. The next day, Trump campaign director of rapid response Stephen Cheung repeats Miller's lie word for word. He tells an ABC News interviewer: "He has no role. … We are not aware of any of his activities, past or present." Miller refuses to answer when asked why Trump named him as a foreign policy advisor. Page has long been known for his open support of Putin's Russia and his willingness to attack US policies: "He was pretty much a brazen apologist for anything Moscow did," one US official stationed in Russia at that time says. Page has openly criticized the US sanctions against Russia during his trips to Moscow, in part because, he has said, the sanctions made his investments in Gazprom, the Russian-owned gas company, less profitable. Page came to the US public's view after reports circulated about his vilification of the US during his trip to Moscow in June. Page has denied meeting with officials such as Igor Sechin, the executive chairman of Rosneft, Russia's largest oil company, during that trip. That meeting would have violated the sanctions. US intelligence sources say Page did meet with Sechin, and they discussed how Trump might lift the sanctions. Intelligence sources also believe Page met with Putin aide Igor Diveykin, who is believed to be responsible for intelligence collected by Russian agents about the US election. Two days after the media reports on the investigation, Page writes a letter to FBI Director James Comey requesting a "prompt end" to the inquiry. He says that the accusations are based on nothing more than "false media reports" about his trip, failing to note the quoted US intelligence officials' statements as reported in the press, and falsely claims that "I have not met this year with any sanctioned official in Russia despite the fact that there are no restrictions on U.S. persons speaking with such individuals." He goes on to claim that pursuing this investigation puts America at risk, though he fails to give any details. (Yahoo News, ABC News, Washington Post (.pdf file), Medium)

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September 25, 2016: Conway Denies Page Part of Campaign

In a blanket denial of foreign policy advisor Carter Page's connection to the Trump campaign, campaign spokesperson Kellyanne Conway tells CNN's Jake Tapper that Page is not part of the campaign: "He's certainly not part of the campaign I'm running, meaning we don't have him – we have a number of people, fabulous people, men and women, as part of our national security and foreign policy team. And he's not among them at Trump Tower."

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Asked if Page has had any contact with Kremlin officials, she says: "If he's doing that, he's certainly not doing it with the permission or knowledge of the campaign, the activities that you described … He is certainly not authorized to do that." Conway is lying. The campaign may not have known that in 2013, Page passed confidential documents about US sanctions against Russia to a Russian intelligence agent. The campaign is likely not aware that the FBI began surveilling Page as a possible Russian asset in 2014, or that the agency resumed the surveillance on Page after he lambasted the US in a speech delivered in Moscow. However, the campaign certainly knew that Page and two other campaign officials met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in July and that Page and one of those officials, J.D. Gordon, met again with Kislyak less than three weeks ago. Page has recently sent a letter riddled with falsehoods to FBI Director James Comey demanding to have the surveillance on him terminated. (CNN, Just Security)

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September 26, 2016: Page Leaves Trump Campaign, Denies Meeting with Russians

While in Moscow Carter Page, the oil industry millionaire who has served as a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign, takes a leave of absence from the campaign amid accusations that he and other Trump aides have undisclosed ties to the Russian government.

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He says he never met with any sanctioned Russian officials during his recent trip to Moscow. "All of these accusations are just complete garbage," he says, citing allegations from the Clinton campaign, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, and US intelligence officials, all of whom have said they believe he met with "highly-sanctioned individuals" during that trip and may even have discussed some kind of alliance between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Page, of course, is lying. Intelligence sources have told reporters that Page met with Igor Sechin, a Putin ally and head of the giant Russian oil conglomerate Rosneft, and Igor Diveykin, a senior Russian intelligence official whom some US intelligence officials believe may be involved in the Russian cyberattacks on the Clinton campaign. A Politico report alleged that Page had held "talks about the possible lifting of economic sanctions if the Republican nominee becomes president." Other reports state Page with Sergei Ivanov, a former high-ranking official in the Putin government. Page says: "All the ones that are mentioned in the various articles, I didn't meet with any of those guys. It's completely false and inconceivable that someone would even accuse me of that." He admits to briefly meeting Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich at the graduation event at the school he spoke at, but says the meeting was a mere exchange of pleasantries. He says his visit to Moscow was strictly a private affair, and he never represented himself as a Trump campaign official while in Russia. (He fails to mention that he obtained the campaign's permission to make the trip before leaving for Moscow.) He explains why he is choosing to leave the campaign: "This is another distraction that's been created here. There's so little time between now and the election, this is in the best interests of the candidate. It's so ridiculous I want to have it behind us." Page is leaving in part because the FBI is investigating his contacts with Russian officials. The Trump campaign is distancing itself from Page, with spokesperson KellyAnne Conway telling CNN that Page is not involved with the campaign: "I have not spoken with him at all, in fact, meaning he's not part of our national security or foreign policy briefings that we do now at all, certainly not since I have become campaign manager. And I also will say, if he's doing that, he's certainly not doing it with the permission or knowledge of the campaign, the activities that you described." Other campaign officials say Page was never part of Trump's inner circle. Trump campaign spokesperson Jason Miller says that Page "has no role" in the campaign, and adds, "We are not aware of any of his activities, past or present." Like Conway and other campaign officials, Miller is lying. Miller refuses to explain why Trump described Page as one of his advisors in March 2016. In a letter he wrote to FBI Director James Comey, Page explains his visit and asks Comey to wrap the investigation quickly: "For the record, I have not met this year with any sanctioned official in Russia despite the fact that there are no restrictions on US persons speaking with such individuals. … Instead of allowing the staff of the FBI to focus the nation's limited resources on real threats, these desperate and unfounded calls for my investigation as a private citizen to advance political interests based on nothing more than preposterous mainstream media reports is a true disgrace." He told Comey he has sold his shares of Gazprom, the Russian natural gas company, at a loss in order to work with the Trump campaign. A US official calls Page "a brazen apologist for anything Moscow did." (Washington Post, Politico, Yahoo News)

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— October 2016 —

October 2, 2016: Trump advisor Roger Stone apparently predicts a new release of hacked Clinton documents that he says will finish her candidacy.

October 11, 2016: Trump Jr. Paid to Speak at Event by Russia-Connected French Think Tank

Donald Trump Jr. is paid $50,000 to speak to an obscure French think tank that works with Russia to end the civil war in Syria. The think tank, called the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs (CPFA), hired Trump Jr. to speak to an assemblage during a formal dinner.

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He also speaks privately with diplomats, businessmen and politicians who attend the dinner. Trump Jr. is a senior member of the Trump campaign. CPFA president Fabian Baussart's wife, Randa Kassis, is Syrian, and leads a Russian-endorsed faction that is working to end the conflict in Syria and and keep Kremlin-favored Bashar al-Assad in power. She heads a political party, the Movement for a Pluralistic Society, which is part of a faction endorsed by Russia. She regularly visits Moscow to coordinate policy with Russia's Foreign Ministry, and often appears on Russian state media. Kassis will later say she presses Trump Jr. during the meeting on the need for the US to cooperate with Russia. "We have to be realistic. Who's on the ground in Syria? Not the US, not France," she will say she told him. "Without Russia, we can't have any solution in Syria." Kassis will call the younger Trump "very pragmatic and flexible." On her Facebook page, she will post: "[Syria's] opposition got hope that [the] political process will move forward and Russia and the United States will reach accord on the issue of the Syrian crisis, because of Trump's victory. Such hope and belief is the result of my personal meeting with Donald Trump junior in Paris in October." In December 2016, Baussart will nominate Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize. Baussart will say: "I believe that President Putin has deserved it. He is the only one who is truly fighting terrorism." Trump Jr. has called the acceptance of speakers' fees by Hillary Clinton "pay to play." But the Trump Organization defends Trump Jr.'s paid speech to the CPFA, saying: "Donald Trump Jr. has been participating in business-related speaking engagements for over a decade – discussion a range of topics including sharing his entrepreneurial experiences and offering career specific advice." Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway will downplay the importance of the meeting: "Don was addressing a round table in Paris, and she was present for that talk and at a group dinner for 30 people. This event featured a number of opinion leaders from all over the world who were interested in the US elections." Kassis later says she told Trump Jr. that the US-backed Syrian rebels are radical Islamists. She later adds that she discussed the meeting with senior Russian officials. (Wall Street Journal via IBTimes, The Hill, Slate)

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October 17, 2016: Page Tells Russian Media that US Foreign Policy "Arrogant," Is Cause of Strain between US and Russia

Carter Page, the foreign policy advisor to Donald Trump, tells Russian propaganda outlet Sputnik News that the American government's "arrogant" foreign policy towards Russia is to blame for the strain between the US and Russia.

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The two nations share common goals, he says: "[M]any of America's core national interests overlap significantly with the strategic priorities of Russia. But unfortunately, an arrogant foreign policy in Washington has quite often failed to consider America's own fundamental priorities." America's foreign policy, he says, has hampered the US's ability to achieve its own objectives, and the US would be better served if it had a more "genuine relationship" with Russia. "Looking back at many of the primary mistakes made in US foreign policy over recent decades, Russia without question could have significantly contributed to better outcomes if a genuine relationship based on mutual respect had been effectively forged," he says. Last week, Page wrote an op-ed for Sputnik News about the two nations' nuclear weapons policies, saying that "[t]he complete lack of substance in today's related analyses and debates has served as a conduit for seemingly relentless foreign policy problems." He wrote that it was up to the US to forge a new relationship of "mutual respect" with Russia to help settle the nuclear policy dispute as well as other foreign policy issues in which the two countries find themselves at odds. He also attacked the US investigation of his July trip to Moscow, where he apparently met in private with senior Russian officials in possible violation of US sanctions against Russia. He called the investigation "farcical," called President Obama's diplomatic policies towards Russia and former Soviet client states "high-handed," and wrote, "In contrast to the idea of mutual respect, the US Government's actions in the domestic democratic processes of Russia's neighboring states stand as a primary example of interference in the international arena." He concluded by accusing the US government of harboring "a complete disregard for Russia's interests [that] further increases the expected longevity of today's downward trajectory," and warned that if the US did not adopt his position of "mutual respect" with regards to Russia, it risks precipitating "mutual assured destruction." (RT, Sputnik News, RT)

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October 19, 2016: Trump Attempts to Claim Clinton Has Illegal Ties to Putin Ally, Does Not Mention Own Colleague's Ties

In a press release, Donald Trump attempts to smear his rival Hillary Clinton, citing several instances when "Clinton and her allies sold out American interests to [Vladimir] Putin in exchange for political and financial favors." His allegations are almost entirely false, using citations from reputable sources to spin his groundless allegations.

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One tries, and fails, to show that Clinton took "millions" in illegal donations from Russian companies for her Clinton Foundation, citing the State Department's efforts to promote American tech firms' investment in Skolkovo, Russia's "Silicon Valley." Another accusation centers around the brother of her campaign chair, John Podesta, being a registered lobbyist for a Russian bank, and using that to promote the claim that Clinton is somehow allied with Putin. A third recycles a long-disproven tale that Clinton used her position as Secretary of State to help Russia gain a controlling stake in a uranium company in return for illegal donations to the Clinton Foundation. Trump notes a donation made by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire and close ally of Putin's, to the Foundation. Trump fails to note that Wilbur Ross, an American billionaire and Trump ally, has far closer financial and business ties to Vekselberg. Ross will later be chosen by Trump to serve as Secretary of Commerce. (Donald Trump, Mother Jones)

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October 23, 2016: Former Trump Campaign Chief Lobbied Russia to Buy Spyware from Firm He Co-Owned

The media reports that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former business partner, former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, have deep business and financial ties to a biometric security company that lobbied the Putin government on behalf of technology that would let Russia spy on its citizens.

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Manafort was an early investor for the biometric firm EyeLock, and as early as 2006 owned as much as 10% of the company. Gates was an independent contractor hired to drum up clients for EyeLock in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other Middle Eastern countries. The company makes iris scanners that identify individuals according to their unique iris patterns in their eyes. The Kremlin intended to put EyeLock scanners in Moscow subways to find people on its "watch list." EyeLock did not get the contract. A former White House official says: "This is quite an unusual business relationship for senior presidential campaign staff members to have with a foreign government. It raises a lot of questions about national security and what should have been publicly disclosed to get a better handle on ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government." A former EyeLock executive says of the Kremlin officials interested in their product: "They had some people on a naughty list, a black list, and they wanted to track these people. It was more surveillance, hit a black-list database, send up an alert." Asked about his connections to the EyeLock contract attempts with Moscow, Gates said he was merely involved in helping EyeLock land US government contracts, and denied any involvement with Russia. Manafort refuses all comment. An EyeLock spokesperson denies Manafort had any direct involvement or operational role within the company, and describes him as a "small, indirect" investor. Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks says, "Mr. Trump and the campaign have absolutely no knowledge of this, and these individuals are no longer with the campaign." (New York Post, Salon)

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— November 2016 —

November 1, 2016: FBI Investigating Manafort's Foreign Business Connections

Several weeks after the forced resignation of Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, the media learns that the FBI is conducting a preliminary inquiry into Manafort's foreign business connections. The inquiry is not yet an official criminal investigation.

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Manafort denies the inquiry, saying that "none of it is true … There's no investigation going on by the FBI that I'm aware of." Manafort says any reports of him having ties to the Kremlin is "Democratic propaganda … meant to deflect." Manafort is known to have taken millions in possibly illegal payments from a pro-Kremlin political party in Ukraine. Adam Schiff (D-CA) of the House Intelligence Committee will not comment directly on the Manafort investigation, but says: "Americans have every right to be concerned about what they see in terms of Trump advisors and their closeness with the Kremlin, Trump's policies vis-a-vis Russia, Trump's potential financial interest, all of those things ought to be of deep concern to voters. … Whether an investigation is appropriate depends on whether there's evidence of criminal connections. Of course the intelligence community wants to know what foreign influence Russia may be looking to exert in the United States." Former State Department official David Kramer in the second Bush administration, who advised Trump's primary rival Marco Rubio (R-FL), says: "The relationships that Trump's advisors have had with pro-Russian forces are deeply disturbing. Trump's attitude on Russia is not in line with most Republican foreign-policy thinking. Trump has staked out views that are really on the fringe." (NBC News)

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November 1, 2016: Russian Oligarch Once Boasted of Trump Connections, Now Denies Them

The Financial Times examines one of the most powerful, and shadowy, Russian oligarchs who call Donald Trump a friend and business colleague.

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When Sergei Millian was named the head of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce in the US in 2006, he became a new and telegenic spokesman for the "new" Russia. He gave dozens of television interviews to Russian state media as an expert on the US, and appeared on US news shows in opposition to US sanctions on Russia. He became a fixture on the New York City social scene, rubbing elbows with America's rich and famous. He hosted his own reality TV show in Russia called "Million Dollar Listing." In 2014, he posted a picture of himself on Facebook with Trump and Jorge Perez, the billionaire owner of a Miami real estate firm, at a horse race. Millian, still a fresh-faced 36, is now touting the advantages of a Trump presidency. He touts his own business ties with Trump, and told one Russian news agency, Ria Novosti, "I can assure you he is very positive and friendly." Millian's activities are now coming under scrutiny by US law enforcement and intelligence officials in light of Russia's attempts to sabotage the election on behalf of Trump. Millian may well be one of a number of intermediaries between Trump and the Kremlin. And some US intelligence sources wonder if Millian might not be a Russian intelligence asset operating on US soil. Millian insists that his Russian-American Chamber of Commerce (RACC) is an entirely private entity with no ties to the Russian government. However, Times reporters have been unable to locate most of the RACC board members, and there are no RACC offices at the address listed on the organization's website. Its activities show very close ties to the Kremlin, mostly in arranging trips for visiting Russian regional governors to the US. In 2015, the Russian government honored Millian for his work in developing ties between Russian and American businesspeople. Millian has called news reports speculating on his ties with the Kremlin "false accusations" and "negligent reporting," and blames "the adverse political situation" in the US for the RACC's recent drawdown of public events and activities. Former Russian MP and businessman Konstantin Borovoi has a different take, telling Times reporter Catherine Belton that the RACC is a typical Russian front organization. In Soviet times, Borovoi says, the American Trade Chamber was "the official representative office of the secret services." Now, he says, "These institutions have been revived and developed. The chamber of commerce institutions are the visible part of the agent network … Russia has spent huge amounts of money on this." In 2011, some US businessmen who had gone to Moscow with Millian told the FBI that they suspected Millian and other Russians on the trip of being Russian spies, particularly Yury Zaytsev, the head of the Washington, DC office of Rossotrudnichestvo, who had organized the excursion. The Russian foreign ministry denied the accusations, but Zaytsev returned to Russia shortly thereafter. Millian remained in the US, and wrote a letter to then-Russian president Dmitry Medvedev thanking him for facilitating the trip and offering to set up more. The FBI decided after the incident that Russia may be activating intelligence networks long thought to be defunct. One former senior US intelligence official says, "The number of Russian intelligence operatives in the US is much higher than anyone thought." By 2011, Millian had developed deep business ties with Trump and the Trump Organization. In April 2016, he praised Trump in an interview with Ria Novosti, saying he admired Trump for partnering with Georgian billionaire Tamir Sapir to develop the Trump SoHo project in New York City. Millian told the Russian news host he met Trump through "mutual acquaintances" during Trump's 2007 trip to Moscow's Millionaire's Fair. Trump invited Millian to join him in Miami for the horse races shortly thereafter, Millian said. Millian says Trump soon introduced him to Michael Cohen, his organization's chief legal counsel; Cohen granted Millian the legal right to market Trump Organization properties in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Millian said he was the organization's "exclusive broker." Afterwards, he says, "dozens of Russians bought apartments in Trump properties in the US," enriching Trump by "hundreds of millions of dollars." Millian now downplays his connections with Trump, and is declining invitations for interviews. He tells Belton: "I never represented Mr Trump personally and I am not working with Mr Trump. I have never been paid by Mr Trump for any work." He adds that he has never consulted with Trump on any political matters. The RACC is busily purging documentation from its website touting its connections with Trump. For his part, Cohen says Millian's previous comments were "nothing more than a weak attempt to align himself with Mr Trump's overwhelmingly successful brand." Cohen refuses to answer questions about his own interactions with Millian, or why Millian is one of only 100 people he folloiws on Twitter. Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks says Trump only "met and spoke" with Millian "on one occasion almost a decade ago at a hotel opening." But prominent Soviet emigrant Mikhail Morgulis, the honorary consul to the US from Belarus, tells Belton that Millian told him he was actively trying to help Trump and the GOP. "We have soft power and we are trying to change relations now," Morgulis says. The Daily Beast notes that "Millian stands out from the pack because of his use of Trump-esque hyperbole to bolster his own career. Since first meeting Trump, Millian has built a reputation on a series of exaggerations, to become a cross between a translator, a property merchant, and a pro-Trump spin doctor for the Russian press." Millian tells a Beast reporter why he is now downplaying the relationship with Trump he formerly boasted of: there is now "quite negative press related to Russia so I don't want to be involved. I didn't represent him personally ever." He only worked with Trump on a few real estate projects, he adds. The Beast notes: "It was a Trump-like move: brag about ties to a project when it could be advantageous; but then brand it as tangential any link to the project if it starts to show sign of controversy." Millian was born Sergei Kukut in Belarus, but his RACC page shows that name as an alias. He now says: "I am US citizen and do not have and never had Russian citizenship. When immigrants arrive to USA, it is a common practice to change their name." He told Russian news hosts in April that he had been in contact with Trump or an advisor just a few days before; he tells a Beast reporter that he has not spoken to Trump since 2008. Last month he told listeners at the Republican National Convention: "Donald Trump is 'presidential,' powerful, charismatic, and highly intelligent leader with realistic approach towards Russia. I am glad to see Donald taking control of GOP. I, personally, wholeheartedly support his presidential aspirations. It's been a great pleasure representing Mr Trump's projects in Russia." (Financial Times, Daily Beast)

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November 2, 2016: Trump Advisor Has Connection to WikiLeaks

Trump advisor Roger Stone admits he has a backchannel source who provides him advance information about WikiLeaks's releases of hacked emails about Hillary Clinton and her campaign officials. Stone says he has a"mutual friend" with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

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Stone refuses to name the friend, but characterizes him as an American libertarian who works in the media on the "opinion side." The friend has met with Assange, who lives at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid being extradited to Sweden on sex crimes charges. Stone says the friend has no connections to the Trump campaign. Stone has used the information he has gleaned to post tweets about upcoming WikiLeaks documents. A source active in Republican circles tells Guardian reporter Peter Stone (no relation) that Stone himself has boasted of meeting with Assange, an assertion Stone hotly denies. Stone denies having been contacted by the FBI over his WikiLeaks connection. Stone wrote on August 2, "Trust me, it will soon the [sic] Podesta's time in the barrel," two months before Clinton campaign chair John Podesta's hacked emails were released by WikiLeaks. After the release, Podesta said, "It's a reasonable conclusion that Mr. Stone had advanced warning and the Trump campaign had advanced warning about what Assange was going to do." Stone gave a contradictory response to Podesta's statement, telling a conservative publication: "I've admitted I've been in communication with Assange through an intermediary. … They don't tell me what they're going to release." In August, Stone told a Florida audience: "I actually have communicated with Assange. I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there's no telling what the October surprise may be." Stone denies having any financial or client ties to Russia, or that he plays a part in deciding what WikiLeaks may release. Stone insists that the presidential election is rigged in Clinton's favor, and regularly appears on conspiracy talk radio shows such as InfoWars to make that claim. "The entire election has been rigged, including the debates," he tells the Guardian reporter. Democratic campaign officials have accused Stone of attempting to "rig" the election himself by engaging in a variety of voter suppression tactics. (Guardian, Roger Stone)

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November 8-17, 2016: Flynn Demands US Support Turkish Autocrat, Fails to Reveal His Work for Turkey

Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, the incoming Trump administration's new National Security Advisor, writes an op-ed for The Hill that demands the US government step up its support of Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The publication later notes that Flynn is currently working as an unregistered, secret foreign agent for Turkey, and adds that the editors and publisher did not know of Flynn's work for Turkey when they agreed to publish his op-ed.

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Nor do they know of his plans to kidnap Gulen and sneak him into Turkey. Flynn writes that the US media gives Erdoğan short shrift, spending more time praising his opponents and little time portraying Erdoğan's positive attributes. He says that "Turkey is really our strongest ally against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as well as a source of stability in the region," and blasts the Obama administration for "keeping Erdoğan's government at arm's length – an unwise policy that threatens our long-standing alliance." Flynn then lambasts one of Erdoğan's most outspoken critics, Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric who fled Turkey to live in Pennsylvania after allegedly conspiring to overthrow the Erdoğan government. Flynn attempts to damn Gulen by noting that former President Bill Clinton once called him a "friend." Flynn calls Gulen a "radical Islamist," and says Gulen proves that contention by having opposed Erdoğan. "From Turkey's point of view," Flynn writes, "Washington is harboring Turkey's Osama bin Laden." Flynn also criticizes the US government for allowing "thousands" of Muslims to immigrate to the US to teach in Gulen's charter schools: "It is inconceivable that our visa officers have approved thousands of visas for English teachers whose English is incomprehensible," Flynn writes. He attempts to prove his contention by citing a CBS news report about a single one of those English teachers. Flynn then attempts to tie Gulen to the Clinton family, by noting that the Cosmos Foundation, which helps fund Gulen's schools, "is a major donor to the Clinton Foundation," and he slanders Hillary Clinton's close aide and friend Huma Abedin by implying that she is a Muslim terrorist because she worked for a publication whose institution supposedly promoted the thoughts of "radical Muslim thinkers." Flynn goes on to compare Gulen to Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, though he offers no evidence that any comparison between the two is warranted. He concludes: "We need to adjust our foreign policy to recognize Turkey as a priority. We need to see the world from Turkey's perspective. What would we have done if right after 9/11 we heard the news that Osama bin Laden lives in a nice villa at a Turkish resort while running 160 charter schools funded by the Turkish taxpayers? The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gulen, who is running a scam. We should not provide him safe haven. In this crisis, it is imperative that we remember who our real friends are." Right-wing pundit Michael Rubin later writes in response to Flynn's screed, "Flynn gets Erdoğan wrong, whitewashes recent Turkish behavior, fails the logic test and proposes a policy prescription that would make matters worse." Rubin notes that Flynn fails to acknowledge Erdoğan's support for ISIS as well as al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria. He goes on to note that Erdoğan is a friend of radical Muslim terrorist groups like Hamas, and denies that Gulan supports terrorism, as Flynn argues. Rubin concludes, "For Flynn … to blame Obama for being insufficiently obsequious to Erdoğan, they are making the mistake of hubris, giving into blackmail and empowering the very radicalism which they seek to fight." Gulen's lawyers say in a statement: "We hope that Mr. Flynn’s op-ed on Mr. Gulen and Turkish-American relations, published before the results of the election were known, is not a statement of policy for President-Elect Trump. The extradition process is a serious one, governed by treaty with Turkey that is clear about the steps that need to be taken in such cases. It should not be a political matter." (The Hill, Newsweek, Politico)

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November 10, 2016: Obama Warns Trump Not to Appoint Flynn as NSA President

President Obama warns Donald Trump not to appoint Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor, according to three former Obama officials. Trump administration officials will later downplay the warning, saying Obama made it clear that he was "not a fan of Michael Flynn" and adding that Obama's warning was made as a joke.

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However, the Trump officials' version is at odds with the Obama officials' recollection. Obama does not know about Flynn's contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and his warnings are more general, saying that Flynn is not suitable for such a high-level post. "Given the importance of the job, the President through there were better people for it, and that Flynn wasn't up for the job," one Obama official later says. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper also holds a dim view of Flynn. Part of Flynn's lack of qualifications for the job includes his lack of knowledge about issues other than terrorism. Moreover, Obama officials are concerned that Flynn has some involvement in the Russians' sabotage of the election. "Flynn's name kept popping up," one Obama official later says. (NBC News, CNN)

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November 11, 2016: White House National Security Staffer Marries Employee of American-Russian PR Firm

Ezra Cohen-Watnick, who will soon be named to the White House's National Security Council under Donald Trump, has his marriage to Rebecca Miller announced by his synagogue. Miller is a content executive for a public relations firm, Ketchum Maslov.

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In October 2010, Ketchum bought a majority portion of Maslov PR, a Moscow-based public relations firm, and renamed itself Ketchum Maslov. The firm posts on its website: "The Moscow-based team of Ketchum Maslov and its partner network in the key locations of Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Belarus manage the representation of interests of major Russian and international companies, operating in different industries and segments of the market. These include the automotive, aviation, finance, telecommunications and IT, industrial, tourism, luxury, and many other areas." (Ketchum Maslov, Ohr Kodesh Congregation, Heavy)

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November 14, 2016: Flynn Secretly Lobbying for Turkish-Tied Consultancy

Less than a week after Donald Trump wins the presidency, Retired General Michael Flynn, slated to become National Security Advisor, is being paid to lobby for Turkish interests.

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Flynn runs Flynn Intel Group (FIG), which has been hired by a Dutch consulting firm, Inovo BV. That firm was founded by Kamil Ekim Alptekin, chairman of the Turkish-American Business Council, which is itself part of the the Foreign Economic Relations Board of Turkey. That group's members are chosen by Turkey's general assembly and economic minister. Alptekin is a close ally of Turkish autocrat Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. FIG associate Robert Kelley tells reporters of the FIG-Inovo connection; when asked if FIG was hired because of Flynn's close relationship to Trump, Kelley replies, "I hope so." Kelley, a former chief counsel to the House National Security Subcommittee, is registered to lobby on behalf of Inovo on bills funding the State and Defense Departments. Kelley says: "We're going to keep them informed of US foreign and domestic policy. They want to keep posted on what we all want to be informed of: the present situation, the transition between President Obama and President-Elect Trump." The Trump transition team promised to initiate a lifetime ban on White House officials lobbying on behalf of a foreign government." Both Kelley and Alptekin deny that Inovo has any ties to the Turkish government. Kelley says in a statement, "Flynn Intel Group has no commercial relationship with the government of Turkey and Lt. General Michael Flynn's public statements on foreign affairs and national security issues are entirely his own." Alptekin says: I am concerned about the future of the transatlantic relationship. I have absolutely no affiliation with the policies of the Turkish government." Flynn wrote Erdoğan an op-ed published on Election Day praising the Turkish government and vilifying one of Erdogan's opponents, Fethullah Gulen, without informing The Hill, who published the screed, that he was secretly working for Inovo. Flynn compared Gulen to Osama bin Laden and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, and falsely accused Clinton aide Huma Abedin of supporting "radical Muslim thinkers." Kelley says he does not know if the op-ed was tied to Flynn's lobbying contract. Alptekin denies having Flynn publish the op-ed, saying: "If he had asked me whether to publish it, I would have advised against it for a variety of reasons. Frankly, I do not think General Flynn consults anyone before giving his opinion on national security issues." A pro-Gulen organization, the Alliance for Shared Values, says the hiring of Flynn's firm seems to be part of a larger "smear campaign" by the Turkish government against Gulen: "This is just another example of the Turkish government spending significant amounts of taxpayer dollars to spread falsehoods and persecute any critics without evidence of wrongdoing." Flynn's plans to kidnap Gulen and sneak him into Turkey are apparently not known to the Trump transition team. (Politico)

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November 18, 2016: Democrat Asks about Conflict of Interest Facing Flynn for Lobbying Activities

Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, writes a letter to Mike Pence requesting information about the potential conflicts of interest facing Michael Flynn if he becomes National Security Advisor.

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He sends the letter four days after two news sites, the right-wing Daily Caller and the more mainstream Politico, reported that Flynn's consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group Inc., had been hired to lobby for Turkish interests. "Recent news reports have revealed that Lt. Gen. Flynn was receiving classified briefings during the presidential campaign while his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, Inc., was being paid to lobby the U.S. Government on behalf of a foreign government's interests," Cummings writes. "Lt. Gen. Flynn's General Counsel and Principal, Robert Kelley, confirmed that they were hired by a foreign company to lobby for Turkish interests, stating: 'They want to keep posted on what we all want to be informed of: the present situation, the transition between President Obama and President-Elect Trump.' When asked whether the firm had been hired because of Lt. Gen. Flynn's close ties to President-elect Trump, Mr. Kelley responded, 'I hope so.'" (House Oversight Committee, Business Insider)

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November 26, 2016: Lawyer with Ties to Russia, Corrupt Politicians Named White House Counsel

Trump names Don McGahn as his White House Counsel. McGahn served as the chief lawyer for the Trump campaign and the transition team. McGahn, primarily a campaign finance attorney, served as the ethics lawyer for former Representative Tom DeLay, who resigned from Congress in 2006 after being charged with criminal conspiracy and money laundering. He has represented the Koch brothers' Freedom Partners and its PAC, which invest in numerous right-wing groups and political campaigns.

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Much of his work has been to politicize and cripple enforcement of federal campaign laws, most directly when he served as a Republican member of the Federal Elections Commission from 2009-2013. DeLay had close connections with Republican lobbyist and financier Jack Abramoff. In 1997, DeLay and Abramoff journeyed to Moscow, on a trip paid for by the conservative nonprofit organization the National Center for Public Policy Research. During the visit, Russian businessmen, in conjunction with the Russian government, successfully lobbied DeLay to vote for a bill that would provide billions in IMF funds. In return, the US Family Network, an advocacy group founded by DeLay's chief of staff, Edwin Buckham, received $1 million from Russian oil and gas executives. In 1998, the group was named in a RICO lawsuit filed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. McGahn defended the large contribution, and denied that DeLay had any ties to Russia. During his stint on the FEC, McGahn worked to loosen restrictions on corporate donations to political campaigns, and worked to neutralize the restrictions laid down by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, often known as McCain-Feingold. Campaign and ethics expert Craig Holman later says, "McGahn's role was to bring the FEC into dysfunction so that the campaign finance laws could easily be sidestepped." McGahn admitted as such in 2011, when he stated: "I'm not enforcing the law as Congress passed it. I plead guilty as charged." Ellen Weintraub, who served on the FEC with McGahn, later says, "He did his best to undermine the law." The Center for Media and Democracy notes that McGahn seems uninterested in advising his current client, Trump, about keeping his business and political responsibilities separate. "Over the past few days, Trump has mixed business and politics in shocking ways, holding meetings with business partners from India and Argentina about developments branded with the president-elect's name in the midst of accepting visits from foreign dignitaries and selecting his cabinet," the organization writes. "Those scenes are all too reminiscent of DeLay's fast-and-loose dealings, when the congressman faced pay-to-play allegations involving Jack Abramoff and Russian oil executives while being defended by McGahn." (Center for Media and Democracy, Washington Post, photo of Don McGahn from Boston Globe via Future Female Leaders)

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November 30, 2016: Manafort Advising Trump Transition Team

Paul Manafort, the lobbyist and former Trump campaign manager who resigned after the media learned of his extensive and profitable ties to a Ukrainian political party closely aligned with Vladimir Putin, is now advising the Trump transition team on its staffing choices.

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A former campaign official who worked closely with Manafort says: "When they're picking a cabinet, unless he contacts me, I don't bother him. It's a heady time for everyone. … I think he's weighing in on everything. I think he still talks to Trump every day. I mean, Pence? That was all Manafort. Pence is on the phone with Manafort regularly." It's likely that one of Manafort's strongest concerns is keeping the incoming Trump administration as business-friendly as possible. The former official says: "A guy like Manafort tries to make sure that the government is as comfortable for business as possible. He wants names he knows on every door. … He's not worried as much about who's the secretary of HHS as he is about who's the secretary of HUD." Another Trump campaign source who worked alongside Manafort confirms that Manafort is heavily involved in choosing the incoming administration's "personnel picks." Manafort refuses to confirm his relationship with the campaign. Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks says, "Paul Manafort has no association with the transition team or communication with the President-elect," and is "definitively not involved in anything the president-elect is involved in." Another source with inside information tells CNN: "[Steve] Bannon, Reince {Priebus], [Mike] Pence and Jared [Kushner] are in the meetings. Manafort and others offer opinions, but have little weight." However, Manafort has always retained some input into the Trump campaign even after his resignation from the campaign staff. (Daily Beast, CNN)

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Late November, 2016: Trump Official Warns Flynn His Conversations with Kislyak Are Monitored

A senior member of the Trump transition team warns incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn that his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak could be troublesome.

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In the meeting, Flynn mentions he is receiving an enormous amount of requests for meetings with diplomats from various countries, and that most would have to wait to get access. He then says he has already scheduled a meeting with Kislyak. The head of Trump's national security council transition team, Marshall Billingslea, warns Flynn that Kislyak is being surveilled by US intelligence, and his communications being monitored and recorded by both the FBI and the NSA. Flynn, who formerly headed the Defense Intelligence Agency, would presumably be aware of such surveillance. Weeks later, Flynn and senior Trump advisor Jared Kushner will meet with Kislyak to discuss opening a secret backchannel means of communication with the Kremlin that would not be monitored by US intelligence. Flynn will also be recorded discussing the likelihood that Trump will lift the sanctions against Russia with Kislyak, and will have numerous phone exchanges with Kislyak. Billingslea obtains a classified CIA profile of Kislyak from Obama officials, but it is not known whether Flynn looked at it. Billingslea served in the George W. Bush administration as a senior Pentagon official. He will later be nominated for a senior Treasury Department position. He is one of the few security veterans on the Trump team, and one of the small number of Trump officials who is deeply skeptical of the Trump team's warmth towards Russia. Flynn will resign in February ostensibly because he will lie to Vice President Pence about his contacts with Russians. (Washington Post)

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— December 2016 —

December 1 or 2, 2016: Kushner Proposes Secret Backchannel Communications with Moscow to Russian Ambassador

Trump senior campaign advisor Michael Flynn and Trump family member and senior campaign advisor Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, meet secretly with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the US, at Trump Tower in order to establish a secret, backchannel line of communication between the new administration and the Russian government.

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The White House will not confirm the meeting until March 2017. Initial reports contain no information about the subjects Kushner and Flynn discuss with Kislyak, but in May the New York Times will learn that Kushner broaches the subject of a secret communication channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow to discuss criticial policy issues. The backchannel would go unbeknownst to White House or US intelligence agencies, and would be conducted through Russian diplomatic facilities to avoid being monitored. The idea is to allow Flynn to speak directly, and clandestinely, with a senior military official in Moscow. The channel is never created, according to sources, who also say that Kushner's proposal takes Kislyak by surprise. Kushner will meet with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov in the days after the Kislyak meeting. The idea is dropped after Trump names former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State; Tillerson has deep financial and business ties to Russia. American intelligence agencies apparently learned about the Kushner proposal months ago, most likely through US intelligence intercepts of communications between Moscow and Russian diplomats in the US. The Washington Post will learn about the proposal from an anonymous letter received by the editorial staff later in December, but will not receive confirmation from intelligence officials until May 2017. A former senior intelligence official will say that Kushner's idea for a backchannel line of communication is either "extremely naive or absolutely crazy," adding, "How would he trust that the Russians wouldn't leak it on their side?" The FBI would have certainly known if Flynn, Kushner or other Trump officials were going in and out of the Russian embassy, the official adds, which would have caused "a great deal" of concern. The Post will note in May, "The State Department, the White House National Security Council and US intelligence agencies all have the ability to set up secure communications channels with foreign leaders, though doing so for a transition team would be unusual." Such a channel would have also posed problems for Russia, the Post will add: "Doing so would require Moscow to expose its most sophisticated communications capabilities – which are likely housed in highly secure locations at diplomatic compounds – to an American." Flynn, Kushner and Kislyak also discuss arranging a secret meeting between a Trump representative and a "Russian contact" in a third country. It is likely that the meeting discussed is the January meeting between former Blackwater CEO Erik Prince and a Putin representative in the Seychelles Islands. The Times will write in March: "It is common and not improper for transition officials to meet with foreign officials. But all meetings between Trump associates and Russians are now significant as the FBI investigates Russian interference in the American election and whether anyone close to Mr. Trump's campaign was involved." The meeting takes place in the days before the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Moscow for interfering in the election. Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks will say: "They generally discussed the relationship and it made sense to establish a line of communication. Jared has had meetings with many other foreign countries and representatives – as many as two dozen other foreign countries' leaders and representatives." Hicks will say that the meeting lasts about 20 minutes, and Kushner will not meet with Kislyak again. She will omit any details of the proposed backchannel discussion. White House officials will lie about the meeting when asked in January 2017 whether Flynn had met with Kislyak; they will say that Flynn only exchanged a perfunctory text and phone call with Kislyak, and did not mention Kushner's involvement whatsoever. The White House will eventually change its story to admit that Flynn's contacts with Kislyak are far more frequent, and the two did discuss the sanctions, an element officials had previously denied. A later statement from Kushner will confirm that the Russians have easy access to the Trump transition team (Kushner will say, "I agreed to meet Mr. Gorkov because the Ambassador has been so insistent") and that he knew, in his own words, that Gorkov "had a direct relationship with" Putin. In what is obviously a very friendly meeting, Gorkov presents Kushner with a piece of artwork and a sack of dirt from his grandparents' homeland, Belarus. Kushner will insist that the meeting does not focus on any policy specifics. In July 2017, New Yorker journalist Ryan Lizza will write: "As with his accounts of all the other interactions with Russians, Kushner claims he was simply a naive staffer exchanging benign pleasantries. His professed innocence about the nature of these contacts may be the most troubling part of his testimony. The Russians were running a complex – and seemingly successful – campaign to gain access to Trump’s orbit, and the President-elect's most trusted adviser claims he was clueless about what was actually going on. Kushner [reveals] a campaign and Presidential transition that were remarkably easy targets for Russian intelligence efforts." (Washington Post, New York Times, New York Times, Voice of America, New Yorker, CNN, New Yorker)

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Early December 2016: Kushner Meets with Russian Bank CEO

Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's senior White House advisor and son-in-law, meets with Sergey Gorkov, the CEO of Vnesheconombank (VEB), the bank that assisted in the refinancing of a Trump property in Toronto in 2010.

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Kushner is looking for investors in an office building in Manhattan. Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks will deny that Kushner and Gorkov discussed the Kushner Tower project, and another White House official will say that the meeting is merely part of Kushner's role as "the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials." The White House is lying. The meeting was orchestrated by Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the US, who also met secretly with Kushner before the Gorkov meeting. Gorkov, a former FSB agent, previously served as an executive for Russia's state-operated Sberbank before joining VEB. Gorkov was recommended for the VEB position by Sberbank president Herman Gref to Vladimir Putin. A Russian official told a Reuters journalist that "Gref preferred just to send one of his 'troops' to VEB for a rescue operation." Gref organized a meeting between Trump and ten Russian businessmen during Trump's November 2013 visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant. Later reporting will show that Kushner may have tried to work with Gorkov to establish a direct, secret line of communication with Putin that would have remained unknown to US officials. (Business Insider, Business Insider)

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December 7, 2016 and Before: False "Pizzagate" Conspiracy Endangers Lives, Damages Clinton, Involves Trump Officials

After an armed gunman travels from North Carolina to Washington, DC to "self-investigate" the wild claims that said a DC pizzeria had a secret child-sex dungeon in its basement, and ended with the man firing his weapon inside the restaurant and being arrested, the media takes a closer look at the conspiracy theory, and the connections it has to the Trump administration.

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The conspiracy began with the publication of emails hacked from the account of John Podesta, the chair of the Clinton presidential candidate. A few denizens of Internet message boards like 4Chan and Reddit pored over the WikiLeaks-provided emails, and noticed that Podesta and other Clinton staffers often talked about pizza. The Internet "researchers" decided, without any evidence, that the references to "pizza" actually meant something far different and far more sinister: the real, sub-level discussion was not about pizza at all, they decide, but about pedophilia. It didn't take long for the "researchers" to decide that the email exchanges referred to horrific sex parties that exploited children. Salon reporter Andrew Breiner writes, "It's important to note that since the theories that would become Pizzagate began on 4chan and Reddit, sites known for trolling people with cruel, complicated pranks, it's likely that many of the conspiracy theory's originators were joking – coming up with absurdities to entertain themselves." Given that, many "true believers" began to fill the dedicated subforums at 4Chan and Reddit, and soon the story spilled over into conservative fake news sites, white supremacist forums, Turkish social media sites promoting the presidency of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and, for unknown reasons, "Twitterbot" accounts located in the Czech Republic, Cyprus and Vietnam. Alex Jones, a well-known Internet conspiracist who loudly supports Trump, promoted the conspiracy on his site, and told his followers in a video posted in November and only recently taken down, "Hillary Clinton has personally murdered children." A white supremacist who poses as a Jewish lawyer on Twitter claimed, without evidence, that emails found on Clinton aide Huma Abedin's computer contained proof that Clinton was involved in the fictional pedophilia ring. Days before the election, fake news sites like Your News Wire claimed in screaming headlines: "IT'S OVER: NYPD Just Raided Hillary's Property! What They Found Will RUIN HER LIFE!" Of course, no such raid took place. According to the story, Podesta was at the heart of the child-sex conspiracy, and other Democrats, particularly Hillary Clinton, must also be involved. By wildly overreaching the already-ludicrous theory, the conspiracists decide that the location of the sex ring is Comet Ping Pong, a popular, family-friendly pizzeria in Washington. Its owner, James Alefantis, was once involved in a relationship with David Brock, who heads a pro-Clinton media organization. Podesta knows Alefantis and sometimes eats at the restaurant. Hence, the conspiracists determine, Comet Ping Pong is the center of the horror. It wasn't long before the restaurant, and other pizzerias in Washington, became inundated with threatening phone calls and social media messages. On December 5, an arguably delusional Trump supporter, Edgar Welch, drove to Comete Ping Pong with the intention of freeing the children supposedly locked in the basement, and possibly to kill Alefantis and other employees. He did not shoot anyone, but he did shoot the lock off a storage room door (the restaurant has no basement), and after finding nothing untoward in the room, gave himself up to police. After Welch's arrest, Alefantis asked people to stop peddling the conspiracy, and added, "I really hope that all of these people fanning the flames of this conspiracy would take a moment to contemplate what has gone on here today and maybe to stop." After the shooting, Trump administration official Michael Flynn, Jr, the son of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, is fired for posting tweets proclaiming his belief in "Pizzagate." The elder Flynn has also promoted the conspiracy on Twitter, linking to fake news sites such as TruePundit, and echoed Jones's claims that Clinton is responsible for molesting children. Before joining the Trump administration, Flynn often publicly proclaimed his belief that former President Obama was a "jihadi" who "laundered" money for terrorists. Flynn has also publicly charged Clinton with having "secretly waged war" on the Catholic Church and said that Clinton officials participate in Satanic rituals that involve the drinking of blood. He has falsely claimed that the US Army identified Clinton as a "threat," and accused her of being part of the conspiratorial "Agenda 21." Former State Department policy adviser Peter Singer says of Flynn: "We are not talking about policy toward China or Russia. We are talking about some of the most bizarre conspiracy theories out there. We are down the rabbit hole. How can you take him seriously when he is discussing people in DC drinking human blood? It is exasperating." (Salon, Vox, BBC, Politico)

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December 8-13, 2016: In Moscow, Page Lauds Tillerson Pick for State, Says Obama Administration May Be Behind Election Hacks

Former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page, who is under FBI surveillance due to suspicion of his acting as a Russian intelligence asset, goes to Moscow today to, he tells Russian news agency RIA Novosti, meet with "business leaders and thought leaders." Page speaks to an audience in Moscow about the incoming Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. Page tells the gathering at the Kremlin-owned Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency that Tillerson's choice illustrates the "great enthusiasm" in the incoming administration for strengthening US-Russian relations.

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Tillerson's selection has not been made public yet; in effect, Page is informing Russians of the choice for US Secretary of State before Americans officially learn of it. Page says: "I'm really personally excited about Rex Tillerson. Being awarded the [Russian] Order of Friendship, his [oil drilling] ventures in the Kara Sea and Black Sea, I mean the list goes on and on." He adds, "There are some forces in the septic tank in Washington who've been looking to hold us back," referring to the Obama administration. But with Trump, "there's a lot to be optimistic about, and it's a reflection of the great enthusiasm you have from these individuals." Page's presentation is carried live by Russian propaganda outlet RT and posted on YouTube. Huffington Post writer Christina Wilkie observes, "As a candid assessment of the incoming administration's politics from someone with direct knowledge of them, his statements were remarkable for their divergence with Republican Party doctrine." Most of Page's presentation is devoted to lauding Tillerson as a great friend to Moscow, and belittling former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Says Obama Administration May Be Behind Election Hacks

Page also derides the recent findings by the US intelligence community that show Russia successfully manipulated the election. "They really need to show more evidence, because there's nothing hard that pointed in the direction of Russia," he tells the audience. "I think it very well could have been a setup [by the Obama administration], and I've talked to IT experts who think this is a very serious possibility." Page provides no evidence of his allegation that the Obama administration launched some kind of "false flag" attack against the Clinton campaign. Hours before Page's speech, James Lewis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies says: "No one expects Putin to burst into tears on national TV and confess. Ambiguity is normal in espionage, but there shouldn't be any doubt" that Russian hackers were responsible for the cyberattacks.

Backchannel Liaison to Kremlin, Russian Business Leaders?

Page tells the audience that he has met with officials of Russian energy giant Rosneft during his trip to Moscow. Page, who was ostensibly fired from the campaign in September, says he has a deep understanding of Trump's positions: "I made a commitment not to talk about the internal work that I did at the campaign, but I've certainly been in a number of meetings with Trump, and I've learned a tremendous amount from him." Returning to his position that a Trump presidency will move the US much closer to Russia, Page says: "Talking with a number of colleagues and thought leaders in recent days, I think there's a huge potential and a lot of specific ways we've been talking about, to help support both administrations." Many have suggested that Page is serving "as a back-channel liaison with senior Kremlin officials" on behalf of Trump, according to the New York Times. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov says there are no plans for Page to meet with Kremlin officials, and moreover, no government official has ever met with Page. Peskov is lying. When Page was in Moscow in July, he met with Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich; Igor Sechin, a Putin confidant who controls the Russian government-owned oil firm Rosneft; Putin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov; and internal affairs officer Igor Divyekin, who allegedly warned Page that the Kremlin has "kompromat" (compromising information) on Trump. Russian parliamentarian Leonid Slutsky says Page does not work for Trump, even though Trump publicly stated that Page was a member of his campaign in March: "He is not Mr. Trump's adviser. He is an impostor who likes to make a lot of media noise about himself," Slutsky says. Slutsky is, of course, lying. RT publishes multiple reports from his visit. It reports that Page tells RIA Novosti that the American media engaged in a high level of what he calls "fake news" reporting over Russia's 2014 invasion of Ukraine's Crimea: "The recent history of Ukraine in general and Crimea in particular over the past several years may be among the most egregious examples of 'fake news' in recent memory. The level of misinformation which has guided related decisions by outside actors and their impact on this country is tragic. I am confident that there will be new possibilities to resolve these misperceptions and the wrong direction it has created for Ukraine." Page also touts the new business opportunities in Russia now that the Trump administration is in office: "It is my firm belief that the opportunities for private sector cooperation in the Russian economy have never been as great as they will be in the coming years. Although the failures of many hostile western policies as well as the inevitable, logical responses from Moscow have constrained such possibilities throughout recent decades, the possibilities today are unparalleled." The US sanctions against Russia over the Crimea invasion have hurt Western businesses more than they have Russia, he says, and hopes that the Russian market will soon reopen for American investors – implying that the sanctions will soon be brought to an end. "US and European companies are very interested in returning to the Russian market. Their interest cuts across a vast array of sectors. The hostile efforts to punish Rosneft and their senior management team through western sanctions have primarily hurt western companies, rather than their intended target." Page says he is not "directly involved" in the Trump transition to power, but he has inside knowledge that the process to thaw relations between the US and Russia is going "exceptionally well." RT adds a laudatory quote about Trump from Daniel McAdams from the Ron Paul Peace Institute: "On a pragmatic level, and I think Trump, if anything, is a pragmatic person. He understands that the people that are getting hurt are the American business people not allowed to do business with Russia." (Huffington Post, New York Times, RT, RT)

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I have certainly been in a number of meetings with [Trump]. — former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page

December 12, 2016: Former Trump Surrogate Tells Businessmen in Moscow that US Sanctions May Be Lifted

Former Trump campaign surrogate Jack Kingston, a former Republican Congressional member, tells American businesspeople in Moscow that Trump may well lift the US sanctions against Russia, freeing up business opportunities that have been denied them since 2014.

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Kingston tells NPR: "Trump can look at sanctions. They've been in place long enough. Has the desired result been reached? He doesn't have to abide by the Obama foreign policy. That gives him a fresh start." Kingston denies meeting with any Russian government officials or US diplomats. However, he says, it is time for Russian and US business professionals to begin pressuring the US government to drop the sanctions. Kingston says he no longer works with the Trump team. During the campaign, he says, "I was an active soldier in the foxhole, but not a general deploying troops." (NPR)

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photo of Tillerson and Putin

December 13, 2016: Trump Chooses Exxon CEO for Secretary of State

Trump chooses ExxonMobil CEO and chairman Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State. Tillerson was recommended by, among others, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, both of whom have Exxon as one of their private consulting clients.

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Tillerson has no diplomatic or governmental experience, though as former Exxon employee Suzanne Maloney, now with the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution, argues: "Oil folks know stuff: anyone who manages multi-billion dollar, multi-decade projects needs deep, nuanced understanding of political context. In this sense Tillerson's business experience gives him [a] very different lens than other execs in Trump [sic] cabinet – and very relevant for diplomacy." Tillerson has close ties to Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. In 1999, Tillerson crafted a deal with Russian oil monopoly Rosneft to develop offshore oil drilling platforms for Rosneft to extract oil from the seabeds near Sakhalin Island. If Tillerson is confirmed in his new position, he will be at the center of the Trump administration's discussions about whether to continue US economic sanctions against Russia – a decision that could be immensely profitable for ExxonMobil. Between 2011 and 2013, Exxon signed a series of deals with Rosneft to explore the Black Sea, develop shale resources in western Siberia, and drill for oil in the Arctic. Oil analyst Fadel Gheit says, "Arctic oil in particular would've been a game changer for Exxon," potentially worth billions. In 2012, Tillerson was awarded an "Order of Friendship" decoration from the Russian government. The 2014 sanctions imposed by the Obama administration stopped all of Exxon's Russian-connected work from going forward, and those projects remain stalled. Tillerson told shareholders at the time that he was opposed to the sanctions. Tillerson himself holds between $151 and $218 million in Exxon stock and a pension worth some $70 million. Both of those could increase in worth dramatically if the sanctions are lifted and the Rosneft-Exxon deals move forward. Russia and Putin also need those deals to move forward to prevent a projected decline in Russian oil and gas production. Vox's Brad Plumer writes: "In a lot of ways, Putin and Exxon need each other. And Tillerson is now in the middle." Fortune's Geoffrey Smith adds: "That Arctic partnership remains one of the most glaring potential conflicts of interest for Tillerson if he is confirmed by the Senate as Secretary of State. Whether any of this means that Tillerson will be 'soft' on Putin is hard to tell. Certainly, Tillerson has committed billions of Exxon shareholders' money to Russia, and even if he cuts his own financial ties to the company, it will be hard for him to pursue any kind of foreign policy that undoes much of his life's work. His friends, former shareholders and colleagues and his own self-esteem will see to that." A veteran oil industry financier says, "There's no other private U.S. citizen that could get Putin on the phone." Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov says that Putin has met with "Tillerson several times for business discussions." Author and journalist Steve Coll has written that ExxonMobil sees itself as "an independent, transnational corporate sovereign in the world, a power independent of the American government." As ExxonMobil's CEO, Tillerson has defied State Department policies numerous times in the past, on behalf of both Russia and the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. Bill Browder, CEO of Hermitage Capital, says: "You can't have strong views one day to another and change them according to your job. Putin has made his wish list very clear – he wants sanctions lifted, for NATO to remove its forces from areas bordering Russia, the repeal of the Magnitsky Act [sanctioning corrupt Russian officials] and compensation for the economic losses Russia has suffered from sanctions. I imagine at least some of those requests will be very acceptable to the new administration." (Business Insider, Fortune, Vox, Vox, Politico, Newsweek, 2012 photo of Tillerson and Putin at the Order of Friendship ceremony via Business Insider)

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December 15, 2016: Flynn Facing Multiple Conflicts of Interests

Retired General Michael Flynn, slated to become National Security Advisor for the Trump administration, has a raft of potential conflicts of interests, as presented by Bloomberg News.

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Less than a week after the election, the public learned that Flynn was, and is, secretly lobbying on behalf of Turkey. In early December, Flynn was re-elected to a paid position on the board of a surveillance drone company with Defense Department contacts. And while taking part in classified briefings for then-candidate Trump in August 2016, he hired two senior executives for his firm Flynn Intel Group (FIG) whose firms do cybersecurity and aviation work for the Pentagon. Flynn and his partners are bidding on federal contracts to supply overseas military bases, fly diplomats in and out of conflict zones, and provide cybersecurity and technology for defense and intelligence agencies – all highly inappropriate activities for an incoming senior administration member. Flynn, his partners, and the Trump transition team have all refused to say how he intends to comply with federal ethics rules that forbid employees like himself from having a financial interest in companies that do business with the agencies they lead. Nor has the transition team provided requested information about Flynn's business dealings to Congress. Yesterday, Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) sent a letter to US intelligence officials saying that Flynn's ongoing ownership of FIG "creates the potential for pressure, coercion, and exploitation by foreign agents." FIG, the letter says, is now run by Flynn's son Michael Flynn Jr, who was removed from the transition team after spreading false conspiracy theories about a supposed child exploitation ring run out of a Washington pizzeria and supposedly patronized by Hillary Clinton. (Bloomberg News)

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Mid-December, 2016: Flynn Again Discusses Kidnapping Turkish Cleric

Incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn joins his son, Michael Flynn Jr, and other unnamed participants in a meeting at New York's 21 Club restaurant, where they discuss kidnapping Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who fled Turkey and now lives in Pennsylvania. Gulen is considered an enemy of Turkey's autocratic leader Recip Tayyip Erdoğan. Flynn is an unregistered lobbyist on behalf of a Turkish business with close ties to the Erdoğan regime. According to sources familiar with the Mueller investigation into the meeting, a payment of $15 million is discussed. The plans include kidnapping Gulen and flying him by private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali. It is not known whether any money changed hands or any preparatory steps will be taken. Flynn took part in similar discussions in September. (Ex- Trump aide Flynn investigated over plot to kidnap Turkish dissident report)


December 18, 2016: Leaked Document Shows Tillerson Directed Tax-Dodging Exxon Subsidiary with Russian Affiliation

Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO and nominee for Secretary of State, was a long-time director of a US-Russian oil firm based in the Bahamas, according to leaked documents.

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The Bahamas are a popular destination for companies wishing to avoid paying taxes. In 1998, Tillerson became a director of ExxonMobil's Russian subsidiary, Exxon Neftegas. The document, from 2001, was given to a German newspaper by an anonymous source. The corporate registry for Exxon Neftegas is public, but firms typically do not give details about individual directors. Therefore, Tillerson's status as Exxon Neftegas's director has remained unknown to the public until now. The Guardian writes: "Though there is nothing untoward about this directorship, it has not been reported before and is likely to raise fresh questions over Tillerson's relationship with Russia ahead of a potentially stormy confirmation hearing by the US senate foreign relations committee." Tillerson has just recently stepped down as ExxonMobil CEO. He continues to own over $200 million of Exxon stock. Exxon Neftegas's most important project is the Sakhalin-1 Arctic drilling project off Sakhalin Island. Tillerson helped ExxonMobil partner with Russian oil giant Rosneft for that and other projects. Exxon has at least 67 subsidiaries registered in the Bahamas, where the corporate tax rate is zero and corporate secrecy laws are strong. (Guardian, Mother Jones)

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December 19-29, 2016: FBI Monitors Calls between Flynn, Kislyak; Sanctions Discussed

The FBI reviews intercepts of communications between National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Russia's ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, but initial reports say agents find nothing illicit or unethical in the conversations. Those reports will later be modified.

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On December 22, Flynn asks Kislyak to either delay the vote on, or defeat entirely, a UN Security Council resolution. On December 28, Flynn calls Kislyak to convey holiday greetings. On December 29, Flynn asks Kislyak to advise the Kremlin not to "escalate" its response to the newly-imposed US sanctions against Russia. Putin chooses not to respond, in the interest of whaat Flynn calls future cooperation between the Kremlin and the incoming Trump administration. Kislyak advises Flynn that Putin made the choice to refrain from an escalatory response because of Flynn's request. The calls are picked up as part of routine electronic surveillance the FBI conducts on all Russian officials and agents in the US. US officials will say Flynn himself is not an active target of an investigation; that is later revealed to be false. White House press secretary Sean Spicer will say that among the subjects of discussion were a Russian invitation for Trump officials to take part in Russian-sponsored Syrian peace talks; logistics for a post-inauguration call between Trump and Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin; Flynn's condolences for a Russian plane crash that killed the members of a famous Russian military band; and holiday well-wishes. Spicer and other Trump officials deny that Flynn and Kislyak discussed US sanctions against Russia. They are lying. Both Flynn and Kislyak are almost certainly aware that calls to or from Russian officials inside the US are being monitored. Flynn will lie to the FBI about the discussions. (Washington Post, New York Times, US District Court for the District of Columbia)

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December 22, 2016: Flynn Asks Kislyak to Have Russia Vote Against UN Resolution

IIncoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is told by a "very senior member" of the Trump transition team to "contact officials from foreign governments, including Russia" to try to influence the upcoming UN Security Council vote on a resolution condemning Israeli settlements. It is later learned that the "very senior member" who orders Flynn to contact Russia is Jared Kushner.

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Flynn contacts Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergei Kislyak, and asks Kislyak to have the Russian delegation either vote against the resolution or to try to delay it. Kushner tells Flynn to, at worst, get the vote delayed until after President Obama leaves office. The effort to oppose the UN resolution involves other countries as well as Russia, and is apparently coordinated with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose aides apparently share information about the Obama administration's attempts to get other countries to support the resolution. (The resolution will pass the Security Council on a 14-0 vote, with the US abstaining.) The information comes from documents filed on behalf of the Mueller investigation. Flynn will lie about both conversations to the FBI, who is recording the conversation as per protocol. (US District Court for the District of Columbia, Washington Post, Bloomberg News, Washington Post)

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December 29-31, 2016: Flynn Asks Kislyak to Stop Kremlin Retaliation Against US Sanctions

Incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn calls an unidentified senior official with the Trump transition team, currently at Trump's Florida resort Mar-a-Lago, about the US sanctions being imposed against Russia. His question: what should he say to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

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Flynn then calls Kislyak to ask that the Kremlin not escalate in response to the sanctions, in consideration of a closer relationship between Moscow and the incoming Trump administration. Flynn calls Kislyak several times during the day. Vladimir Putin decides not to retaliate. On December 31, Kislyak informs Flynn that Putin decides not to escalate because of Flynn's request. Flynn informs the transition official. A week earlier, Flynn asked Kislyak to have the Russian delegation at the UN either delay or derail a vote on Israeli sanctions. Flynn will lie about both conversations to the FBI, who is recording the conversations as per protocol. Trump officials will later lie about the calls, except to confirm a December 28 call from Flynn to give Kislyak holiday greetings. Spokesperson Sean Spicer will claim that Flynn and Kislyak did not discuss the sanctions. Another anonymous Trump official later says that the discussion is about setting up a meeting between Trump and Putin. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner will say, "This building doesn't see anything necessarily inappropriate about contact between members of the incoming administration and foreign officials." However, the timing of the calls will raise suspicions that, despite the denials, Flynn gives Kislyak assurances about the sanctions. Reuters reporters Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed will write before learning the facts behind the call: "If that were the case, it would have raised a possible entanglement with the Logan Act. The 1799 law bars unauthorized US citizens from negotiating with foreign governments with which the United States has disputes. It is aimed at preventing the undermining of official US government positions." (US District Court for the District of Columbia, Washington Post, Washington Post, Reuters, Washington Post, New York Magazine, Medium)

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— January 2017 —

January 5, 2017: Trump Advisors Secretly Discuss Billion-Dollar Nuclear Power Plant Deal with Jordanian King

Three of Trump's top advisors discuss a multibillion-dollar deal with Jordan's King Abdullah II to build nuclear reactors in Jordan and other Middle Eastern countries. The meeting, which takes place in secret at an undisclosed location in Manhattan, is between Abdullah, incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Trump's chief political strategist Steve Bannon. Experts later say the plan they discuss would make it much easier for Middle Eastern countries to build nuclear weapons.

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THIS STORY IS UNDER DEVELOPMENT. (Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed)

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January 10, 2017: Sessions Lies Under Oath about Meeting with Russian Ambassador

Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), a senior advisor with the Trump transition team, lies under oath during his confirmation hearings for Attorney General.

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At the hearing, held by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Al Franken asks, "If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?" Instead of answering directly, Sessions responds: "Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn't have – did not have communications with the Russians, and I'm unable to comment on it." Sessions is lying. He met multiple times with Sergey Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the US. Before the hearing, committee member Patrick Leahy asked Sessions to answer written questions. One of those read: "Several of the President-elect's nominees or senior advisers have Russian ties. Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?" Sessions responded, "No." US intelligence considers Kislyak one of Russia's leading intelligence agents and spy recruiters, though the Kremlin disputes the characterization. (Washington Post, ABC News, CNN)

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January 10, 2017: Flynn Makes Military Decision Apparently on Behalf of Turkey

Incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn pushes the outgoing, current NSA, Susan Rice, to recommend that the Pentagon hold off on implementing a critical military venture, a request that benefits Turkey, the nation Flynn secretly represents as a foreign agent for a fee of at least $530,000.

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Rice explains the Pentagon's plan to retake ISIS's de facto capital of Raqqa with Syrian Kurdish forces, the US's most reliable military partners in the area, to Flynn. President Obama's national security team has decided to ask the Trump team to sign off on the plan, since it will almost certainly be executed after Trump takes office. Flynn tells Rice to have the US forces in the area delay the move against Raqqa, a request that delays the operation for months. "Don't approve it," he tells Rice. "We'll make the decision." His request is not in line with the Pentagon, but it reflects the wishes of the Turkish government, who opposes the US partnering with the Kurdish forces. It is months before Trump eventually approves the plan over Turkish objections. In May 2017, Congressional members investigating the Trump administration and Flynn will determine that Flynn's decision constitutes his acting on behalf of a foreign power when making a militar decision. Some members of Congress will privately use the word "treason" to describe Flynn's actions, though those actions likely do not meet the legal definition of the term. Congressional members will also speculate as to what other decisions he might have made on behalf of Turkey. It is unknown whether Flynn consults with anyone else before telling Rice to cease pushing the operation. It is known that days after the January 20 inauguration, Flynn will meet with Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, where they discuss US-Turkish interests. (McClatchy)

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January 11-12, 2017: Trump Representative Clandestinely Meets with Moscow Official

Blackwater founder Erik Prince meets with a Russian official in a clandestine meeting facilitated by the United Arab Emirates in order to establish a backchannel line of communication between Moscow and Donald Trump. The meeting will be revealed to the US media by US, European and Arab officials in April 2017.

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The meeting takes place at a venue in the Seychelles Islands. The agenda is not known specifically, but it is believed some topics of discussion include an attempt to convince Russia to distance itself from Iran in return for ending US sanctions against Russia. Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos, the administration's Secretary of Education. Both are closely tied with the DeVos family, who owns Amway and has long funded far-right political causes. Prince has no formal role with the Trump transition team. He presented himself as an unofficial Trump envoy to high-ranking Emiratis who helped facilitate the meeting with the unnamed Putin official. Prince contributed $250,000 to the Trump campaign, the national party, and a pro-Trump SuperPAC led by GOP donor Rebekah Mercer, whose family has close ties to many senior Trump officials. Prince himself has close ties to senior Trump advisor Stephen Bannon. The FBI will investigate the Seychelles meeting as part of its larger probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the myriad connections between Trump and Russia. White House press secretary Sean Spicer later says, "We are not aware of any meetings, and Erik Prince had no role in the transition." A Prince spokesperson says: "Erik had no role on the transition team. This is a complete fabrication. The meeting had nothing to do with President Trump. Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?" Prince has no direct connections with Blackwater any longer, which has rebranded itself after the media learned of its systematic abuses of Iraqi civilians during the Iraq occupation, but continues to run what the Washington Post will call "a private paramilitary empire with contracts across the Middle East and Asia." Prince also runs a financial organization based in Hong Kong. The Post will note: "Prince would probably have been seen as too controversial to serve in any official capacity in the Trump transition or administration. But his ties to Trump advisers, experience with clandestine work and relationship with the royal leaders of the Emirates – where he moved in 2010 amid mounting legal problems for his American business – would have positioned him as an ideal go-between." The Seychelles meeting was the culmination of private meetings in New York involving high-level Trump representatives, Russian officials, and UAE officials. Both Michael Flynn, Trump's choice to become National Security Advisor, and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, have met with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, to discuss undisclosed matters. The UAE chose not to inform the Obama administration of the meeting. Zayed and his brother, the UAE's national security advisor, coordinated the Seychelles meeting. Zayed has long sought to bring Russia and the US together in opposition to Iran, an enemy of the UAE. Zayed met twice with Putin in 2016 to attempt to convince Putin to move his country closer to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and away from Iran. The UAE understood that Prince had authorization to act as an unofficial representative of Trump, a position verified by Prince in his discussions with Zayed. Seychelles officials will say that they know nothing of the meeting, but that does not mean the meeting did not happen. Government official Barry Faure will say: "I wouldn't be surprised at all. The Seychelles is the kind of place where you can have a good time away from the eyes of the media. That's even printed in our tourism marketing. But I guess this time you smelled something." The Post will write, "The level of discretion surrounding the Seychelles meeting seems extraordinary given the frequency with which senior Trump advisers, including Flynn and Kushner, had interacted with Russian officials in the United States, including at the high-profile Trump Tower in New York." Current and former officials confirm that Prince has often acted as an advisor to the Trump campaign and transition team. He has been a vocal critic of the Obama administration and of Hillary Clinton, calling Clinton a criminal and her aide Huma Abedin an "agent of influence very sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood." None of Prince's accusations have any basis in fact. (Washington Post)

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January 15, 2017: Pence Falsely Denies Flynn Discussed Sanctions with Russian Ambassador, Falsely Denies Campaign Contacts with Russians

Vice President-elect Mike Pence takes part in a Fox News interview with Chris Wallace. During the interview, Pence joins in Donald Trump's attacks on the US media for reporting on the Trump-Russia dossier that has been the focus of discussion since its appearance on January 10. He also lies about incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's contacts with Russian officials.

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Flynn has spoken on the phone with Kislyak at least three times: to ask that Russia stop or delay a UN vote on Israeli resettlements; to wish Kislyak happy holidays; and to ask that Vladimir Putin not retaliate against the US for sanctions leveled against Russia in return for warmer relations under the incoming Trump administration. Pence agrees with Trump that the US should improve its relationship with Russia, saying: "We have a common enemy in ISIS, the ability to work with Russia to confront, hunt down, and destroy ISIS at its source represents an enormously important priority of this incoming administration." Trump can "make a deal" with Russia, China and other countries that currently have strained relations with the US. Wallace asks about NSA Director Michael Flynn and his meetings with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, "just at the time that President Obama was announcing new sanctions to the hacking of the US election against Russia." Pence says that he spoke with Flynn yesterday, and he can say directly that "the conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to the new US sanctions against Russia or the expulsion of diplomats." Pence is either lying or was misinformed by Flynn, as it soon becomes public knowledge that Flynn indeed discussed the US sanctions against Russia with Kislyak. Wallace then asks if "there were any contact at any point in the campaign between Mr. Trump's associates and Russian operatives, including cutouts, as we know, about the hacking of the Democrats during the election?" Pence does not directly answer, instead attempting to infer that the accusations of such contacts are false allegations from the dossier. He says: "There was about 24 hours were Michael Cohen, who has worked in the Trump Organization for many years, was accused for having a meeting in Prague, and finally, some news organizations did a little checking and found out that it was a different Michael Cohen. And Michael himself has never actually been to Prague." It is unclear where Pence gets this information. Wallace says, "So, I'm asking a direct question: was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had?" Pence sidesteps the question by saying that "all the contact by the Trump campaign and associates was with the American people," and then finally answers: "[O]f course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign? Chris, the – this is all a distraction, and it's all part of a narrative to delegitimize the election and to question the legitimacy of this presidency, the American people see right through it." Again, Pence is either lying or is misinformed, as subsequent media investigations will determine that a large number of Trump officials have had meetings with Kislyak and perhaps other Russian officials as well. Pence makes a similar denial to CBS's John Dickerson during a broadcast of that network's Face the Nation. Incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus tells a similar lie on NBC's Meet the Press, saying: "I have talked to General Flynn. None of that came up, and the subject matter of sanctions or the actions taken by the Obama administration did not come up in the conversation." (Fox News, CBS News, Washington Post)

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photo of Anthony Scaramucci

January 17, 2017: Trump Official Meets with Head of Sanctioned Russian Fund

Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci, the founder of SkyBridge Capital, discusses the possible lifting of US sanctions against Russia and future joint investments with Kirill Dmetriev, the head of a Russian sovereign wealth fund that has been sanctioned since 2015.

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Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a $10 billion state-run investment vehicle, and Scaramucci hold their discussion at Davos, Switzerland. It is the first public contact between the Trump administration and Kremlin-backed business interests. In an interview with the Russian state news agency TASS, Scaramucci criticizes the US sanctions against Russia as ineffective and says he holds Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin in great respect. Dmitriev's fund says it plans on opening an office in New York City in May, and is working to bring a delegation of top US corporate executives to Moscow by the spring. Scaramucci says he has known and worked with Dmitriev for a long time, and is working with him as a private citizen to set up the business delegation. Ethics rules may preclude him from working with Dmitriev while an official administration member. (Bloomberg News, photo of Anthony Scaramucci via Wikipedia)

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January 18-19, 2017: Kushner Files Incorrect Top Security Clearance Form

Senior White House advisor Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of Donald Trump, submits his SF-86 top-security form. According to his White House staff, an underling submits the form before it is properly completed. The form is extremely incomplete and contains fundamental inaccuracies, failing to list any of his foreign contacts and getting the dates of his graduate degree's and Trump's home address wrong.

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His representatives submit an addendum that corrects some of the mistakes on the form, acknowledges that some foreign contacts had been made, and indicates Kushner's willingness to reveal details of those contacts. The addendum fails to list over 100 foreign contacts Kushner had, an "omission" that will be supposedly corrected in June after a mid-May "correction" fails to give a complete list of Kushner's contacts. It is a felony to deliberately misrepresent or falsify an SF-86 form; inaccuracies and omissions usually result in the applicant's clearance being revoked. (Slate)

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January 19, 2017: FBI, US Intelligence Investigating Four Trump Officials

Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page are being investigated by US intelligence and law enforcement agencies for their suspected links with Russia, according to current and former US officials. All have, or have had, close ties to Trump and/or his campaign; Flynn is Trump's National Security Advisor.

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The New York Times writes: "The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump will take the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts." It is not known whether the inquiry is connected to Russia's attempt to sabotage and undermine the integrity of the US presidential election, or the Russian hacks of Democratic Party computer networks. It is known that the inquiries are driven in part by the business dealings that the named officials have had with Russia. One US official says that Manafort's contacts are under surveillance by the National Security Agency for suspected links to Russia's FSB. The investigation is being conducted by the FBI, with the help of the NSA, the CIA, and the Treasury Department's financial crimes unit. Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks denies any knowledge about the investigation, saying: "We have absolutely no knowledge of any investigation or even a basis for such an investigation." Manafort says that any allegations of any interactions he may have had with Russian government officials are a "Democrat Party dirty trick and completely false. … I have never had any relationship with the Russian government or any Russian officials. I was never in contact with anyone, or directed anyone to be in contact with anyone." The only thing he knows about the Russian hacking, he says, "is what I have read in the papers." Stone says he has never visited Russia and has no Russian clients, and while he has worked in Ukraine for a pro-Western party, he has never had any ties to Russian intelligence or Russian government officials. "The whole thing is a canard. I have no Russian influences." Page says he finds the idea of him being investigated bewildering, and says Hillary Clinton is conducting a smear campaign against him. "I did nothing wrong, for the 5,000th time," he says. His enemies, he adds, are "pulling a page out of the Watergate playbook." US officials say the investigation has no connection to the Trump-Russia dossier that has recently been revealed. (New York Times, Medium)

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January 23, 2017: Press Secretary Denies Flynn, Kislyak Discussed Sanctions

In his first press conference as White House press secretary, Sean Spicer denies that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed the US sanctions against Russia with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. He says Flynn and Kislyak have spoken twice. "[D]uring the transition," Spicer says, "I asked General Flynn that – whether or not there were any other conversations beyond the ambassador and he said no." (CBS News)


January 24, 2017: Flynn Lies to FBI in Interview, Denies Speaking with Kislyak about Sanctions

National Security Advisor Michael Flynn lies under oath to FBI agents about his discussion of US sanctions against Russia with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn is proven to be a liar by intercepted communications collected by US intelligence agencies. Flynn asked Kislyak to stop or delay Russian retaliation against the sanctions on December 29, 2016.

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Flynn commits a felony: lying to the FBI. He intends to try to mitigate the offense by parsing the meaning of the word "sanctions" and denying a clear memory of what he talked to Kislyak about. Flynn tells the Washington Post he never discussed sanctions with Kislyak, and then issues a statement saying "that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn't be certain that the topic never came up." Just before his firing in February, he will claim in an interview with the right-wing news site Daily Caller: "It [the conversation with Kislyak] wasn't about sanctions. It was about the 35 [Russian diplomats] guys who were thrown out. So that's what it turned out to be. It was basically, 'Look, I know this happened. We'll review everything.' I never said anything such as, 'We're going to review sanctions,' or anything like that." The statement Flynn will make is, of course, a lie. Flynn will plead guilty to lying to the FBI in November 2017, and will agree to cooperate with the Mueller investigation. (Washington Post, Vox, US District Court for the District of Columbia, , Washington Post)

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January 26, 2017: Acting AG Warns Flynn Vulnerable to Blackmail

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration, warns White House officials that in her estimation, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians and has deliberately misled administration officials about his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak.

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Current and former administration officials say that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan both feared that "Flynn had put himself in a compromising position." The FBI has intercepts of Flynn's calls to Kislyak, as that agency monitors the communications made by all Russian officials, and has written a secret report about Flynn's contacts with Kislyak as part of its larger investigation into Trump's connections with Russia. The blackmail potential, the Justice Department envisions, would stem directly from Flynn's lies to White House officials about the content of his conversations with Kislyak. The Russians knew what had actually been said during those calls, and thusly could have threatened to expose his lies if Flynn failed to do their bidding. Yates tells Trump officials that Flynn had told Vice President Mike Pence and other top Trump officials that he had never discussed the Obama administration's sanctions against Russia with Kislyak, when in fact he had done just that on more than one occasion. Current and former Trump officials will later tell reporters that while they believe Pence was honestly misled, it is possible that others in the White House knew about Flynn's contacts with Kislyak. Yates tells officials that she believes Flynn's comments in the intercepted call to be "highly significant" and "potentially illegal." Yates, Brennan and Clapper discussed briefing top Trump officials about their concerns about Flynn even before Obama left office; the three were in agreement that Trump and/or his top officials should know, but FBI Director James Comey initially opposed informing administration officials, believing that to do so might compromise his bureau's investigation. Trump instructs White House Counsel Don McGahn to conduct a review; McGahn later reports that nothing in the conversation he investigated violates federal law. According to later testimony by Yates, she contacts McGahn regarding "a very sensitive matter" that she says they could discuss only in person. Yates meets with McGahn and warns him that White House officials are making statements "that we knew not to be the truth." She tells McGahn how she knows Flynn was lying, though she does not testify as to the classified information she has proving Flynn's duplicity. McGahn is underwhelmed, according to Yates's testimony, asking at a second meeting the next day, "Why does it matter to DOJ if one White House official lies to another White House official?" Yates tells McGahn that the concern transcended politics. Flynn's lies and connections to Russia gives Russia leverage over him, and the Kremlin can easily use that leverage to manipulate him. During that same Senate hearing, Clapper will add, "This is a classic technique they would use going back to the Soviet era." Yates also tells McGahn how he can see the classified evidence against Flynn for himself. Yates later testifies that McGahn asks her if the Justice Department believes Flynn should be fired; Yates tells McGahn that it is the White House's decision to fire or retain him. Four days later, Trump will fire Yates. Eighteen days later, Flynn will resign. (Washington Post, New York Times, New York Times, New York Times)

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January 30, 2017: Trump Fires Acting AG for Refusing to Defend Unconstitutional Executive Order

Donald Trump fires Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, ostensibly for refusing to defend his unconstitutional executive order prohibiting refugees and immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US. Four days before, Yates had warned the White House that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail by Russia.

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Yates was Deputy Attorney General under the Obama administration; her predecessor, Loretta Lynch, resigned shortly before Trump assumed the presidency. Trump names US Attorney for Virginia's Eastern District Dane Boente to the job pending Congress's approval of Senator Jeff Sessions (R-GA) to the position of Attorney General. Yates refused to defend the order in court because, she wrote in a statement to Justice Department officials, she is not "convinced that the executive order is lawful." After White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that Sessions would quickly be approved by the Senate, Trump decided to fire Yates. In the evening, Yates receives a letter that reads in part, "the president has removed you from the office of Deputy Attorney General of the United States." Immediately thereafter, White House press secretary Sean Spicer delivers a statement that insults Yates; it reads in part, "Ms. Yates is an Obama administration appointee who is weak on borders and very weak on illegal immigration. … [Yates] has betrayed the Department of Justice." The statement goes on to accuse Yates of failing to fulfill her duty of defending a "legal order designed to protect the citizens of the United States" that has been approved by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. Spicer goes on to insult Congressional Democrats who are standing against Sessions's confirmation, saying their actions are politically motivated and adding: "Calling for tougher vetting for individuals traveling from seven dangerous places is not extreme. It is reasonable and necessary to protect our country." Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) says that the "Attorney General should be loyal and pledge fidelity to the law, not the White House. The fact that this administration doesn't understand that is chilling." Boente says he will sign off on the executive order. Shortly thereafter, Boente issues a directive that erases Yates's order not to defend the immigration edict. Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX), no relation to Jeff Sessions, says the executive order is indefensible as it is written, and says that many of his colleagues hold that view. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD) says of Yates: "In all my years as a member of Congress, which now is 21, I've met so many very principled people who truly believe in the Constitution and doing what is right. There comes a time when people, no matter who may be their boss, they stand upon their principles, so at the end of the day they can look them selves in the mirror and say 'I synchronized my conduct with my conscience.' And Yates is such a person." The order remains on hold until court cases in at least five states are decided. Karen Tumlin of the National Immigration Law Center says: "We took to the court room, people took to the streets and now principled federal officials are drawing a hardline on this shameful and unconstitutional act by President Trump. This is what we rely on the Department of Justice for, to uphold the rule of law no matter how the political wind is blowing." (New York Times, CNN, US News)

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January 30, 2017: Manafort Helping Choose Trump White House Staffers

Former campaign chair Paul Manafort is heavily involved in helping choose staff members for the new Trump administration, the media learns.

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His involvement is almost completely off the radar; indeed, Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks says: "Paul Manafort has no association with the transition team or communication with the President-elect." It is unclear whether Manafort, who worked "off the books" for the campaign without ever officially being paid, ever actually stopped his involvement in the campaign. Certainly Manafort, who lives in Trump Tower, never stopped interacting with Donald Trump. A former campaign official tells a Daily Beast reporter: "When they're picking a cabinet, unless he contacts me, I don't bother him. It's a heady time for everyone. … I think he's weighing in on everything. I think he still talks to Trump every day. I mean, Pence? That was all Manafort. Pence is on the phone with Manafort regularly." Manafort wants as many pro-business staff members in the White House as possible, the official continues: "A guy like Manafort tries to make sure that the government is as comfortable for business as possible. He wants names he knows on every door. He's not worried as much about who's the secretary of HHS as he is about who's the secretary of HUD." Manafort refuses to confirm or deny his involvement in the staffing decision-making. (Daily Beast)

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January 31, 2017: Trump, Kushner Lender Fined in Russian Money-Laundering Scheme

Germany's Deutsche Bank is penalized $630 million for its central role in a $10 billion Russian money-laundering scheme involving branches of the bank in Moscow, London and New York. Deutsche Bank has already agreed to a $7.2 billion settlement with the US Department of Justice over fraudulent mortgage assets, and in 2015 it agreed to pay $2.5 billion over interest rate manipulation.

— February 2017 —

February 1, 2017: Democrats Request Investigation of Flynn by Pentagon

Democratic Congressional members send a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis asking him to have the Defense Department investigate whether former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, a retired lieutenant general, violated Constitutional restrictions when he accepted money from Russian propaganda network RT.

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Flynn was paid to attend and speak at a function by the network. Flynn has also appeared regularly on the network. The Democrats say Flynn seems to have violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits someone "holding any office of profit or trust," including a former military officer, from accepting gifts or payments from a foreign country. Flynn accepted money for attending an anniversary celebration for RT. (Wall Street Journal)

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February 9, 2017: Flynn Discussed US Sanctions with Russian Ambassador, Despite Denials

National security advisor Michael Flynn, the former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, is proven to have discussed US sanctions against Russia with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak despite multiple denials of that discussion made by Trump officials.

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Flynn asked Kislyak to have Russia derail a UN vote on Israeli resettlements, and asked him to have Vladimir Putin not retaliate against the US for sanctions imposed on Russia by outgoing President Obama. On January 24, Flynn lied to the FBI about those conversations. Many US officials felt that Flynn's discussions with Kislyak were inappropriate and potentially illegal, and may have constituted informal assurances that the Trump administration would lift the sanctions imposed against Russia in late 2016 for interfering in the US presidential election. Flynn himself has twice denied discussing sanctions with Kislyak. Now, through a spokesperson, Flynn says Flynn has "indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn't be certain that the topic never came up." The FBI is investigating Flynn's discussions with Kislyak. Some officials emphasize that Flynn discussed sanctions with Kislyak, but evidence does not exist that Flynn attempted to convey a promise that Trump would lift the sanctions after the inauguration. The contacts between Flynn and Kislyak began well before the November 8 presidential elections and continued through the transition, officials say. Kislyak has confirmed that he did speak on multiple occasions with Flynn in person, by phone and by text messages, but has refused to say whether he and Flynn discussed the sanctions. Trump officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, have denied that Flynn talked about sanctions with Kislyak. Last month, Pence told a CBS News reporter, "They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States' decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia," saying that he had spoken to Flynn about the contacts. He also told the reporter that no campaign official had had any contacts with anyone in Russia during the campaign, and to assert otherwise "is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy." Pence's statement is entirely wrong; it is not clear whether he lied during the CBS interview or was giving misinformation due to his lack of knowledge. Many current and former White House officials say that Flynn discussed the sanctions repeatedly with Kislyak, and say that Flynn urged Kislyak to advise his superiors not to overreact to the sanctions because Trump would review them after he took office. "Kislyak was left with the impression that the sanctions would be revisited at a later time," a former official says. Another official says flatly that Flynn either misled Pence or Pence lied. It is unclear whether Flynn's contacts with Kislayk broke the Logan Act. Trump transition officials later admitted to knowing about Flynn's contacts with Kislyak during and after the campaign, but denied that Flynn discussed the sanctions. Trump press secretary Sean Spicer has claimed that Flynn "reached out" to Kislyak around Christmas to convey holiday greetings, and after the sanctions were announced, Flynn discussed "the logistics of setting up a call with the president of Russia and [Trump] after the election." (Washington Post)

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February 12, 2017: Page Accuses Clinton Campaign of "Hate Crimes," "Human Rights Violations"

Former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page, who is under FBI surveillance due to suspicion of his acting as a Russian intelligence asset, writes what The Intercept's Jon Schwartz calls a "peculiar, rambling letter" to the Justice Department, demanding that it review what he calls "the severe election fraud in the form of disinformation, suppression of dissent, hate crimes and other extensive abuses led by members of Mrs. Hillary Clinton's campaign and their political allies last year." Page has a poor track record in accusing Clinton and former President Obama of various crimes; in Moscow, Page accused the Obama administration of perpetrating the hacks on the Clinton campaign.

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Page provides the letter to The Intercept when Schwartz asks if he will support Trump using his power to declassify any government material that would disclose any intercepted communications between Page and Russian officials. He did not answer the question, but instead sent the letter, which Schwartz characterizes as "well-formatted, heavily footnoted, grammatically correct and has no spelling mistakes," but "bizarre." Schwartz is not sure why Page would address the letter to the DOJ's civil rights division, which exclusively focuses on attempts to prevent citizens from voting. Page claims, without proof, that "the actions by the Clinton regime and their associates may be among the most extreme examples of human rights violations observed during any election in US history since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was similarly targeted for his anti-war views in the 1960's." Page has a penchant for citing King and other civil rights leaders to support his outrageous claims. He accuses the Clinton campaign of, variously, "human rights violations," "illegal activities," "unlawful deceptions," "Obstruction of Justice – the charge upon which President Nixon was impeached," spreading "False Evidence," and "an obviously illegal attempt to silence me on an important issue of national and international consequence in violation of my Constitutional rights." He goes on to say that he was targeted by the campaign because he is Catholic, a military veteran, and a male. In support, he attaches a copy of a July 2016 speech he delivered in Moscow, a response to the DNI report that Vladimir Putin orchestrated the Russian cyberattack and propaganda operation to sabotage the 2016 presidential election, and a September 15 letter to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI's investigation of him to cease. In the response to the DNI report, Page made the strange claim that "Putin's chief propagandist Dmitriy Kiselev used his flagship weekly newsmagazine program this fall to cast President-elect Trump as an outsider victimized by a corrupt political establishment," but then going on to say that "[b]oth as a world-class journalist and as a human being, [Kiselev] is an exceptionally competent, kind and fair individual with the highest level of personal integrity," whose broadcast views "closely align with the perspectives held by tens of millions of hard-working, patriotic Americans." Kiselev, the head of the Russian government agency, is famous for his virulently homophobic views. Asked by Schwartz how anything the Clinton campaign did could be construed as a hate crime, Page responds: "It all seems to be pretty textbook definition to me (and my lawyers). … I've been harassed non-stop for the last year, based on these and other lies originated by the Clinton campaign." (The Intercept)

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February 13, 2017: Flynn Fired as National Security Advisor

National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is fired after news reports say Flynn deliberately lied to Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his conversations with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. (Donald Trump later confirms he fired Flynn for lying to Pence and the FBI. Initial reports indicate Flynn resigns. Those reports are wrong.)

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Days before, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed the White House that Flynn is vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians. The media has not yet learned what specific compromising information the Russians may have on Flynn, but Flynn has come under intensive scrutiny for his extensive ties to Russia, and the series of conversations he has had with Kislyak. It is known that Flynn discussed the US sanctions against Russia with Kislyak, and may have promised Kislyak that they would soon be lifted. His resignation letter says he had provided "incomplete information" to administration officials about his conversations with Kislyak, and thusly "inadvertently" provided misinformation to Pence about the subject. Pence repeated that misinformation in multiple news interviews. Trump fired Yates before Flynn submitted his resignation, after Yates resisted enforcing his unconstitutional executive order concerning immigration policy. Current and former administration officials say that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan both feared that "Flynn had put himself in a compromising position." He initially told press reporters he did not discuss the December 2016 sanctions imposed on Russia with Kislyak, but a day later a Trump spokesperson corrected Flynn's initial statement, saying that Flynn "couldn't be certain that the topic never came up." Less than seven hours before Flynn's late-night resignation, Trump spokesperson Kellyanne Conway tells an MSNBC reporter that Trump has "full confidence" in Flynn. Sources tell the New York Times that the deciding factor for Trump is his worry about Flynn damaging his image in the media. Flynn's resignation is not immediately communicated to National Security Council staff members, two of whom say they learn about it from news reports. The Army has been investigating whether Flynn received money from the Russian government during a trip Flynn took to Moscow in 2015. If so, Flynn would have violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits former military officers from receiving money from a foreign government without consent from Congress. Moreover, Flynn, a retired lieutenant general, never filed the proper paperwork for the trip. Democrat Adam Schiff of the House Intelligence Committee says that Flynn's resignation will not end the questions surrounding his contacts with Russian officals: "General Flynn's decision to step down as national security adviser was all but ordained the day he misled the country about his secret talks with the Russian ambassador." Two other Congressional Democrats, Representatives John Conyers Jr. and Elijah Cummings, call for an immediate briefing by the Justice Department and the FBI over the "alarming new disclosures" that Flynn is a blackmail risk. "We need to know who else within the White House is a current and ongoing risk to our national security," the two say in a statement. However, Republican Devin Nunes, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, issues a statement in support of Flynn. "Washington, D.C., can be a rough town for honorable people, and Flynn – who has always been a soldier, not a politician – deserves America's gratitude and respect," he says. Leonid Slutsky, the Foreign Relations Committee chairman in the Russian parliament, says he views the accusations surrounding Flynn's resignation as an an attack on Russia and that relations with the United States continue to be troubled. In response to Flynn's resignation, Hillary Clinton reposts a mocking tweet from her confidante Phillipe Reines: "Dear Mike Flynn & Mike Flynn Jr., What goes around COMETS around. And given your pizza obsession …" Reines's tweet includes a link to Domino's Pizza's job website. Flynn and his son, who also works in the Trump administration, were two of the loudest proponents of "Pizzagate," a ludicrously false set of allegations that claimed Clinton and her campaign chair John Podesta were involved in a child-sex ring that was being run from a Washington, DC pizza parlor named Comet Ping Pong. Clinton added, again via Twitter, that Flynn's resignation proves there are "real consequences of fake news." Flynn's temporary replacement is retired Lieutenant General Joseph Kellogg, but administration officials say Kellogg, who is close to Flynn, will not retain the position. (New York Times, Guardian, Daily Mail, Daily Mail, Daily Beast)

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February 13, 2017: Top Democrat: Flynn May Have Used Encrypted Communications to Speak With Russians

Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, tells CNN host Wolf Blitzer that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn may have used encrypted communications to conceal his unofficial communications with Russian officials.

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Schiff explains that the Trump administration was not labeling allegations against Flynn as “fake news” because U.S. intelligence agencies may have audio recordings of him speaking to Russian officials while President Barack Obama was still in office. Schiff tells Blitzer: "What I think is interesting here, there are allegations – again, as yet unproven – that they may have also used encrypted communications. Since Flynn was talking with the Russians, if he was using encrypted communications, it wasn't to conceal it from the Russians. Then you have to ask, who were they concealing conversations from?" He says that the allegations must be investigated: "This is something that I think we need to determine as part of an investigation. But if there were then the question is, why were those being used? Who were those conversations to be concealed from, why was it necessary to go to that if you were simply talking about Christmas greetings as Sean Spicer apparently misrepresented to the country?" Schiff also tells Blitzer that Trump and his officials have been unable to label the actions of Flynn as reported by the media as "fake news," because US intelligence agencies have transcripts and audio recordings of him speaking with Russian officials during the presidential campaign. "They know that if there is a transcript, if there are recordings, that can't be dismissed," he says. "The fact that they would mislead the country about this is inexplicable." Flynn resigns later this same day. (Raw Story)

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February 14, 2017: Trump, Others Knew for Weeks about Flynn's Lies Regarding Russian Contacts; Trump Lied about Knowledge

Donald Trump and key White House staffers knew that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak weeks before Pence was informed, according to Pence aide Marc Lotter.

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Pence learned of Flynn's duplicity about the same time that a Washington Post report revealed the depth of Flynn's contacts with Kislyak. Lotter says: "What I would tell you is that the vice president became aware of incomplete information that he had received on February 9, last Thursday night, based on media accounts. He did an inquiry based on those media accounts." Trump and other officials, but not Pence, had known for "weeks" about Flynn's lies, but Flynn was not forced to resign until February 13, at least two weeks after Trump and the other officials were briefed on the matter by White House Counsel Don McGahn. McGahn was warned by Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and a senior Justice Department national security official. Since then, says White House spokesperson Sean Spicer, "We've been reviewing and evaluating this issue with respect to General Flynn on a daily basis for a few weeks, trying to ascertain the truth." Trump himself lied about his knowledge of Flynn; when asked on February 10 about his knowledge of the Post report and its findings, Trump told reporters: "I don't know about that. I haven't seen it. What report is that? I haven't seen that. I'll look into that." Spicer now says Trump was merely talking about the Post report and not the overall issue of Flynn's contact with Kislyak. Spicer also says that McGahn's office determined that Flynn broke no laws, but did malign the "trust" of Trump, Pence and others: "The president was very concerned that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others. The president must have complete and unwavering trust of the person in that position. … [T]he evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of a series of other issues is what led the president to ask for General Flynn's resignation." Trump, he adds, had an "instinctive" belief that Flynn had not broken any laws, which was later "confirmed" by McGahn's review. Spicer also contradicts other White House officials' insistence that Flynn resigned voluntarily, saying that Trump asked for Flynn's resignation. Three sources close to Trump say that Trump had no intention of firing Flynn until he learned of media reports, particularly the Post news story, detailing Flynn's contacts with Kislyak. "Yeah, it's time," Trump told an advisor. (Washington Post, New York Times)

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February 14, 2017: Trump Advisor Says Flynn Would Still be in Cabinet Had He Not Resigned, Contradicts Self

In an interview with Matt Lauer, the host of NBC's morning show Today, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway insists that had former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn not resigned, Trump would have kept him in his post.

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When Lauer asks her about former acting Attorney General Sally Yates's private warning that Flynn may have been susceptible to blackmail by Russia, Conway dismisses Yates's statement as nothing more than "the Justice Department opinion." Conway spent the morning of February 13 reassuring news anchors that Flynn has the full support of Trump, and he was secure in his position. Later that morning, press secretary Sean Spicer was telling reporters that Trump was "evaluating" Flynn's future with the White House. By 11 pm, Flynn had submitted his resignation. Conway attempts to say that both her statements and Spicer's were true, adding: "The president is loyal. He's a very loyal person. And by night's end Mike Flynn had decided it was best to resign. He knew he had become a lightning rod and he made that decision." MSNBC morning host Joe Scarborough tells his viewers that Conway was likely one of the last people in Trump's inner circle to know about Flynn's incipient departure. "She goes out and lies and you find out about those lies a couple hours later. Or if she's not lying … she is – actually what I’ve heard, she is so out of the loop. She's in none of the meetings and she just goes out without talking, without having the facts." Conway says that Flynn's misrepresentations to Vice President Mike Pence was the deciding factor in Flynn's resignation, implying that had Flynn not resigned, Trump would have fired him, but Conway then says Trump would not have fired him. During an interview on Fox News, Conway says that she doesn't know how much, if at all, Trump was bothered by Flynn's 2015 visit to Moscow, where he sat next to Vladimir Putin. Lauer says of Conway's tortured and contradictory explanation of Flynn's firing, "That makes no sense." (Daily Mail)

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February 14, 2017: Fired White House Official Says Flynn's Resignation Due to "Disinformation Campaign"

Michael Flynn Jr, the son of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, claims in a Twitter post that his father was brought down by an unspecified "disinformation campaign."

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In a soon-deleted tweet, Flynn writes, "The disinformation campaign against my father won." Flynn, Jr is a former White House official who was fired after posting social media messages proclaiming his belief in "Pizzagate," the wildly false conspiracy theory that alleged Hillary Clinton and her campaign aides were involved in a child sex ring. (New York Post)

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February 14, 2017: Republicans Refuse to Criticize Flynn, Trump After Resignation

Republicans' reactions to the firing (or resignation) of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn are remarkably tepid, with most refusing to criticize Flynn and asking reporters and the public to "move on."

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House Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes (R-CA), who weighed in hours before Flynn's abrupt departure by saying, "It just seems like there's a lot of nothing there" in regards to allegations that Flynn lied about his contacts with Russians, and said he was "very comfortable" with Flynn advising Trump on US relations with Russia while blaming Democrats for not wanting Flynn to "drain the swamp," now says: "Washington DC can be a rough town for honorable people, and Flynn – who has always been a soldier, not a politician – deserves America's gratitude and respect." Representative Chris Collins (R-CO) explains why neither House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) have spoken about Flynn's removal: "[I]t's Valentine's Day and I guess they're having breakfast with their wives." Beyond that, Collins says he is "sorry to see General Flynn go. I don't know the details of what transpired, I do know General Flynn, I know that he's very loyal to President Trump, I do know he's a great American." People shouldn't "dwell" or "pile on," he continues, but instead should just "move on." Senator John Thune (R-SD) gives CNN a carefully worded, gentle "denunciation" of Flynn, calling his behavior "inappropriate," then spend the rest of his segment refusing to speculate on what Donald Trump might have known about Flynn's actions, and instead advising Americans to move forward and keep the nation safe. Daily Kos senior writer Laura Clawson observes: "There you go. The party that spent was soooo concerned about Hillary Clinton's email security thinks we should just move on from the abrupt resignation of the national security advisor after he was discovered to have lied about the content of his secret conversations with Russia. No need to know what Trump knew, no need to wonder what else Flynn might have said in these secret conversations. No need, apparently, for Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell to issue timely reactions to Flynn's resignation." (Reuters, CNN, The Hill, Daily Kos)

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February 18, 2017: Former Trump Advisor: Russians Innocent of Hacking, US Intelligence Community Disloyal to Trump and America

Former Trump campaign advisor and longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone gives an extensive interview to RT, the Russian propaganda news outlet, where he denies Russian responsibility for the cyberattacks on the Democratic Party, vilifies Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration, and proclaims the legitimacy and supremacy of the Trump administration.

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The article leads with the statement, "Rumors of the US President's ties to the Kremlin are based on nothing but loosely interpreted illegal leaks from rogue intelligence agents, former Trump adviser Roger Stone told RT, denouncing anti-Russian hysteria as neocons' attempt to justify their warmongering." Stone denies having any contact with Russian intelligence agents or assets, choosing not to mention his repeated contacts with "Guccifer 2.0, and claiming that no proof exists of any such contacts on his part or that of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. He says, "[W]hat we have here is an allegation based on the assessment of the intelligence agencies who are holdovers in this case from Barack Obama." Stone says that the "real issue" is that Trump has no desire "to go to war with the Russian state over Syria," preferring "détente and hard-headed negotiations with President Putin in the hopes that we can live in peace and perhaps work together to crush ISIS. So Trump was the peace candidate, the military and industrial complex in this country is very upset with his election, thus this allegation about Russian interference in our elections, which I stress again is entirely unproven." He says there should be an official US investigation into the hacks, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions is too "compromised" to lead that investigation. "I would relish the opportunity to testify in public and put the lie to this entire charge that the Russian state somehow aided or boosted the election of Donald Trump. It is simply not true." He says he has learned that his phones and email accounts are being monitored in conjunction with a FISA warrant: "I don't know if that’s true. I'm told that there's a grand jury convened." He defends the actions of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn as being entirely appropriate, and says that "those who leaked the fact that General Flynn was being shriveled [sic] by the government did violate the law." He also defends Flynn's attendance at an RT event, and adds, "I ne[v]er thought I would ever see the day when Russian media is less censored than the media in the United States, but that is the case." He says Russia's image as an autocratic, militaristic state in America is entirely the fault of "neocons" who "have to justify their intended war in Syria," and claims, falsely, that Hillary Clinton intended to send US troops to Syria to expand the war there, and trigger a confrontation between the US and Russia. He says Obama and Clinton intended to start a war with Russia. RT then asks Stone if the US intelligence community is "mounting some sort of an unofficial coup" to oust Trump. Stone answers by vilifying the intelligence community, and then claiming the CIA and other agencies are almost completely staffed by "Obama holdovers" who are "disloyal" to Trump and to America. "My advice to the President would be to clean house and appoint people loyal to your administration to intelligence agencies," he says. (RT)

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February 20, 2017: Senate Investigating Manafort's Ties to Russia

The Wall Street Journal reports that Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign manager who resigned after the media learned of his multimillion-dollar deals with pro-Russian billionaires, is being investigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee for any possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

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The scrutiny of Manafort and other Trump associates has increased since former Trump advisor Michael Flynn resigned as National Security Advisor after admitting that he had lied about having multiple meetings and conversations with the Russian ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. Manafort and Trump have discussed the opposition research dossier that was recently published, sources tell the Journal. That dossier includes possible evidence that Manafort and other Trump officials coordinated with the Kremlin during the presidential campaign. Manafort responds by issuing a statement that asserts he "never had any connection to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin or the Russian government – either directly or indirectly – before during or after the campaign." Trump stands by Manafort, calling him "a respected man." (Wall Street Journal)

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February 23, 2017: Manafort Blackmail Attempt Documented by Texts Found on Daughter's Phone

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort's daughter claims that her iPhone was hacked, and texts were sent to her cellphone that could represent an attempt to blackmail the elder Manafort. Manafort confirms that the texts from his daughter's phone are authentic, and that he has received similar texts on his own cellphone.

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The texts are apparently an attempt to "shake down" Manafort over his suspect financial dealings in the Ukraine, and apparently began arriving shortly before the media revealed those financial dealings in August 2016. Some of the messages purport to come from Ukrainian parliamentarian Serhiy Leshchenko, who requests a meeting with Manafort in the texts. Leshchenko denies any connection to the messages. One lengthy message reads: "Considering all the facts and evidence that are in my possession, and before possible decision whether to pass this to [the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Bureau] or FBI I would like to get your opinion on this and maybe your way to work things out that will persuade me to do otherwise." The same note begins: "At the time of my investigation I have discovered bulletproof facts regarding the person – Ukraine resident whos signature is inside the Yanukovich accounting book and who is responsible for rendering assets to you personally for your consulting services during organized meetings." And another portion of the note states: "One of such meetings with Donadl [sic] Trump took place on 06.17.20 with close Yanukovich affiliate – governor of Cherkassy – Mr.S.Tulub," referencing Ukrainian official Serhiy Tulub. The note is signed "Sergii." Some of the texts sent to Manafort's daughter are even more threatening. "I need to get in touch with Paul i need to share some important information with him regarding ukraine investigation," one reads. "I actually have proofs that he received money. If I don’t get any reply from you iam gonaa pass it on to the fbi and ukrainian authorities including media. As soon as he comes back to me i will pass you documents." Those texts came from a different phone number than the note threatening to expose the "Yanukovych accounting book." (Daily Mail, Politico)

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February 27, 2017: Trump White House Refuses to Divulge Information about Billionaire Cabinet Appointee

The Trump administration has withheld information about Trump or his campaign affiliates receiving loans from a bank in Cyprus that is partially owned by Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor who is now Trump's choice to be Secretary of Commerce.

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The Bank of Cyprus, where Ross serves as vice-chairman, is partially owned by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire who is a close ally of Vladimir Putin. Ross has consistently refused to answer questions from Senate Democrats about his ties to the Bank of Cyprus, the bank's ties to the Kremlin, or possible loans by the bank to Trump administration or campaign officials. The Republican-led Senate has approved Ross's nomination regardless of the questions surrounding his ties to Russia. Democratic Senator Bill Nelson says the White House "has chosen to sit on" a written response by Ross to some of those questions, even though Ross claims he wanted to release his response. Nelson says Ross told him he has no knowledge of any "loans or interactions" between the Bank of Cyprus and the Trump campaign or Trump Organization. Ross has said he will step down from the bank's board of directors once he is confirmed as Commerce Secretary. Another Russian investor in the bank is former vice-chairman Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, who served in the KGB with Putin. Ross told Nelson that he recalls a single meeting with one Russian investor in the bank in 2014. Ross partnered with Vekselberg to buy out the Bank of Cyprus, which was in the process of reorganizing after collapsing in 2013, and worked with Strzhalkovsky and a number of other Russian investors. Democratic Senator Cory Booker told Ross that the list of Russian businessmen with ties to Putin and the bank was "startling." In a letter, Booker told Ross: "The American public deserve to know the full extent of your connections with Russia and your knowledge of any ties between the Trump administration, Trump campaign or Trump Organization and the Bank of Cyprus. Americans must have confidence that high-level officials in the United States government are not influenced by, or beholden to, any foreign power." He also asked Ross why he had appointed Josef Ackermann, former Deutsche Bank director, to chair the Bank of Cyprus's board of directors, in light of the fact that Deutsche Bank is the Trump Organization's biggest creditor. Ross did not respond to Booker's letter. (Guardian)

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February 27, 2017: Profile Casts Doubt on Flynn Contacting Russian Officials without Trump Officials' Knowledge

The New Yorker's Nicholas Schmidle writes a lengthy profile of retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who resigned two weeks ago after a tumultuous 24-day stint as National Security Advisor.

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Schmidle writes that Flynn was one of Trump's earliest and most ardent supporters: "Strident views and a penchant for conspiracy theories often embroiled him in controversy – in a hacked e-mail from last summer, former Secretary of State Colin Powell called him 'right-wing nutty' – but Trump rewarded Flynn's loyalty by making him his national-security adviser. Flynn resigned after admitting to misinforming Vice President Pence and other Trump officials about his repeated contacts with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, leading Senator John McCain to say that the Flynn situation was a "troubling indication of the dysfunction of the current national-security apparatus" and raised "further questions" about the Trump administration's position towards Russia. In an interview with Schmidle, Flynn blames the Obama administration for the US's strained relations with Russia, and says his forced resignation is part of a larger conspiracy against Trump: "I'm a target to get at Trump to delegitimize the election." The press's reporting on him is "damn near all wrong." Others have different views. Retired Major General James (Spider) Marks says Flynn was "inarguably one of the finest leaders the Army has ever produced," but he recalls being taken aback at Flynn's belligerent speech at the Republican National Convention, where he declared that America's "very existence is threatened" and vilified Trump's opponent Hillary Clinton as a "weak, spineless" candidate who "believes she is above the law." Marks says, "That's a vitriolic side of Mike that I never knew." During his speech, the crowd began chanting, "Lock her up!" Flynn began leading the chant, shouting, "That's right – lock her up." He continued: "Damn right. … And you know why we’re saying that? We're saying that because, if I, a guy who knows this business, if I did a tenth – a tenth – of what she did, I would be in jail today." Marks recalls his 35-year old daughter turning to him and saying, "Dad, General Flynn is scaring me." Flynn was intended to serve as the "honest broker" of an administration, the person who could keep the different political ideologies and agendas at bay. It was a role envisioned in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra scandal, when President Reagan's national security team conspired behind his back with Iranians and Nicaraguan rebels. However, Flynn didn't count on what Schmidle calls the "parallel, shadow" national security team being operated by Trump political advisor Steve Bannon. It is Bannon who sets Trump's political agenda. Bannon ordered National Security Council members to find out how much individual NATO countries had paid in contributions since 1949, harking back to Trump's campaign rhetoric about making NATO members pay their way or forfeit the protection of the US military from Russian aggression. The NSC staffers were shocked, not only at the inquiry itself, but by the politicized nature of the request. Flynn soon abandoned his own plans to streamline and cut the staff of the NSC and tried to use the staff structure as a defense against Bannon's incursions. He made news in January, when press secretary Sean Spicer invited him to the podium to issue a belligerent warning to Iran over its launching of test missiles – "As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice," he barked. Shortly before his ouster, he and Trump drew condemnation for having an impromptu national security meeting at the public restaurant in Mar-a-Lago, Trump's Florida resort, where they used cellphones to illuminate documents on the dining table and other diners recorded them on their own phones. After his abrupt resignation, he coped with his own emotional reactions while Trump, whom Spicer had claimed "lost trust" in Flynn, now praised him, blamed the media for causing his resignation, and said the resignation was not because of Flynn's contact with Russians, but because of "illegal" leaks to the press. A former CIA official says Flynn's stint in the Trump administration is worrisome: "We've now got a guy briefed on our most closely guarded secrets about a whole host of issues – including Russia – who has been canned. We don't have something from the movies where you can put an eraser on someone's head and it all goes away. We've got to rely on Mike Flynn to keep those secrets, just as we rely on others who've been given access to classified information when they leave those positions." Democratic lawmakers such as House Intelligence committee member Adam Schiff doubt the administration's veracity on how much and how deeply Flynn has been engaged with the Russians; Shiff says it would be "extraordinary" if Flynn was "some kind of free agent, entering into discussions with the Russians about undermining President Obama's sanctions against Russia for its interference in our elections to help elect Donald Trump" without the knowledge and direction of Trump officials. Trump has said, "I didn't direct him, but I would have directed him if he didn't do it." And some of Flynn's colleagues believe that Flynn, who is at the end of the day a soldier who follows orders, would have conducted rogue diplomacy on his own. A senior military official says: "This story is bigger than Mike Flynn. Who told Mike to go do this? I think somebody said, 'Mike, you've got some contacts. Let them know it's gonna be all right.' Mike's a soldier. He did not go rogue." (New Yorker)

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— March 2017 —

March 1-2, 2017: Media Learns Sessions Lied about Meetings with Russian Ambassadors; Sessions Recuses Self

The media report that Attorney General Jeff Sessions lied under oath during his confirmation hearings about meeting with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. US intelligence considers Kislyak one of Russia's leading intelligence agents and spy recruiters, though the Kremlin disputes the characterization.

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A Trump official accuses the media of attempting to "deflect" attention from Trump's "successful" speech to a joint session of Congress. The official says: "This is the latest attack against the Trump Administration by partisan Democrats. General Sessions met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony. It's no surprise Senator Al Franken is pushing this story immediately following President Trump's successful address to the nation." Franken is the senator who questioned Sessions, leading Sessions to lie about having never met any Russian officials during his time on the Trump campaign. Democrats quickly call for Sessions to resign; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says that Sessions's resignation is necessary because he "lied under oath … Sessions is not fit to serve as the top law enforcement officer of our country." House Oversight Committee member Elijah Cummings, a Democrat, says Sessions must resign. "There is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission" to investigate potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Cummings says. "It is inconceivable that even after Michael Flynn was fired for concealing his conversations with the Russians that Attorney General Sessions would keep his own conversations for several weeks." Cummings says Sessions's statement during the confirmation hearing is "demonstrably false." Sessions refuses to resign. Instead, he tells an NBC reporter: "I have not met with any Russians at any time to discuss any political campaign and those remarks are unbelievable to me and false and I don't have anything else to say about that." In a subsequent statement, he says: "I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false." Sessions's spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores says, "There was absolutely nothing misleading about his answer." In the questioning of the Judiciary Committee, Sessions did not say he never discussed campaign issues with any Russian officials. He said he "did not have communications with the Russians." Flores repeats her earlier claim that Sessions met with Kislyak as part of his routine duties as a member of the Armed Services Committee. The Washington Post contacts all 26 members of that committee and asks if they had met with Kislyak in 2016. 20 respond that they did not. One staffer tells the Post: "Members of the committee have not been beating a path to Kislyak’s door." Except for Sessions, he says, "[t]here haven't been a ton of members who are looking to meet with Kislyak for their committee duties." Later in the day, Sessions says he will recuse himself from any existing or future Justice Department probes into the Trump campaign. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer says: "Last night when I read the revelations … and his decision to mislead Congress [about] those contacts, I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach. The information reported last night makes it clear, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Attorney General Sessions cannot possibly lead an investigation … with these revelations, he may very well become the subject of it." (Washington Post, ABC News, CNN)

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March 2, 2017: Page Admits to Meeting with Russian Ambassador, Repeatedly Lies to Interviewer

In an interview that at times approaches the surreal, former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page admits to MSNBC's Chris Hayes that he met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak at a diplomacy conference at the Republican National Convention in July 2016.

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"I'm not going to deny that I talked with him," Page tells Hayes. Pressed as to when and where he met with Kislyak, he attempts to waffle, saying at one point, "I will say that I never met him anywhere outside of Cleveland [the site of the convention], let's just say that much," and refuses to disclose the content of the meeting: "I'm respectful to confidentiality rules, whether it's in government or outside of it." Just Security writer Artin Afkhami will note, "Page’s invocation of confidentiality rules in itself suggests that he is trying to protect the contents of substantive discussions at the Global Partners for Diplomacy conference in Cleveland, which took place during the 2016 Republican National Convention there." Two other campaign officials, national security advisor J.D. Gordon and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who became Trump's Attorney General, also met with Kislyak during the convention. The news of Sessions's meeting with Kislyak, which he previously lied about under oath, led Sessions to recuse himself from the Justice Department's ongoing Trump-Russia investigation. Hayes asks Page if his trip to Moscow last summer to give a commencement speech could be taken to mean that Page had acted as a liaison between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Page says, "Absolutely not." Page is lying. He attempts, with little success, to downplay his contacts with Russians after boasting that he has given dozens of speeches at Moscow universities in the past and actually lived there for a time. He says he spoke with some scholars, professors and students during the July 2016 visit to Moscow, but, he says, "there was nothing specific or really worth discussing that was brought up at the time." In December, a Kremlin official denied that Page had had any contact with government officials. The official lied. In March 2016, Trump named Page as one of the small numbers of foreign policy advisors on his campaign, but by January 2017, press secretary Sean Spicer was signaling that the Trump administration was revising its history with Page. Spicer said then, "Carter Page is an individual who the president-elect does not know, and was put on notice months ago by the campaign." Page tells Hayes he was on a "named committee" that functioned within the campaign, but says he never briefed Trump. That also is a lie. He refuses to disclose how he came to be part of the campaign, but denies reports that Sessions brought him on board. "I can confirm that is not the case," he says. (USA Today, MSNBC, NBC News, Just Security, Daily Kos [contains transcript])

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March 3, 2017: Page Says Russia Never Invaded Ukraine, Blames US Interference

Former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page, who is under surveillance by US law enforcement agencies for suspicion of acting as a Russian intelligence asset, tells CNN he doesn't believe Russia has ever interfered in other countries' affairs, and suggests that the US, not Russia, interfered with the internal affairs of Ukraine. Page ignores the fact that Russia invaded Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014 and annexed it.

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CNN's Anderson Cooper says: "Your legitimacy on this, your credibility on this does seem under question if you're completely unwilling to look at anything Russia may or may not have done to even entertain the notion that Vladimir Putin would be capable – I mean I read some quote you read during your speech in Moscow and I wish I had it in front of me, basically it’s a quote by Vladimir Putin which says – here it is. He said, we never meddle in the internal political affairs of other countries, unlike the U.S. Do you believe Vladimir Putin?" Page gives a flailing response, saying, "I think what he is saying – the point I was trying to make is that I don't – I don't – I'm not here – I made very clear that I was not there as part of the Trump camp – Trump campaign." Cooper bores in, asking, "Do you believe that Russia meddles in the internal political affairs of other countries?" Page responds: "I don't know anything about that. All I do know –" Cooper cuts him off from whatever redirection Page may be attempting, reiterating, "You don’t know anything about that? … You honestly can say – you have a PhD, right? You honestly can say about you don't know anything about whether Russia meddles in the internal affairs of other countries?" Page attempts to redirect by slandering the Clinton campaign, saying, "I – you know, in the context of my life all which, you know, all these defamation approach by the Clinton campaign to drag my name out –" Cooper again refuses to allow him to change the subject, saying: "Carter, you're not making sense. Yes or no. You can just tell me, yeah, I do not believe that Russia ever meddles in the internal political affairs of other countries or yes, I believe they do." Page continues to flounder, saying, "Listen I mean, you know, they may – I think all countries, you know, are – certainly the US, if you look at what happened in Ukraine, right, on –" Cooper, apparently sarcastically, replies, "[T]he US meddled in internal – of course. The CIA –" and Page leaps for the life preserver: "[E]xactly. So, yeah, I think that's a fair statement." (CNN, Just Security)

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March 4-5, 2017: Trump Advisor Claims "Back Channel" to WikiLeaks Founder

In a sometimes-brutish Twitter exchange with critics, former Trump advisor Roger Stone claims he has what he calls a "perfectly legal back channel" to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

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Stone soon deletes the message. Stone engages in what Guardian reporter Alan Yubas calls "a series of angry and abusive messages" particularly directed at a scientist who questions him, using the Twitter nickname "RVAWonk." In his now-deleted post, Stone writes, "you stupid stupid bitch, never denied perfectly legal back channel to Assange who indeed had the goods on" Hillary Clinton, using the hashtag "CrookedHillary." He also invites the same Twitter user to file a libel suit, posting: "Bring it! Would enjoy crush u in court and forcing you to eat shit – you stupid ignorant ugly bitch!" Some of his abusive posts are directed at author J.K. Rowling. Again, he later deletes many of the tweets, but then posts: "Just nothing better than calling out liberal jerk offs on Twitter. We won, you lost. You're done!" Stone says all the investigations into connections between Russia and the campaign are biased and groundless. Of the issue as a whole, he says: "It's a witch-hunt. I know it is." (Guardian, Huffington Post)

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March 6, 2017: Trump Advisor Called to Testify before Senate Committee

Former foreign policy advisor to the Trump presidential campaign Carter Page says the Senate Intelligence Committee has contacted him to testify as part of its investigation into Russia's sabotage of the 2016 election. He says he will "provide any information" that might assist that investigation.

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In a letter to committee chair Richard Burr (R-NC), Page writes, "I will do everything in my power to reasonably ensure that all information concerning my activities related to Russia last year is preserved." Page has denied having any contact with Russian officials during the campaign, but during an interview with MSNBC host Chris Hayes, he reversed himself, saying that "I do not deny" meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the Republican National Convention. He also admits to meeting Kislyak during a July event. In his letter to Burr, Page accuses the Clinton presidential campaign of spreading false information about his connections to Russia. He provides no evidence of that claim. In 2013, Page knowingly passed information to a Russian spy. In July of last year, the FBI placed him under surveillance after presenting evidence that he was conducting himself as a foreign agent on behalf of Russia. Since November 2016, journalist and former MP Louise Mensch has been writing about the possibility that Page and other Trump associates are being surveilled on her Heat Street conservative news blog. Asked by CNN if he was a foreign agent for Russia, Page gives a confusing answer: "Until there's full evidence and a full investigation has been done, we just don't know." (New York Times, Associated Press via PBS)

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March 6, 2017: Reporter Tries to Whitewash Ross's History with Russian Investors in Bank of Cyprus

The New York Times prints an article by reporter Andrew Higgins that attempts to defend newly installed Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who in 2014 joined with Russian billionaires to buy the Bank of Cyprus.

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Higgins contends that Ross did not collude with the Russians in his takeover of the bank when he "found himself" in partnership "with a vice chairman who used to work with Vladimir V. Putin in the Leningrad KGB and five other Russians on its board," and in fact helped engineer their ouster from the bank's board of directors in later years. Higgins calls it "a rolling purge of Kremlin influence." Higgins' source is Loizos Hadjicostis, the president of the Cyprus Union of Bank Employees. Hadjicostis says of Ross: "He has not been an accomplice of the Russians but the opposite. Ross came in to block the Russians, not to help them. The theory that Ross is a Russian Trojan horse does not make any sense to me." Higgins does note that Ross only admitted to a single hour-long meeting with a single Russian investor in 2014 during Senate questioning, and that the White House is refusing to release Ross's written responses to questions posed by those senators. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) says, "Not only is this lack of transparency unsettling, it's behavior that everyone in this Senate should agree is unacceptable and shouldn't be tolerated." Higgins then notes later in the article that not all of the Russians were forced out of the bank's leadership, as he wrote at the beginning of the article: Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg remains on the board. However, Higgins writes, "Mr. Vekselberg has maintained good relations with the Kremlin but, unlike … the Russians ousted from the bank, he has a long record of actually doing real business." Vekselberg controls the largest number of shares of the bank, and has placed a Russian lawyer, Maksim Goldman, on the bank's board. Cypriot banker Andreas Neocleous, who has dozens of Russian clients including Trump colleague Dmitri Rybolovlev, calls Ross "kind of a savior" of the bank. Ryboloblev is the bank's former largest shareholder, but his ownership was all but wiped out when Cyprus's banking system collapsed in 2013. (New York Times)

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March 7, 2017: In Interview for Russian Propaganda Outlet, Trump Advisor Accuses Obama of Wiretapping Trump, Insults US Intelligence Community

Former Trump advisor Roger Stone gives an interview to the Russian propaganda outlet RT, in which he says the false allegation that then-President Obama wiretapped Donald Trump will ultimately prove to be "bigger than Watergate."

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Stone is interviewed by RT's Oksana Boyko. Stone says no evidence exists that Russia tried to interfere with the 2016 US election, and defends his claim by insulting the US intelligence community. He then accuses Hillary Clinton of working with that community to foment false allegations against Russia in return for providing an escalation in the Syrian conflict once she became president. "They were wringing their hands in glee about war," Stone says. "War would be very good for a number of Hillary's large contributors and for the military industrial complex. Along comes Donald Trump. He prefers negotiation over war. He prefers détente over war. Donald Trump believes that if Brezhnev and Nixon can reach agreement over strategic arms limitation, then perhaps President Putin and President Trump can reach agreement and have peace in the Middle East. That is the real issue here, that is what they resent so deeply. I think what makes (claims of Russian interference in the 2016 election) durable is that the mainstream media in this country keeps repeating it ad nauseam despite a stunning lack of evidence. It is a national drumbeat without foundation." Stone defends former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, saying that Flynn never broke the law or conducted himself improperly, and expands his statement to include Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He then pivots to the main part of the interview, his insistence that former President Obama indeed wiretapped Donald Trump, or had the US intelligence community do it. "He [Trump]believes, and I believe, that he was under surveillance by the federal government and the intelligence agencies while he was the Republican nominee for president," Stone says. "This is a scandal bigger than Watergate. This is the most outrageous breach of law and of morality in American public history." Stone says his former patron, President Nixon, bore responsibility for the Watergate break-in, though he did not know about it in advance. (This is a lie. Nixon almost certainly ordered the break-in.) Stone says Obama had to known about the putative wiretapping of Trump, and says that it is inevitable that Obama and many of his senior administration officials will be "dragged before a grand jury and questioned under oath about what they knew. … This is potentially the greatest scandal in American history." Stone goes on to accuse Trump opponents of engaging in "McCarthyism" by asking if Trump or his campaign officials colluded with Russia to win the election. "It's insulting, it's outrageous, it's false and suddenly the shoe is on the other foot. I come from a long anti-communist tradition. I have been active in the Republican Party as an acolyte of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon, and to say because you are not in favor of war with Russia tomorrow you must be a traitor, this is the worst form of McCarthyism in the 40 years that I have been in American politics." He finishes the interview by issuing a ringing endorsement of Trump and the right-wing media that supports him. "[T]hanks to Donald Trump, [it is] a new day in America." (RT)

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March 8, 2017: Flynn Retroactively Registers as Foreign Agent for Turkey

Fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn registers with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for the lobbying he did for Turkey during the presidential campaign.

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The filing reads in part, "Because of the subject matter of the engagement, Flynn Intel Group's work for Inovo could be construed to have principally benefitted the Republic of Turkey." Flynn's firm was paid $530,000. The "voluntary" registration covers Flynn's work on behalf of Turkey from August through November 2016 that, according to Flynn's paperwork, "could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey." Flynn promises not to lobby for five years after leaving the White House in February, and never to lobby for a foreign government again. Flynn's failure to register as a foreign agent during the campaign is a felony, though the Justice Department rarely files charges in such cases. Retroactive registration is not unusual. Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, who hired Flynn for his work during that time period, says Flynn was pressured to register by Justice Department officials, and says he does not agree with the registration because he does not work for the Turkish government. Alptekin is lying. He is a member of a Turkish economic relations board run by an appointee of Turkish autocrat Recip Tayyip Erdoğan. Flynn had previously disclosed his firm's work for Inovo BV, a Dutch-based company owned by Alptekin, but Flynn failed to file the paperwork with the Justice Department showing that Flynn was working as a foreign agent. Alptekin acknowledges that he set up a meeting between Flynn and Turkish government officials in New York in September 2016, including the ministers of foreign affairs and energy. The meeting was ostensibly about technology developed by another client of Flynn's firm, but quicky moved to the subject of Erdoğan enemy Fethullah Gulen, a cleric who fled Turkey and now lives in Pennsylvania. The Turkish officials requested that Flynn pressure the US government to investigate Gulen, a request that was reportedly refused. Two months after the meeting, Flynn published an op-ed that harshly compared Gulen to Osama bin Laden. Flynn now admits that the op-ed was informed by research conducted as part of his contract with Alptekin. Flynn says he was not paid to write the op-ed, and that he did not write it at the behest of Turkey. (Associated Press, Talking Points Memo)

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March 8, 2017: Page Letter Claims Close Association with Trump Campaign

Former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page sends a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee complaining that he had been wiretapped by federal authorities because he "spent many hours" at Trump campaign headquarters last year. Page's claims contradict efforts by Trump White House officials to distance Trump and the campaign from Page.

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Page calls himself a Trump "campaign surrogate" with "a peaceful relationship with Russian citizens," and therefore may have been "an associated political target" of "potentially criminal surveillance" carried out by the Obama administration. No such evidence of any illegal surveillance carried out by federal authorities during the Obama administration has ever been shown to exist; the claim seems to be sourced by the far-right Breitbart News, formerly headed by Trump advisor Steve Bannon. Of course, Trump has ignored the lack of evidence to make similar claims about Obama-era wiretapping. Page writes: "For your information, I have frequently dined in Trump Grill, had lunch in Trump Café, had coffee meetings in the Starbucks at Trump Tower, attended events and spent many hours in campaign headquarters on the fifth floor last year. As a sister skyscraper in Manhattan, my office at the IBM Building (590 Madison Avenue) is literally connected to the Trump Tower building by an atrium." A White House source says s/he checked with two people on the campaign, and they do not recall seeing Page on the fifth floor – campaign headquarters until after the July Republican convention. An official says of Page, "He's clearly inflating his role with the campaign and trying to cash in on Trump's victory. However, Page appeared at numerous campaign functions, and was one of the campaign officials who met with Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. Campaign chair Corey Lewandowski approved Page's trip to Moscow in July, where he insulted the US and touted the virtues of the Kremlin. At that time, Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks called Page an "informal foreign policy adviser" who "does not speak for Mr. Trump or the campaign." Months later, Trump campaign communications director Jason Miller and campaign manager Kellyanne Conway tried to deny that Page had ever been involved in the campaign. After the Steele dossier claimed Page was an intermediary between the campaign and Kremlin officials, White House press secretary Sean Spicer claimed, "Carter Page is an individual whom the president-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign." Asked about the efforts to distance the campaign from Page, Page calls the question "irrelevant and demands: "Rather than continuing to harass me with conspiracy theories, why don't you call Chappaqua and ask Mrs. Clinton why her criminal gang in Brooklyn invited Steele to write his fabricated report which that campaign illegally used for obstruction of justice purposes with the US Government? Now that's a question for the real story which you should be doing." Page's claims that Clinton and/or her associates backed the Steele dossier are imaginary. Asked if he was aware that an anti-Trump Republican donor first commissioned the dossier, Page retorts that "the Republicans certainly aren't the ones who illegally gave [the dossier] to the CIA, FBI, et al, as they committed some of their many illegal activities." (Business Insider)

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March 8, 2017: Ukrainian Protege of Manafort Investigated for Ties to Russia

US and Ukrainian authorities are investigating the activities of Konstatin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian citizen who is suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence, according to news reports. Kilimnik is a former protégé of Paul Manafort, the disgraced former Trump campaign manager.

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Kilimnik consulted regularly with Manafort while Manafort ran the Trump presidential campaign, including at least two trips he made from Kiev to the US during the campaign. Kilimnik is widely suspected of being some sort of intelligence operative or asset. He was trained by the Russian army as a linguist, though he also claims he was trained by Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU. He told intelligence agents in Kiev and Washington that he met with Manafort during an April 2016 trip to the US, and has claimed he played a part in the Trump campaign's move to weaken GOP platform language in favor of Ukraine. Ukraine's prosecutor general tells reporters that Kilimnik has been cleared of any connections to Russian intelligence, though the Ukrainian lawmaker who requested the investigation, Volodymyr Ariev, says the investigation into Kilimnik was not substantative, and says he believes the investigation was hampered by worries among the prosecutor's office that it could impact the US presidential race. Manafort has called Kilimnik "pro-Ukraine" and has denied that his former protégé has any connections to Russian intelligence. He calls any suggestions to that end "smears." As for Kilimnik, he refuses to talk about the allegations, and says the scrutiny into his actions is because of "a heated political environment [that has] led to exaggerated and out of context reporting in the hope of establishing connections that, to the best of my knowledge, have not yet been proven. … Ukraine and Ukrainians are being used as scapegoats in the US political and media battles," he continues, a situation that he says has been made "abundantly evident from how my own circumstantial relationships were misrepresented, exaggerated and overblown." Sources for Politico say that US authorities became interested in Kilimnik after his April 2016 trip to the US and the meeting he says he had with Manafort. Manafort hired Kilimnik to work for him in 2005, after Kilimnik was ousted from a position he held in Moscow with the US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) due to suspicions about his connections to the Putin regime. One former IRI employee later said, "I was advised that this is not a person that I want to be having a conversation with – that he could not be trusted." Manafort and Kilimnik were part of a consortium (along with Manafort's longtime colleague Rick Gates) that formed a private equity firm, Pericles, and used millions of dollars contributed by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to buy a Ukrainian cable and internet company. They also did work on behalf of the businesses owned by Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. Akhmetov began funding the political comeback of Ukrainian despot Viktor Yanukovych, who had deep ties to Putin. Manafort helped get Yanukovych re-elected as Prime Minister. Yanukovych's political party paid millions of dollars to Manafort's firm. Kilimnik eventually became the head of the firm's Kiev office. After Yanukovych fled Ukraine in 2013 for the protection of his patron Putin, Manafort and Kilimnik began working for the political party that followed in Yanukovych's footsteps. The party, Opposition Bloc, eventually stopped paying Manafort's firm, and intelligence agents believe one of the topics of discussion between Manafort and Kilimnik in April was their efforts to get the Bloc to pay them monies owed to the firm. (Manafort has claimed that his "work in Ukraine ceased following the country's parliamentary elections in October 2014." Manafort lied. He continued to work in Ukraine for at least a year, and acted as an advisor to Opposition Bloc as late as October 2015.) Kilimnik has also said that he regularly briefed Manafort on Ukraine throughout the US presidential campaign season, though he later denied he was working in any formal capacity. Manafort says he contacted Kilimnik to discuss "the smear campaign against me coming out of Ukraine," referring to the millions he denies being paid by Yanukovych's party. Manafort says he and Kilimnik also discussed the hacking of the DNC during that April meeting, though he says neither he nor anyone else in the campaign knew that Russia was behind the hacking. (Politico, Politico, Radio Free Europe)

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March 8-14, 2017: Trump Advisor Admits to Being In Frequent Contact with Russian Hackers During Campaign

Former Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone admits to repeated private contacts with the "Guccifer 2.0" persona that claimed responsibility for illegally hacking the Democratic National Committee.

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He claims the private messages, sent via Twitter, were "completely innocuous." He adds, "It was so perfunctory, brief and banal I had forgotten it." Stone has referred to Guccifer 2.0 as his "hero." The Guccifer 2.0 account began following Stone's Twitter account in late July. Stone wrote an article on Breitbart News, a right-wing conspiracy media outlet, on August 5 attributing the breaches to Guccifer 2.0 and not Russia, even though by that point it was established that the Guccifer 2.0 persona was not an individual, but a construct created by Russian intelligence officials. In the weeks after the Breitbart article, Stone and Guccifer 2.0 exchanged multiple direct messages via Twitter. On August 14, Stone wrote to the Guccifer 2.0 account that he was "delighted" Twitter had reinstated the account. On August 16, Stone again messaged the account, asking the owner to retweet a column he had written claiming the presidential election was "rigged." The account complied, retweeting a link to the article. In the interim, Guccifer 2.0 wrote: "wow. thank u for writing back, and thank u for an article about me!!! do u find anything interesting in the docs i posted?" On August 17, the Guccifer 2.0 posted this in a direct message to Stone: "i'm pleased to say that u r great man. please tell me if i can help u anyhow. it would be a great pleasure to me." In late August, Guccifer 2.0 denied having any contact with Stone to the Smoking Gun. Stone initially denies having any contacts with Guccifer 2.0 after the Smoking Gun breaks the story. He then admits to having some contacts, and provides the Washington Times with three Twitter exchanges, claiming those are the extent of his contacts with the account. He also says he believed those private messages he and Guccifer 2.0 exchanged were public. CBS News soon proves Stone and Guccifer 2.0 exchanged at least 16 private messages. Stone says the conversation was "completely innocuous and perfunctory." He later tells a reporter that there was no collusion between Guccifer 2.0 and himself, saying: "Even if [Guccifer 2.0] is/was a Russian asset, my brief Aug. 14 correspondence with him on twitter comes AFTER I wrote about his role in the DNC hacks (Aug 5) and AFTER Wikileaks released the DNC material. How does one collaborate on a matter after the fact?" CBS News reporter Jeff Pegues says to Stone about the contacts: "In a way you're encouraging them to release more information," to which Stone responds, "That's called networking, remember I have no idea that this gentleman is allegedly a Russian." Pegues asks, "Well did you at any point think it was bizarre that all of a sudden this persona was putting out this damaging information about Democrats?" Stone refuses to answer, saying, "I do know this, I have not coordinated with him or communicated with him or directed him to do any of it." In January 2017, Stone claimed he was poisoned with polonium or a similar substance to stop him "from exposing the 'Russian Hacking' LIE" before Congress. He told conspiracy maven Alex Jones that he became extremely ill before Christman and suffered "over 14 days of high fevers, delirium, night sweats, I had lesions on my chest and my face. I had extreme diarrhea. I had vomiting that could not be stopped with medication." Doctors told him, Stone claimed, he had been poisoned with polonium or another radioactive substance. His choice of poisoners? Billionaire George Soros, Clinton campaign operative David Brock, and unnamed enemies in the "deep state" who manufactured "this Russian fraud." (Smoking Gun, Washington Times, CBS News, Media Matters)

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March 9, 2017: Trump Officials Distancing Themselves from Page

The Trump campaign continues to distance itself from controversial former campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page, who is under surveillance by US law enforcement agencies because of the possibility that he is a Russian intelligence asset.

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New questions have arisen about his July 2016 speech at Moscow's New Economic School, where he roundly praised Vladimir Putin, insulted the US, and met with a number of foreign governmental officials and business figures, including the Deputy Prime Minister and the chairman of the government-owned energy conglomerate Rosneft. He is now being examined by a number of investigations into connections between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Page says he is the victim of a massive conspiracy orchestrated by Hillary Clinton and her allies, who all, he says, engaged in "severe election fraud in the form of disinformation, suppression of dissent, hate crimes and other extensive abuses." Page's accusations would be correct had he directed them at the Trump campaign and not at Clinton's. Page and Trump administration officials have denied his Moscow speech had any connection to the campaign, though it is now known that he received authorization from then-campaign chair Corey Lewandowski to make the trip. Officials at the Russian university have said that they invited Page because of his job with the campaign. Shlomo Weber, the academic director of the New Economic School, says, "We were interested in what was going on – already then, Trump's candidacy raised eyebrows, and everyone was really curious." The newsletter announcing his visit read, "You are invited to a lecture by Carter Page, foreign policy adviser for Donald Trump's election campaign." Page has given contradictory answers about his meetings with government and business officials during the speech; recently, he denied meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, but in September 2016 he told reporters he did speak with Dvorkovich. He also denied, and admitted, meeting with Rosneft chairman Igor Sechin, a close political crony of Vladimir Putin. In December, Page, who runs an investment firm that primarily does business with Russian entities, returned to Moscow, where he met with another Rosneft executive, an executive he denies was Sechin. No one who was in the campaign will explain how Page came to be hired by the campaign, though one says he was recruited by senior campaign policy official Sam Clovis. Campaign officials now say they either never met Page or had little contact with him. His fellow foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, says, "Only met him once very briefly." Papadopoulos will be charged with crimes by the Mueller investigation. Page himself has said he was a regular in Trump Tower, where the campaign headquarters was, and notes that his office building in New York "is literally connected to the Trump Tower building by an atrium." (Associated Press, Just Security)

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March 10, 2017: Pence, Spicer Lie about Knowledge of Flynn's Work for Turkey

White House press secretary Sean Spicer denies that Donald Trump knew that his ex-National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, was being paid to lobby for Turkish interests in the months before the US election. "I don't believe that was known," Spicer says. Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, says he is only now learning about Flynn and his registration as a foreign agent on behalf of Turkey. Both Spicer and Pence are lying.

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Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, wrote a letter asking about Flynn's potential conflicts of interest regarding his lobbying activities in November 2016, ten days after the presidential election. He sent the letter four days after two news sites, the right-wing Daily Caller and the more mainstream Politico, reported that Flynn's consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group Inc., had been hired to lobby for Turkish interests. Cummings wrote: "Recent news reports have revealed that Lt. Gen. Flynn was receiving classified briefings during the presidential campaign while his consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, Inc., was being paid to lobby the US Government on behalf of a foreign government's interests. Lt. Gen. Flynn's General Counsel and Principal, Robert Kelley, confirmed that they were hired by a foreign company to lobby for Turkish interests, stating: 'They want to keep posted on what we all want to be informed of: the present situation, the transition between President Obama and President-Elect Trump.' When asked whether the firm had been hired because of Lt. Gen. Flynn's close ties to President-elect Trump, Mr. Kelley responded, 'I hope so.'" Cummings notes that Flynn wrote an impassioned op-ed on the day of the election demanding that the US government deepen its support of Turkey's autocratic Erdoğan regime. Cummings says that he believes "the problems that have occurred with Lt. General Flynn" could have been avoided if Pence had heeded the warnings in Cummings's letter. "In addition to being in the press, I warned the Vice President directly three months ago about the conflicts created by Lt. General Flynn's company lobbying on behalf of Turkish interests," Cummings says. "If the Vice President had heeded my warnings, it's clear now he could have prevented the problems that occurred with Lt. General Flynn. Republicans in Congress are doing a disservice to the White House and our national security interests by not conducting rigorous and serious oversight of the administration, especially to help catch issues early and address them." Flynn's client, Turkish oligarch Ekim Alptekin, says he does not work for the Turkish government and says Flynn should not have registered as a foreign agent. Flynn's firm worked with Alptekin to seek the extradition of Turkish cleric Fetullah Gulen, whom the Turkish government believes planned the abortive coup of 2016 that would have ousted autocratic leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Gulen currently lives in Pennsylvania. Flynn called Gulen "Turkey's Osama bin Laden," while the Obama administration said it would not extradite Gulen without evidence of his complicity in the coup. (House Oversight Committee, Business Insider)

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March 11, 2017: Flynn Paid Former FBI Agents While Clandestinely Serving as Turkish Agent During Campaign

The media learns that fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn paid ex-FBI agent Brian McCauley as part of his lobbying work as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkey.

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Flynn paid McCauley a total of $28,000, for "consulting" work. McCauley is famous for misrepresenting a request he received to not classify an email by Hillary Clinton in October 2016 from the State Department, in what McCauley characterized as a "quid pro quo." Supposedly McCauley was asked to not classify the email in order to keep Clinton from being liable for having a classified email on her private server. McCauley went public with the request and Clinton faced a barrage of media questions. McCauley later admitted that he, not the State Department, tried to engineer a "quid pro quo" agreement. McCauley was paid for his worn with Flynn's firm, Flynn Intel, on behalf of the company Inovo BV. Inovo, which paid Flynn around $530,000, is owned and operated by businessman Ekim Alptekin, who has close ties to the Turkish government. He also paid several other former FBI officials, a retired admiral who served with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a behavior analysis firm operated by two former FBI agents. Flynn filed the disclosure reports this week, after retroactively registering as a foreign agent for Turkey with the federal government. Vice President Mike Pence says that Flynn's lobbying for Turkey is "affirmation of the president's decision to ask General Flynn to resign." Part of Flynn's contract involved monitoring and reporting on the activities of Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, an enemy of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who now lives in Pennsylvania. On September 19, 2016, during the height of the presidential campaign, Flynn, then the Trump campaign's national security advisor, met with high-ranking Turkish officials in New York City. That same day, Flynn, Trump and senior campaign advisor Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The White House has denied any knowledge of Flynn's work for Turkey. (Daily Caller, Daily Beast, Talking Points Memo)

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I cannot recall any time in our nation's history when the president selected as his national security advisor someone who violated the Constitution by accepting tens of thousands of dollars from an agent of a global adversary that attacked our democracy. I also cannot recall a time when the president and his top advisers seemed so disinterested in the truth about that individual's work on behalf of foreign nations – whether due to willful ignorance or knowing indifference. — Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD)

March 14, 2017: Trump Would-Be Appointee Now Working for Pro-Putin Oligarch

Former Fox News commentator Monica Crowley, who withdrew her application to work on the White House National Security Council after the press reported that she plagiarized major portions of her 2012 book What the [Bleep] Just Happened as well as portions of her Columbia University Ph.D dissertation, is now working as a lobbyist on behalf of Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk, who is closely aligned with the Putin government.

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She tells the Justice Department that she will represent Pinchuk in dicsussions with US government officials "and other policy makers" regarding "issues of concern to Mr. Pinchuk." Crowley has attempted, without success, to claim that the accusations of plagiarism were "debunked," and calls them "a despicable straight-up political hit job." Crowley joins another former Fox News contributor, Doug Schoen, who has worked for Pinchuk since 2011. Schoen is the one who recruited her to work for Pinchuk, but says he did not approach her until she had withdrawn her application to work in the White House. (Daily Beast)

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March 15, 2017: Former Trump Advisor Says He is Target of Government Surveillance, Illegal Media Leaks

Former Trump campaign advisor and longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone claims that he is the victim of a surveillance operation mounted by the US government, and information from that surveillance campaign has been illegally leaked to the press. Stone provides no evidence to back up his claims.

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He says that is the only way the media could have learned of his communications with "Guccifer 2.0," the persona created by Russian intelligence to cloud the evidence that Russian government hackers sabotaged the presidential elections. Stone says he is the target of a probe authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court. Referring to an article about his Twitter communications with Guccifer 2.0 published by the Smoking Gun, he says that article is "rife with information that could only be learned by surveillance of my domain and eavesdropping on my email, phone calls and texts." He goes on to say, "There is additional information in the story as well as in several of the spinoff stories that could only have been acquired by surveillance of my communications – further evidence that a FISA warrant was approved to monitor my email and computerized data." Only "someone inside the system" could have provided that information to the Smoking Gun. Stone is fond of wild conspiracy theories; in January, he claimed he had been poisoned with polonium to keep him from testifying to Congress about the DNC hacks. Stone's allegations come on the heels of another wild conspiracy theory advanced by Trump, who recently accused President Obama of "wire tapping" his phones in Trump Tower during the campaign. Stone says members of the Obama administration engaged in illegal wiretapping of Trump campaign officials during the campaign; again, he provides no evidence of his claims. (Washington Times, Smoking Gun)

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March 17, 2017: Manafort Wanted for Questioning by Ukrainian Authorities

Ukrainian prosecutors want former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort for questioning as to his knowledge regarding rampant corruption in the Ukrainian government. Manafort received millions from ousted Ukrainian autocrat Viktor Yanukovych and his now-banned Party of Regions.

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For two years, beginning in December 2014, those prosecutors have made at least seven requests for assistance from US law enforcement officials, including FBI Director James Comey and Justice Department officials, that have not been honored. The two nations have a "mutual assistance treaty" that proclaims they will help one another in law enforcement efforts. Manafort has not been charged with a crime. One of the affairs the Ukrainians want to question Manafort about is the illegal diversion of over $1 million in government funds to a New York City law firm, Skadden Arps Slate Meagher and Flom, by former Justice Minister Oleksandr Lavrynovych. Lavrynovych hired the firm to review the 2011 incarceration of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was given a seven-year sentence for allegedly damaging Ukraine's interests in gas supply negotiations with Russia. Tymoshenko was a prime rival of Yanukovych, and her jailing was widely seen as an act of political revenge. She was released from jail at the same time Yanukovych was ousted. Allegedly Manafort drafted a public relations strategy that included hiring Skadden to review the Tymoshenko case, and prove to the European Court of Human Rights that the arrest, conviction and incarceration of Tymoshenko was legally sound. The Skadden review, the US State Department found in 2012, was inaccurate and incomplete. Apparently, the Ukrainian Justice Ministry signed a contract with Skadden for a paltry $12,000, the highest amount they could pay without triggering a requirement to hold a public bidding for the contract. The $1 million transfer was allegedly a secret payoff to the law firm. Chief prosecutor Serhiy Gorbatyuk says, "We believe they wanted to avoid the time consuming competition they would have had to organize to hire the law firm legally, so they drew up the undervalued contract and probably arranged to pay the real fee in cash." The law firm says it will cooperate with "appropriate requests" for information and testimony. (CNN)

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March 20, 2017: New Allegations of Illegal Ukrainian Payments to Manafort Surface

Ukrainian parliamentarian Serhiy Leshchenko produces documents showing that former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort successfully hid millions of dollars in payments received from the political party of former Ukrainian autocrat and Russian ally Viktor Yanukovych.

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Manafort worked for Yanukovych's Party of Regions. The documents shared by Leshchenko include an invoice that shows $750,000 channeled through offshore accounts in Belize and Kyrgyzstan and disguised as a payment for computers. Manafort has denied the allegations that he received illicit payments from the Party of Regions, calling the ledger that documents those payments a forgery. He now asserts that the newly presented documents are also forgeries, and says Leshchenko is trying to blackmail him. Manafort recently alleged that Leshchenko and/or other unknown parties hacked his daughter's iPhone, and sent both him and his daughter threatening texts. Leshchenko says he had nothing to do with any such scheme. It is as yet unclear whether the FBI is conducting a criminal investigation of Manafort, though it is known that federal authorities are probing the Ukrainian payments. Manafort has a long and ugly history of working with far-right autocrats around the world, particularly in former Soviet client states such as Ukraine. The so-called "Black Ledger," a party slush fund, shows that the Party of Regions paid Manafort $12.7 million for his services in getting Yanukovych elected. Leshchenko releases an invoice he says was recovered from Manafort's former office in Kiev that corroborates at least one of the 22 entries in the ledger, a 2009 bill to a shell company in Belize, Neocom Systems Unlimited, for $750,000 as part of the sale of 501 computers. Leshchenko says that Manafort falsified an invoice to the Belize company to legitimize the $750,000 payment to himself. "I have found during this investigation that [Manafort] used offshore jurisdictions and falsified invoices to get money from the corrupt Ukrainian leader." The invoice, along with computer disks and debit cards belonging to former employees of Manafort, was found by a tenant who rented the space. The invoice includes Manafort's signature and is printed on Davis Manafort letterhead. Neocom Systems has been named in a 2012 money laundering and stock fraud in Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet client state called by its former presidential chief of staff Edil Baisalov "a laundry machine" for illicit funds. Leshchenko says the Neocom payment "shows how corruption schemes work and why they should be exposed. This was corruption linked to Ukraine, and American law enforcement should investigate." A spokesperson for Manafort refers to officials in Ukraine's National Anticorruption Bureau who have called the ledger questionable, notes that the NABU has refused to prosecute Manafort, and calls Leshchenko's charges "baseless. … Any new allegations by Serhiy Leshchenko should be seen in that light and summarily dismissed." However, other NABU officials call the ledger valid, and point to one corruption case that went to trial in Ukraine based on that evidence. They note that their bureau is not prosecuting Manafort because it only prosecutes Ukrainian government officials. Manafort has admitted to remaining in contact with a former office manager of his business, former Russian military interpreter Konstantin Kilimnik, who was investigated last year by Ukrainian officials for his ties to Russian intelligence. Manafort has repeatedly denied knowingly having any meetings or conversations with Russian intelligence operatives during the presidential campaign. (That assertion will prove to be a lie.) For his part, Trump has continued to defend Manafort, calling all of his actions on behalf of Ukraine and other Russian-aligned nations and businesses entirely legitimate. (New York Times, Washington Post)

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March 23, 2017: Treasury Dept. Investigating Manafort's Finances

The US Treasury Department is poring over newly obtained information about former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, pertaining to offshore financial transactions. The investigation is part of a larger anticorruption probe into Manafort's dealings in Eastern Europe.

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The investigation is being carried out by the department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), and is being currently handled by investigators in Cyprus operating at the agency's request. Like many other Trump officials, Manafort is suspected of having secretive and illicit connections to Russian oligarchs and government officials. The specifics of the investigation into Manafort's finances are unknown, but it seems clear that Manafort tried to conceal his financial transactions with Russians by moving them through Cypriot financial institutions. In 2014, he used Cypriot shell companies as part of a $19 million deal with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska to purchase a Ukrainian cable television provider. FinCEN and Cypriot investigators are looking into millions of dollars in wire transfers to Manafort. The Associated Press notes one instance: "a Manafort-linked company received a $1 million payment in October 2009 from a mysterious firm through the Bank of Cyprus. The $1 million payment left the account the same day – split in two, roughly $500,000 disbursements to accounts with no obvious owner." While such transactions are not necessarily illegal, Cyprus is a known hub of international money laundering. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, calls the news serious and disturbing." Jackie Speier (D-CA), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says the reports of Manafort's actions "undermines the groundless assertions that the administration has been making that there are no ties between President Trump and Russia. This is not a drip, drip, drip. This is now dam-breaking with water flushing out with all kinds of entanglements." The White House claims no knowledge of Manafort's previous business activities, says there is "no suggestion he did anything improper," and calls any suggestion that anyone in the administration or the campaign should have known anything about Manafort "insane." (Associated Press, Associated Press)

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March 23, 2017: New Questions Surround Trump Cabinet Member's Dealings with Russian Oligarch

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross finds himself mired in new questions of possibly inappropriate dealings with Russian oligarchs, as the press releases information about a deal he brokered on behalf of a Russian businessman tied to Vladimir Putin while serving as the vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus.

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That institution has long been shown to have been a hub of money-laundering activities on behalf of an array of Russian oligarchs. In 2015, when Ross was vice-chairman of the bank, the bank's Russia-based businesses were sold to Artem Avetisyan, a Russian banker and consultant with ties to both the Kremlin and Russia's largest bank, the state-owned Sberbank. That institution was under sanctions from both the US and the European Union following Russia's occupation and annexation of Crimea. Avetisyan had been chosen by Vladimir Putin to head a new business branch of Putin's "strategic initiative agency," which was focused on improving business and government ties. Avetisyan's business partner is Oleg Gref, the son of Sberbank's CEO Herman Gref -- a patron of Donald Trump. The Avetisyan/Gref consultancy is a "partner" to Sberbank, according to their website. While Ross described the Russian businesses owned by the bank as worth "hundreds of millions of euros" in 2014, the bank sold the assets to Avetisyan for a paltry €7 million. Ross has not been accused of wrongdoing in the deal, and there are no indications that the bank violated US or EU sanctions. Ross resigned from the bank's board after he became Secretary of Commerce. Ross failed to respond to Democrats' inquiries about his tenure at the bank during his confirmation hearings; Ross later claimed the White House refused to let him respond. Ross's partner at the Bank of Cyprus was former KGB official and Putin crony Vladimir Strzhalkovsky. Ross seemed unperturbed by the bank's controversial history even in light of the US sanctions. Another deal made by the bank under Ross's oversight was a debt extension for a €100 million debt owed by Russia's largest private financial institution, Alfa Bank, for four years. Former US Ambassador to Cyprus John Koenig says he doesn't believe Ross ever favored Russian investors or the Kremlin during his tenure at the bank. (Guardian)

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March 23, 2017: Gates Forced Out of Pro-Trump SuperPAC

CNN reports that Rick Gates, the longtime partner and colleague to former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, has been forced to resign his position with America First Policies, a superPAC founded to support the policies of Donald Trump. Gates was asked to leave because of Manafort's longstanding ties to Russia.

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The departure is "amicable," a source tells CNN. Both Gates and Manafort worked for the Trump campaign; Gates continued with the campaign after Manafort's departure, and was a central figure in the Trump transition. America First Policies announces Gates's departure in a breathless, well-spun post on Twitter: "Rick Gates is grateful [Trump] is standing up to #fakenews and supports agenda. [American First Policies] is setup and strong – [Gates is] on to more ventures!" Other former Trump campaign aides to America First Policies include former digital director Brad Parscale and former Mike Pence aide Nick Ayers. The superPAC has failed to draw in anywhere near the funds it had anticipated, mostly counting on money it has yet to receive from the billionaire Mercer family. Reported squabbles between Parscale and Rebekah Mercer have caused the Mercer funding to end before it began; as a result, the organization has been unable to air any of the ads it planned to distribute to support Trump's push to repeal the Affordable Care Act. (CNN)

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March 28, 2017: Manafort Property Purchases Indicate Possible Money Laundering

New questions surround former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and his "puzzling" real estate deals in New York City between 2006 and the present, according to an investigation launched by NRP affiliate WNYC-FM.

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Real estate and law enforcement officials agree that some of the transactions fit the pattern used by money launderers, and they say the transactions raise questions about Manafort's activities in the New York City real estate market while he was consulting for business and political leaders in several former Soviet client states. Between 2006 and 2013, Manafort bought three homes in New York City – one in Trump Tower, one in SoHo, and one in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn – paying full price for them. Between April 2015 and January 2017, a span that includes his tenure with the Trump campaign, he borrowed $12 million against those three homes. Manafort used the same procedure to buy all three homes: using shell companies, he bought all of them for cash, then transferred them into his own name and took out large mortgages against them. None of those practices are illegal or even particularly unusual. Manafort explains them in a two-part statement: "My investments in real estate are personal and all reflect arm's-length transactions. My personal investments in real estate are all ordinary business transactions. It is common practice in New York City and elsewhere to use an LLC to purchase real estate. These transactions were executed in a transparent fashion and my identity was disclosed." But the transactions are unusual in other ways. He bought the Trump Tower apartment at the same time his firm signed a $10 million contract with Putin ally Oleg Deripaska. He took out $7 million in loans on the Carroll Gardens property, valued at just $3 million four years ago. The loans, which were completed three days before Trump's inauguration, were made by a Chicago-based bank run by Trump fundraiser and economic advisor Stephen Calk. For its report, WNYC spoke with nine current and former real estate and law enforcement experts. All told the WNYC reporters that the deals deserve to be investigated. Several said the pattern of purchase is the same used by money launderers: buying properties using illicitly obtained cash through shell companies, then using the properties to obtain "clean" money through bank loans. Former FBI agent Debra LaPrevotte says the purchases might be entirely legitimate if the cash used to buy the properties was itself clean, but, she says, "If the source of the money to buy properties was derived from criminal conduct, then you could look at the exact same conduct and say, 'Oh, this could be a means of laundering ill-gotten gains'." Manafort is being investigated by the Treasury Department's FinCen, or Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. An earlier FinCen money laundering investigation of various shell companies used to purchase real estate turned up a staggering amount of evidence of corruption, fraud and money laundering. The shell company Manafort used to purchase the Trump Tower property was called "John Hannah LLC," a combination of the middle names of Manafort and his business partner Rick Davis. The LLC was set up in Virginia, using the same address as Davis Manafort and as another shell corporation, LOAV Inc, which has virtually no public records. LOAV was used to sign the contract with Deripaska, possibly to keep Davis Manafort's name out of the public eye. On March 5, 2015, just three months before Trump officially announced his bid for the presidency, Manafort had "John Hannah LLC" transfer the deed to the property to his name for $0.00. He borrowed $3 million against the condo a month later. In April 2016, according to a hacked text message, Manafort's adult daughter Jessica wrote, "Dad and Trump are literally living in the same building and mom says they go up and down all day long hanging and plotting together." Another Manafort shell company, "MC Soho Holdings LLC," purchased a loft apartment in SoHo in 2012 for $2.85 million. Manafort transferred the apartment to his own name in April 2016, just as he was being promoted to head Trump's campaign, and borrowed $3.4 million against it. In 2013, another shell company, "MC Brooklyn Holdings," bought the Carroll Gardens townhouse for almost $3 million. On February 9, 2016, after Trump had won decisive primary victories that all but clinched his bid for the GOP nomination, Manafort had the townhouse transferred to his name and borrowed $5.3 million against. He borrowed another $1.5 million against it later on. Real estate law professor David Reiss says, "I do think that [Brooklyn] transaction raises yellow flags that are worth investigating." In his statement, Manafort says the Brooklyn loans were for architectural and consulting work; public records show that all work on the property stopped in February "due to applicant withdrawal." In total, Manafort took out about $19 million in loans against properties that are not worth nearly that much. "It feels like we're seeing a small piece of the bigger picture here," says New York lawyer Julian Russo. Another New York lawyer, Matthew Termine, says: "You've got lots of LLCs, lots of properties, lots of transfers to Manafort, his wife, and his kids. It didn't smell good, and then added together, it really doesn't." Russo and Termine worked together to unearth the information about Manafort's New York real estate transactions. (WNYC, Raw Story, The Intercept)

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March 30-31, 2017: Flynn Asks for Immunity in Return for Testimony, Is Rejected

Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who was fired after lying to Trump officials about his contacts with Russian officials, offers to testify before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in return for blanket immunity from prosecution. So far, neither committee seems interested in offering him immunity; a day later, the Senate committee rejects his offer, calling it "wildly preliminary" and "not on the table" at this time.

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Apparently they want to move further along in their investigations, and determine what information Flynn might offer in return for a deal. Flynn's lawyer, Robert Kelnar, says that "no reasonable person, who has the benefit of advice from counsel, would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized, witch-hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution. … General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should circumstances permit." If Flynn is given immunity, the Justice Department will find it extremely difficult to prosecute him if the FBI determines that he illegally colluded with Russia in that nation's efforts to sabotage the 2016 presidential election. Washington lawyer Mike Zaid says of Flynn's offer: "At this early stage, I wouldn't read anything into this request beyond smart lawyering. In such a politically charged, high-profile national security case, I couldn't imagine not first asking for immunity. I would suspect both Congress and the FBI will first generate additional evidence from smaller players before deciding to immunize General Flynn." He has also asked the FBI for immunity from prosecution. Trump agrees with Flynn's request for immunity, calling the entire Trump-Russia controversy a "witch hunt" of "historic proportion" by media outlets and Democrats. (New York Times, The Root, CNBC)

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March 30, 2017: Page Denies Russia Collusion

Former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page, who is under FBI surveillance due to suspicion of his acting as a Russian intelligence asset, says that the allegations against him about collaborating with Russians to further the Trump campaign and sabotage the election are "just literally completely false in every way, shape and form." He tells Fox News interviewer Catherine Herridge, "I think it's about dirty politics."

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He did nothing "that could even be possibly viewed" as helping Russia influence the election. Nor did he work with Russia to harm the Clinton campaign, he says. He calls himself "a pretty logical political choice" as a scapegoat, and, as he does on a regular basis, derides the Steele dossier that documented instances of Trump officials, including Page, colluding with Russians. He says he looks forward to testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, saying in a letter to the committee's leadership that he would "eagerly welcome the chance to speak with the Committee." He tells Herridge, "I can't wait for them to ask me about the crazy allegations that came out of that dossier." He says he has never met Russian businessman Igor Sechin, a lie that is disproven by multiple sources. He denies ever meeting Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, and says he never had more than a brief, passing encounter with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. (Talking Points Memo)

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— April 2017 —

April 11, 2017: Pentagon Inspector General Opens Investigation into Flynn

The Inspector General of the Department of Defense opens an investigation of fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. The department also provides the House Oversight Committee with unclassified documents pertaining to the Flynn investigation.

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Two days before, committee chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said that it seems likely Flynn broke the law by not disclosing payments he received from the RT, the Russian propaganda network. Chaffetz sent a letter to the acting Secretary of the Army requesting a final determination as to whether Flynn had broken any laws by accepting that and other payments from foreign governments. Chaffetz criticizes Cummings for releasing the unclassified documents to the press without consulting him; Cummings's spokesperson Jennifer Werner retorts: "We consulted with them extensively over the past several weeks as part of the process of working with the Pentagon to prepare unclassified versions of the documents for public release, and they were included in multiple telephone and email communications with the Pentagon. We informed them this morning that we would be releasing these documents today. Our internal committee protocols call for consultation, not consent." White House press secretary Sean Spicer will say that he believes the IG investigation is "appropriate … if they think there is wrongdoing." But he then notes that Flynn's clearances were initially approved by the Obama administration when Flynn was chosen to head the Defense Intelligence Agency, without noting that Flynn was fired by the Obama administration in 2014 and Trump, not Obama, named Flynn as first a senior member of his campaign staff and then as National Security Advisor. Cummings again accuses the White House of protecting Flynn by refusing to release documents pertaining to him. "I honestly don't understand why the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn," he says. "I don't get it, after the president fired him for lying – they should be bending over backwards to help us. It does not make any sense and it makes the American people think they have something to hide. There is a paper trail that the White House does not want our committee to follow it." Cummings and other committee Democrats have asked Chaffetz to request those documents from the White House. (CNN, US Department of Defense, Office of the Inspector General)

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April 12, 2017: Ukrainian Ledger Payments Detailing Illicit Payments to Manafort Partially Validated

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has always disputed the validity of the so-called "Black Ledger," the handwritten document that details the $12 million he received in illicit payments from the pro-Russian Party of Regions in Ukraine. Now, financial records obtained by the Associated Press confirm at least $1.2 million of the payouts detailed in the ledger were paid to Manafort's firm.

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The documents prove that at least some of the ledger's claims are true. In a statement, Manafort says that "any wire transactions received by my company are legitimate payments for political consulting work that was provided. I invoiced my clients and they paid via wire transfer, which I received through a US bank." He adds that he always accepted payments according to his "clients' preferred financial institutions and instructions." His spokesperson Jason Maloni adds, "Mr. Manafort's work in Ukraine was totally open and appropriate, and wire transfers for international work are perfectly legal." Up to now, both Maloni and Manafort have insisted that the ledger was entirely fabricated. Now, both admit that the $1.2 million in payments did take place, but insist that the payments were legal. One of the payments, for $750,000, was alleged last month by a Ukrainian lawmaker of having been part of a larger money-laundering scheme. Maloni also says that Manafort intends to register, retroactively, with the Justice Department as a foreign agent on behalf of Ukraine. The AP writes, "By registering retroactively, Manafort will be acknowledging that he failed to properly disclose his work to the Justice Department as required by federal law." (Associated Press)

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April 13, 2017: Page Admits He May Have Discussed Sanctions with Russians

Controversial former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page, who is under surveillance by US law enforcement agencies because of the possibility that he is a Russian intelligence asset, tells ABC News's George Stephanopoulos that while he has "no recollection" of discussing the lifting of US sanctions on Russia during his trip to Moscow in July 2016, he may have spoken about them in conversation with one of the Russian governmental or business officials he met with there.

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He "can't definitively say" the issue of US sanctions on Russia "was never raised by anyone" while he was in Moscow last July, he says. Stephanopoulos elicits an admission that he might have said hello to a board member of the university at which he spoke, most likely Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, though he has said before he had a "brief conversation" with Dvorkovich and other Russian luminaries. Stephanopoulos says, "It sounds like, from what you're saying, it's possible you may have discussed the easing of sanctions." Page replies: "Something may have come up in a conversation. I have no recollection, and there's nothing specifically that I would have done that would have given people that impression. … Someone may have brought it up. And if it was, it was not something I was offering or that someone was asking for. … I never offered that [Trump] might be interested in easing sanctions on Russia, [but] I don't recall every single word." Page adds, "We'll see what comes out in this FISA transcript," referring to surveillance conducted under a FISA warrant by the FBI. Page and the press learned of the surveillance two days ago through media reports. Page says the evidence that he may have been working, deliberately or unwittingly, for Russian intelligence is based on "conspiracy theories," and that "there's been a ton of false evidence that's been out there, primarily in the public realm," regarding the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia. (ABC News, Business Insider, Just Security)

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April 13, 2017: Former Trump Advisor Refuses to Concede Russian Involvement, Trump Campaign Complicity

MSNBC host Chuck Todd interviews former Trump advisor Roger Stone in what proves to be a contentious exchange. Stone repeatedly denies knowing of any collusion between any Trump officials, including himself, and Russia – "I still haven't seen any evidence," he says – and says any accusations of treason are offensive.

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Todd reminds him of his lengthy and frequent social media communications with the Russian hacker persona "Guccifer 2.0", and reminds Stone that he predicted a subsequent WikiLeaks document dump. "Do you understand why you're a suspect?" Todd demands. Stone refuses to concede that Guccifer 2.0 is a "Russian asset," and says, "I understand why I've been blamed." (Mediaite)

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April 25, 2017: Flynn Failed to Disclose Lobbying Client's Ties to Russia

Politico reports that Turkish oligarch Ekim Alptekin, who hired former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn to lobby for Turkish interests, has deep and murky business ties to Russia and Vladimir Putin.

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Alptekin has in recent years worked with Russian-Canadian Dmitri "David" Zaikin, a former executive with Russian energy and mining companies and who has worked closely with the Putin regime, to coordinate Turkish lobbying in Washington. Alptekin and Zaikin have worked since 2015, and possibly before, to organizing lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkey through various groups and organizations. Alptekin hired Flynn while Flynn was working with the Trump campaign, and when the US law enforcement and intelligence communities were investigating Russia for interfering in the election. Flynn told the Justice Department that he relied on Alptekin's assurances that he received no money from any foreign governments, but those assurances have not held up under scrutiny. Flynn himself has misrepresented his lobbying work; in September 2016, he reported his client as a Dutch shell company owned by Altpekin, but in March he filed paperwork that acknowledged his lobbying work "principally benefitted" the Turkish government. He originally failed to disclose payments from the Russian propaganda network RT and two other Russian companies. Zaikin denies any connections to Alptekin or to Flynn's lobbying efforts. Alptekin says he hired Flynn to work with him and did not work for the Turkish government, a statement that has been proven false. Alptekin has attended events and met with leaders of the Turkish Heritage Organization (THO), a Washington-based group of Turkish-Americans loyal to Turkish autocrat Recip Tayyip Erdoğan. Zaikin started the group, asking Washington political consultant John Moreira to help get it started. Moreira says he has no idea why Zaikin, a Russian with no apparent ties to Turkey, would create such an organization. "I don't know who David was working for. He just asked me to do this," Moreira says. He refuses to say who paid him to create and run the organization. He met frequently with Zaikin, and recalls Alptekin meeting with communications consultants working for the Turkish Heritage Organization. Sources confirm Zaikin and Alptekin worked closely together to coordinate pro-Turkish lobbying through the organization, though Zaikin downplays his association with the group. Zaikin also hired Moreira to organize a similar group, the Turkish Institute for Progress. That group's former president, a Turk in New Jersey named Derya Taskin, has initially denied knowing Zaikin, but later admitted to knowing him and hiring Moreira. She also initially tried to claim that she found the lobbying groups her firm hired on Google, but later admitted Moreira recommended the firms. Zaikin was an executive in Russia's oil industry, and worked with Putin and his circle of oligarchs who consolidated their control over the country's energy and mineral wealth. Zaikin was chairman and CEO of Siberian Energy Group, which engaged in the usual equity trades, offshore financing methods, and consulting agreements that Putin's allies have used to conceal their assets. He has engaged in a number of murky business dealings with wealthy ex-KGB energy magnates, using offshore shell companies to hide millions in assets. Alptekin has engaged in similar dealings. He bought a stake in New Mexico jet manufacturer Eclipse Aviation in 2006; two years later, Eclipse announced plans to build a $205 million factory in Russia using Russian state bank financing. The bank, Vnesheconombank, had Putin as chairman of the board. Alptekin and the Eclipse executives declared bankruptcy thereafter and bought the company's assets for a fraction of their worth. Alptekin says he never worked with any Russian officials, and says no Russians are on the board of the new company, EA Group. His firm sells Eclipse jets to Turkey, Russia and the Middle East. It also sells arms in Turkey and the Middle East. Flynn's duties for Alptekin primarily focused on pressuring the US to hand over Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, an enemy of the Erdoğan regime, to the Turkish government. Gulen currently lives in Pennsylvania. Alptekin and Zaikin's other lobbying efforts also focused on Gulen. Documents released by WikiLeaks show THO's leaders report to Erdoğan's son-in-law Berat Albayrak and other Turkish officials. Zaikin also received those reports. Alptekin, Albayrak and Flynn met in New York in September, where they discussed, among other topics, kidnapping Gulen and carrying him back to Turkey. (Politico)

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April 27, 2017: White House Blames Obama Administration for Poor Vetting of Flynn

White House press secretary Sean Spicer blames the Obama administration for its supposedly poor vetting of fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

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Asked by Fox News Radio's Jon Decker, "Are you satisfied with the vetting that was done of General Flynn by the transition team before he came on board as the National Security Advisor?" Spicer replies: "General Flynn was a career military officer who maintained a high-level security clearance throughout his career in the military. His clearance was last reissued by the Obama administration in 2016 with full knowledge of his activities that occurred in 2015, as you point out. So the issue is – he was issued a security clearance under the Obama administration in the spring of 2016. The trip and transactions that you're referring to occurred in December of 2015, from what I understand. So obviously there's an issue that, as you point out, the Department of Defense Inspector General is looking into. We welcome that. But all of that clearance was made by the – during the Obama administration and, apparently, with knowledge of the trip that he took. So that's how the process works. And I welcome the Department of Defense’s IG’s review." NBC's Bradd Jaffy posts the following on Twitter shortly after Spicer's press conference: "Asked about Mike Flynn's vetting by the Trump team, Spicer blames the Obama admin. for renewing Flynn's security clearance years before." Spicer does not note that the Trump campaign supposedly vetted Flynn in 2016, when it was considering him for vice president. He also fails to note that the Obama administration forced Flynn to resign from his position as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, and that Flynn retired from the US Army about the same time, subsequently becoming a lobbyist. He also does not admit that he is lying about the Obama administration renewing his security clearance in 2016. (Daily Kos writer Frank Vyan Walton says that if Flynn did have his security clearance renewed in 2016, which subsequent reporting will state took place in January 2016, it was almost certainly paid for by the Trump transition team. That question remains open, because the White House refuses to release any of its documentation regarding Flynn. If he did fill out the proper paperwork for his clearance renewal for the Trump team, it is almost certain he lied on it, Walton asserts.) Nor does Spicer acknowledge that the White House admitted in March to knowing about Flynn's lobbying for Turkey as early as November 2016, though Trump himself continues to deny he knew anything untoward about Flynn. The news site ShareBlue calls Spicer's response "nonsensical," and adds: "Of course, it is for lying on the application for that clearance [by the Obama administration] for which Flynn now stands accused of breaking the law. And as CNN's Jim Acosta pointed out later in that briefing, it is absurd for the Trump transition team to have relied solely on that existing security clearance to vet Flynn, particularly since reports of the Russian payment surfaced in the interim." During the briefing, Acosta presses Spicer on his assertion that the Obama administration is to blame for Flynn's poor vetting, triggering a combative response from Spicer. Acosta asks if Spicer intends to say that the Trump team relied wholly on the Obama administration vetting: "Because that's the impression you’re giving." When Spicer says that is exactly what he means to say, Acosta, visibly shocked, responds: "General Flynn came in and he walked through the door with just the clearance that was conducted by the Obama administration? That doesn't make any sense." When Acosta tries to follow up, Spicer snaps: "Hold on, let me explain the answer to you, Jim. Calm down, the kids are gone," referring to a mock briefing held earlier in the day for staff members' children. CBS reporter Major Garrett says, "It's a serious question," and Spicer shouts: "And I'm trying to answer it, Major! This is the answer – hold on, listen!" Spicer does not provide any further information, and instead just reiterates his position that the Obama administration, not the Trump administration, is responsible for the vetting of Flynn. (White House, Bradd Jaffy, ShareBlue, Raw Story, Daily Kos, CNN, The Hill)

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April 28, 2017: White House Perfomed Background Check on Flynn, Knew of Illicit Turkey Lobbying

The White House and Trump transition team performed a complete background check on fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn in addition to his previously approvided security clearance.

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MSNBC host Rachel Maddow tells her viewers, "NBC News has learned from sources close to the Trump-Russia investigation that both the Trump transition and the White House did do a background check on Flynn. This is in addition to his already approved security clearance. They did a background check on Flynn specifically for him to become national security adviser." Trump and White House officials have attempted to blame the Obama administration for authorizing Flynn's security clearance. Flynn was forced to resign from that administration in 2014. Flynn joined the Trump campaign in early 2016, when the background check was performed. NBC's sources say the check was performed "very casually." Even so, the Trump team was well aware of Flynn's illicit ties to Turkey. Flynn received a five-year renewal of his security clearance in January 2016. Former Obama communications director Jen Psaki derides the Trump claims that the Obama administration somehow is at fault. "The responsibility in vetting [Flynn] belongs on the incoming administration. Clearly that wasn't done. So this is kind of an absurd blame game here." (The Hill)

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— May 2017 —

May 11, 2017: Page Claims to Regularly Consult with FBI, CIA

Former Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page, who is under FBI surveillance due to suspicion of his acting as a Russian intelligence asset, now says he has consulted with the FBI and the CIA many times over the years. "I've helped both the FBI and CIA on other things in the past," he tells MSNBC host Chris Hayes. "We've had tens of hours of discussions." The agencies occasionally ask him for background information on "things that are happening around the world." He refuses to give any details. (NBC News)


May 16, 2017: Feds Subpoena Manafort Real Estate Records

Federal investigators have subpoenaed records of a $3.5 million mortgage taken out by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort the same day he resigned from the campaign.

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No paperwork indicating how Manafort intended to pay back the loan, taken against a mansion in the Hamptons, was ever filed, and Manafort's company never paid the $36,750 in county taxes assessed on the loan. While Manafort tells an NBC reporter that all of his real estate transactions are transparent and include his name and signature, that assertion is a lie. Manafort's name and signature are not on the loan documents that are publicly available. Manafort spokesperson Jason Maloni tells NBC the loan was repaid in December 2016, then admits the paperwork showing the repayment was not filed until May 2, after reporters questioned him about it. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is taking what one source calls a "preliminary look" at Manafort's real-estate deals. Maloni denies any contacts from Schneiderman's office. The loan was made by a shell company called S C 3, a subsidiary of Spruce Capital. Spruce was co-founded by Joshua Crane, a former business partner in Trump real estate deals. Spruce is financed in part by Ukrainian real-estage mogul Alexander Rovt. The S C 3 loan was never entered into government records, an omission that real estate experts call "highly unusual" but not illegal. Real-estate law expert David Reiss says: "It would be totally ill-advised to not record the loan on the property that is being secured … Recording the mortgage on the property protects the lender." Without filing such documents, no public record exists that shows Manafort owed Spruce Capital any money. Manafort's real estate attorney Bruce Baldinger calls the lack of documentation a simple clerical error. The Bridgehampton home had been owned by Kathleen Manafort, his wife, until December 2016, when it was transferred to Summerbreeze LLC, a Manafort-owned shell company. Baldinger insists that despite the transaction, Manafort knows virtually nothing about Spruce, nor has he had any further dealings with the firm or its principals. Spruce denies any connections between Rovt and the deal. Rovt, a Ukrainian billionaire, sold all of his overseas interests to another Ukrainian oligarch, Dmytro Firtash, a former business partner of Manafort's. (NBC News)

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May 18, 2017: Flynn Ignores Subpoena from Senate Committee

Fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn ignores a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee. Committee chair Richard Burr (R-NC) says that Flynn's attorneys "have not yet indicated their intentions regarding the Senate Intelligence Committee's subpoena" as part of the committee's probe into the Russia-Trump affair. Hours before, Burr said that Flynn's lawyers had indicated Flynn would refuse to comply with the subpoena, "and that is not a surprise to the committee. We'll figure out on General Flynn what the next step, if any, is." (Associated Press via PBS)


May 25, 2017: Manafort Still Advising Trump, White House Officials, Particularly About Russia Investigation

Former campaign chair Paul Manafort continues to advise the Trump White House on issues related to the Russia-Trump investigation, sources confirm.

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Manafort has stayed in contact with Trump and some campaign officials since his ouster in August, and has had at least two conversations with Trump. It is also known that he advised Trump on his choices to staff the White House and his cabinet. A week before Trump's inauguration, Manafort discussed the controversy with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, asking that Priebus defend him and Trump against allegations of wrongdoing. Manafort was particularly concerned about the Steele dossier and the explosive allegations it contains about Trump. He discussed briefing the Trump team on what he called inaccuracies in the dossier. A person close to Manafort says: "On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince, as a responsible ally of the president would do, and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible." Manafort told Priebus that the errors in the dossier allowed them to proclaim that it is entirely discredited. He also noted that the abortive plans the FBI had to pay the dossier's author, Christopher Steele, taints the dossier. And, he said, the dossier was created at the behest of Democratic activists and donors working with anti-Russian Ukrainian government officials. The dossier has not been factually discredited, and the allegations about the dossier's creation are lies. Manafort suggested that the White House work with Congressional allies to mount an investigation into efforts by Ukrainian government officials whom he said worked with the Clinton campaign to damage the Trump presidential efforts. The contacts between Clinton aides and Ukrainian officials did happen, but were entirely legal and aboveboard. Manafort saw the countervailing investigation as a way to distract the media from the FBI and Congressional investigations into Russia-Trump. A source denies that Manafort and Priebus discussed any pushback against the investigation, and Priebus never discussed the matter with Manafort again. The dossier includes the following claim regarding Manafort and his former patron, Ukrainian despot Viktor Yanukovych: "Yanukovych had confided in [Vladimir] Putin that he did authorise and order substantial kick-back payments to Manafort as alleged but sought to reassure him that there was no documentary trail left behind which could provide clear evidence of this. … Putin and others in the Russian leadership were sceptical about the ex-Ukrainian president's reassurances on this." Manafort spent months insisting that the payments he received from Yanukovych's Party of Regions never happened, and now says that if the payments did occur, they were legal and aboveboard. One of his defenses to his White House colleagues was that no one who would have spoken to Steele would have given him the information the dossier contains: "This stuff would never see light of the day," he allegedly said. Following its usual pattern, the White House has attempted to distance itself from Manafort, with press secretary Sean Spicer saying of Manafort in March that he was someone "who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time" in the campaign, a characterization that is patently false. Manafort's lobbying firm worked for Trump in the 1980s and 1990s, and Trump and Manafort, who lives in Trump Tower, have a strong personal relationship. Manafort wielded almost complete control of the campaign for several months after engineering the firing of his rival and predecessor Corey Lewandowski. (Politico, The Hill, Daily Beast)

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May 29, 2017: Kushner May Have Attempted to Establish Direct, Secret Connection between Trump Team, Putin

Federal and Congressional investigators are probing more deeply into a December meeting between Trump senior advisor Jared Kushner and Russian banker Sergey Gorkov.

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Kushner is Trump's son-in-law; Gorkov runs Vnesheconombank (VEB), the Russian bank that assisted in the refinancing of a Trump property in Toronto in 2010. Reports have said that Kushner was interested in finding Russian financing for a "Kushner Tower" project in Manhattan, though the White House denies any such conversations took place; current information indicates that Kushner may have been trying to establish a direct line of communication between the Trump transition team and Vladimir Putin, one that would not be known to US government officials. Kushner also proposed the creation of a secret line of communication between Russia and the Trump transition team in that same month. The White House claimed in March that Kislyak requested the meeting between Kushner and Gorkov, though that explanation is now shown to be incomplete; White House spokesperson Hope Hicks now says that Kushner set up the meeting via his associate Avrahm Berkowitz, who is now a White House aide. Berkowitz met with Kislyak, whom Hicks now says informed Berkowitz that he wanted Kushner to meet with Gorkov. Trump and his officials have long held the US intelligence community in open contempt. The New York Times writes, "It is not clear whether Mr. Kushner saw the Russian banker as someone who could be repeatedly used as a go-between or whether the meeting with Mr. Gorkov was designed to establish a direct, secure communications line to Mr. Putin." Knowledgeable US officials, current and former, say that the Kushner-Gorkov channel may have intended to be kept open even after the inauguration, and other topics of discussion may have included lifting US sanctions on Russia. Hicks tells reporters, "Mr. Kushner was acting in his capacity as a transition official" in meeting with both Kislyak and Gorkov, a line she has used several times before. Gorkov has said that the meeting was part of VEB's strategy to discuss financial trends in Europe with influential governmental and financial officials from a number of countries. He said he met with representatives of "business circles of the US, including with the head of Kushner Companies, Jared Kushner." Kushner no longer heads that firm, which is his family's real estate business. The Times claims that attempting to set up such secret communications channels "would not be illegal," but goes on to note that "it is highly unusual to try to establish channels with a foreign leader that did not rely on the government's own communications, which are secure and allow for a record of contacts to be created." Kushner lied on his security clearance forms filed in January, by refusing to admit his meetings with Kislyak and Gorkov. His office has claimed that the omissions were accidental. (New York Times)

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— June 2017 —

June 21, 2017: Kushner Modified Top Security Clearance Form, Left Off Over 100 Foreign Contacts

Senior White House advisor Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of Donald Trump, reportedly "corrects" his top-security clearance SF-86 form after "remembering" that he had failed to list over 100 foreign contacts, including multiple contacts with Russian officials. He has now updated his security form at least three times to corrects various "errors."

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Kushner updates the form after the media began reporting that he and two other top Trump campaign officials met with a group of Russian officials in June 2016 for the express purpose of receiving compromising information on Hillary Clinton. One of those officials was Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who reportedly led the meeting. Kushner told Trump that since nothing came of the meeting, the fact that he is now reporting the contact should cause no problems for the administration. Media reports show that when he briefed Trump about the meeting, he left out critical details and minimized the importance of the meeting. In April, Kushner amended the form to add the names of two Russians he met with after the election, Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak and banker Sergey Gorkov. He also amended the form the day after he filed it, and again in May, both times leaving out critical information about his foreign contacts. Democratic lawmakers are calling for Kushner's security clearance to be revoked. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) says, "If this were a normal political world, Jared Kushner wouldn't have a job by the end of today, and at the very least, he should absolutely have his security clearance revoked." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi heads a group of House Democrats calling for Kushner's security clearance to be "revoked immediately," saying: "It is absolutely ridiculous … the president can revoke that privilege at any moment. And he should." Pelosi calls House Republicans "enablers" of Constitutional violations. It is a felony to deliberately misrepresent or falsify an SF-86 form; inaccuracies and omissions usually result in the applicant's clearance being revoked. (New York Times, Business Insider, The Hill, Think Progress, Slate)

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June 27, 2017: Manafort Retroactively Registers as Foreign Agent for Defunct Ukrainian Political Party

The consulting firm led by former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort files retroactively to register as a foreign agent on behalf of a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine.

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The firm files documentation with the Justice Department showing that it received $17.1 million between 2012 and 2014. The Party of Regions folded after its leader, Viktor Yanukovych, was ousted from power and fled to Russia to avoid extradition. Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates, both worked on the Trump campaign. The filing does not show how much he made personally while working in Ukraine. Manafort spokesperson Jason Maloni claims Manafort began preparing his filing in September 2016 "before the outcome of the election and well before any formal investigation of election interference began. … Paul's primary focus was always directed at domestic Ukrainian political campaign work, and that is reflected in today's filing." The filing also shows that Manafort's firm paid Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian consultant who is suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence, $485,000 during his work for the firm in 2013. Manafort's financial reports show that his firm accepted a previously unreported $17 million from the Party of Regions. (Washington Post, Politico)

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June 27, 2017: Manafort's Firm Took $17 Million in Previously Unreported 'Blood Money' from Pro-Russian Ukrainian Political Party

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort recently filed financial reports with the Justice Department revealing that his lobbying firm, DMP, received almost $17 million in two years of work for Ukraine's pro-Kremlin Party of Regions, far more than had previously been acknowledged.

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The $17 million payments actually exceeded the amount the party reported itself spending during that time period for its entire operation. The New York Times writes that "[t]he discrepancies show a lot about how Mr. Manafort's clients – former President Viktor F. Yanukovych of Ukraine and his Party of Regions – operated," and calls the Party of Regions and other organizations Manafort and his partners worked for "irredeemably corrupt." It also notes, "The filing serves as a retroactive admission that Mr. Manafort performed work in the United States on behalf of a foreign power – Ukraine's Party of Regions – without disclosing it at the time, as required by law." Yanukovych is reputed to have stolen at least $1 billion from Ukraine during his term as that nation's president, before his ouster in 2014. Handwritten ledgers show that the Party of Regions actually spent some $2 billion during that time period, far exceeding its official reports. Much of those expenditures were illegal. The Party of Regions tried to portray itself as a populist political party even as it accepted huge "donations" from Ukrainian steel and natural gas oligarchs. Manafort's spokesperson Jason Maloni says that the Party of Regions is responsible for the contradiction between the earlier disclosures and the more recent ones: "Paul's primary focus was always directed at domestic Ukrainian political campaign work, and that is reflected in today's filing. … Any questions about the reporting obligations of the Party of Regions should be directed to those within the party responsible for such reporting." Manafort's work in Ukraine "was widely known and the firm was paid only for the work it performed. In fact, just last month Ukraine officials indicated that there is no proof of illicit payments." But investigative journalist Serhiy Leshchenko, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, says of the new disclosure, "It means either Manafort is lying, or the Party of Regions was lying." Daria Kaleniuk of the Anti-Corruption Crime Action Center says: "The Party of Regions was spending a lot of cash, to bribe voters and for illegal advertising. Manafort took the money to whitewash its reputation in the West." The Party of Regions is now defunct. Manafort gave millions to his two daughters, one of whom, Andrea Manafort, apparently was queasy about how the money was earned. In 2015, she wrote to her sister, apparently referring to protesters' deaths in anti-Yanukovych demonstrations, saying: "Don't fool yourself. That money we have is blood money." Manafort previously disclosed receiving some $12.7 million from the Party of Regions, a disclosure that led him to step down as the official chairman of the Trump campaign. (New York Times, New York Times)

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— July 2017 —

July 19, 2017: Manafort Owed $17 Million to Russian Interests Before Joining Trump Campaign, Bank Documents Show

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was in debt to pro-Russia interests by as much as $17 million before he joined the Trump campaign in March 2016.

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Financial records filed in the tax haven of Cyprus prove that the money was owed by a number of shell companies formed and owned by Manafort as part of his business activities in Ukraine, where he worked as a consultant for Ukraine's pro-Russian Party of Regions. Manafort was paid at least $17 million by that organization during the time he worked for it, which he has claimed ended in 2014 when the party's leader Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from the presidency and forced to flee to Moscow. Much of that money was shuttled to Manafort via a bewildering maze of shell companies registered in Cyprus and Belize. The documents filed with the Cypriot government include audited financial statements for the companies. In total, over a dozen entities transferred millions of dollars among themselves in the form of loans, payments and fees. The documents were certified as accurate by an accounting firm in December 2015, and were filed with the Cypriot government in 2016. The debt is consistent with some $19 million a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, claims Manafort and his partners owe him. Manafort spokesperson Jason Maloni does not try to deny the validity of the documents, but says they are "stale and do not purport to reflect any current financial arrangements." In a statement, Maloni says: "Manafort is not indebted to Mr. Deripaska or the Party of Regions, nor was he at the time he began working for the Trump campaign. The broader point, which Mr. Manafort has maintained from the beginning, is that he did not collude with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election." Either the records are false, Maloni is lying, or there are other records yet to be made available which document just how Manafort paid the debt he is shown to have owed. The Cyprus documents come from 22012 and 2013, at the height of Manafort's involvement with the Party of Regions. The New York Times writes, "The byzantine nature of the transactions reflected in the Cyprus records obscures the reasons that money flowed among the various parties, and it is possible they were characterized as loans for another purpose, like avoiding taxes that would otherwise be owed on income or equity investments." One debt of $7.8 million was owed to Deripaska via a company in the British Virgin Islands, Oguster Management Limited. The debtor was a Cypriot shell company, LOAV, owned by Manafort. The loan is unsecured, has an astonishingly low interest rate of 2%, and has "no specified repayment date." Another debt of $9.9 million was owed to Lucicle Consultants, another Cypriot company tied to Party of Regions official Ivan Fursin. Lucicle is linked to Fursin via another offshore shell company, Mistaro, registered in St. Kitts and Nevis. Mistaro transferred millions to Lucicle in February 2012 shortly before Lucicle loaned the $9.9 million to Manafort via his shell company Jesand LLC, registered in Delaware and previously used by Manafort to buy real estate in New York. (The name likely originates from Manafort's daughters Jessica and Andrea.) This unsecured debt had an interest rate of 3.5% and was marked payable on demand. No records show that either debt had been paid as of December 2015. Deripaska, who has said he paid Manafort another $7.3 million in management fees, has stopped pursuing his financial claim against Manafort and his former investment partners, Rick Gates (another Trump campaign official) and Rick Davis, in late 2015. Manafort continues to claim that all the payments he received from his activities in Ukraine were legitimate and transparent; he has stopped denying he ever received them. Many of the transactions listed in the documents involve shell companies in offshore tax havens like the Seychelles and the British Virgin Islands, and moved through banks in Cyprus, long considered a hub of illegal money-laundering activities by Russian billionaires. Manafort is tied to other shell companies such as Black Sea View Ltd, Pericles Capital, PEM Advisers Ltd, Intrahold AG and Monohold AG. The last two have been cited by Ukrainian authorities as being involved in the looting of public assets by Party of Regions officials. (Washington Post)

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July 22, 2017: Manafort Possibly Viewed as Cooperating Witness for Mueller Investigation

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, now the subject of money laundering investigations, is being viewed by the Mueller investigation as a possible cooperating witness.

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Manafort bought three New York properties between 2006 and 2013, including an apartment in Trump Tower Manhattan, where he paid for them and then took out large mortgages on them, a common practice engaged in by those who want to hide the origin of illegally gained funds. A source tells Reuters, "If Mueller's team can threaten criminal charges against Manafort, they could use that as leverage to convince him to cooperate." Manafort spokesperson Jason Maloni counters: "Paul Manafort is not a cooperating witness. Once again there is no truth to the disinformation put forth by anonymous sources and leakers." (Reuters)

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July 24, 2017: Kushner Lies about Security Form, Meetings with Russians, Before Testimony

Senior White House advisor Jared Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law, gives a statement to the press before testifying in closed sessions of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees. The statement denies any wrongdoing in his multiple meetings with Russian officials, lawyers and bankers.

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He also denies that he had multiple reported contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the election, as reported by Reuters, and defends his repeated lies and omissions on his FBI security clearance form. In a statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees in advance of his private testimonies this week, Jared Kushner has confirmed his attendance at four previously reported meetings with Russian officials, including Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer. President Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law provides his recollections of those meetings, denies two phone calls that Reuters reported on earlier this year, defends the incomplete filing of his SF-86 form, and closes by saying: "All of my actions were proper and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign. I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector. I have tried to be fully transparent with regard to the filing of my SF-86 form, above and beyond what is required. Hopefully, this puts these matters to rest." In the statement, Kushner finally admits to having a meeting with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov, a meeting both Kushner and the White House have previously lied about. He also admits to taking part in a meeting with multiple Russian officials and Trump campaign officials in June 2016, where he and the others were promised compromising information directly from the Russian government. Kushner says he didn't bother to read the email exchange that indicated Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya would be bringing that information to the meeting (the title of the emails were "Subject: Re: Russia – Clinton – private and confidential"), and claims that the meeting was such a waste of his time that he asked his assistant to call him on his cellphone to give him an excuse to leave the meeting early. He also lies about not knowing anyone involved with collusion with foreign governments, as he certainly knows former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. He also knows Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. He denies that his attempt to set up a secret backchannel means of communicating with Russian officials, to be kept secret from US intelligence and law enforcement, was improper, or could be construed as collusion; saying: "“The fact that I was asking about ways to start a dialogue after Election Day should of course be viewed as strong evidence that I was not aware of one that existed before Election Day." Nor does he mention the secret meeting he helped set up between Flynn and an unnamed Russian official in the Seychelles Islands. In the statement, he repeatedly cites his own inexperience and ignorance about politics as a justification of the numerous "errors" and "lapses" he has committted: "Before joining the administration, I worked in the private sector, building and managing companies. My experience was in business, not politics, and it was not my initial intent to play a large role in my father-in-law's campaign when he decided to run for President. However, as the campaign progressed, I was called on to assist with various tasks and aspects of the campaign, and took on more and more responsibility." The backlash against Kushner's lie- and omission-filled statement is immediate. Former CIA agent and Republican presidential candidate Evan McMullin posts on Twitter, "There is almost zero chance that [Paul] Manafort, Kushner, and Don[ald Trump] Jr. would've all attended a meeting that they expected to be inconsequential." Activist Amy Siskind posts on Twitter: "Another Fri night special: Kushner failed to disclose dozens of transactions, incl a $285mm loan from Deutsche Bank." Siskind is referring to the $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank that he received, but refused to disclose on his security clearance form. Daily Kos senior writer Mark Sumner is caustic in his criticism, writing that Kushner's excuses amount to him describing himself as "both inattentive and illiterate." The excuses amount to admissions of stunning incompetence, an almost-complete loss of memory, and fundamental failures of attention, Sumner writes. "Kushner's statement is really more of a Bill of Justifications – a set of excuses explaining why he was utterly ignorant of doing the things he was doing. … 'I'm just a hardworking businessman who got pulled into this thing by family.' … I didn't know what I was doing, and just did what more experienced people recommended. Also, it all happened so fast. ' … Yes, I'm a billionaire, but didn't have a single person I could turn to to sort my email.'" Sumner concludes: "Overall, Kushner clearly wants to present the image of someone totally overwhelmed by the number of emails and meetings that would be dealt with by a mid-level projected manager designing a cat toy app. He got emails. And he didn't have time to read them – especially multiple emails sent to Kushner under the title 'Russia – Clinton – private and confidential.' And everything Jared Kushner stated had one clear message – don't blame Jared Kushner." (Slate, New York Times, Daily Kos, Amy Siskind, Evan McMullin)

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July 26, 2017: FBI Raids Manafort's Virginia Home

In the pre-dawn hours, FBI agents raid the Alexandria, Virginia home of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. A dozen agents, some with guns drawn, wake up Manafort by knocking on his bedroom door, and present him with a "no knock" search warrant.

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(Right-wing propaganda outlet Fox News quotes an anonymous source saying that the raid is "heavy-handed, designed to intimidate.") They seize and remove documents and other related materials pertaining to the Mueller investigation of the Russian sabotage of the 2016 election. Mueller is also looking into the array of potentially illegal loans and money transfers obtained by Manafort before, during and since his time with the Trump campaign, going as far back as 2006.

Canceled Appearance Before Senate Committee

Manafort was scheduled to appear today before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a meeting that was cancelled after he began providing documents to the committee; he met yesterday with staffers of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Former federal prosecutor Jacob Frenkel says of the raid: "I think it adds a shock and awe enforcement component to what until now has followed a natural path for a white-collar investigation. More so than anything else we've seen so far, it really does send a powerful law enforcement message when the search warrant is used. … That message is that the special counsel team will use all criminal investigative tools available to advance the investigation as quickly and as comprehensively as possible."

Experts: Mueller Doesn't Trust Manafort to Preserve Evidence

Manafort has voluntarily turned over some documents to Congressional investigators; the search warrant and FBI raid indicate that federal investigators believe Manafort cannot be trusted to turn over all records in response to a grand jury subpoena. Former federal prosecutor Alex Whitting, a Harvard Law professor, explains: "Mueller and his staff may have decided that, despite the claims of cooperation from Manafort's lawyer, Manafort could not be trusted to provide all of the documents requested by subpoena. If Mueller's team thought that there was any risk that Manafort would hide or destroy documents, that would be a strong reason to proceed with a search warrant." Former federal prosecutor Kenneth Julian agrees: "The only reason to do a search warrant on a target who is ostensibly cooperating with the investigation is a lack of trust. And in order to get a search warrant, FBI agents had to swear to their belief that fruits of a crime would be found in Manafort's home." Former Justice Department spokesperson Matthew Miller, who served in the Obama administration, adds: "Manafort's representatives have been insisting for months that he is cooperating with these investigations, and if you are really cooperating, DOJ typically doesn't need to raid your house – they'll trust you to respond fully to a subpoena. The fact they cut any cooperation short and raided his house suggests they don't believe he is fully cooperating and that there are documents or electronic files, possibly contained on computers at his house, in his possession that they did not trust him to turn over." Some experts believe the raid may be intended to convey to Manafort that he will not be given special treatment by Mueller's team. A source close to the White House complains, "If the FBI wanted the documents, they could just ask [Manafort] and he would have turned them over." Manafort spokesperson Jason Maloni says, "Mr. Manafort has consistently cooperated with law enforcement and other serious inquiries and did so on this occasion as well." Senate Judiciary Committee member Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a former US Attorney, calls the search "a significant and even stunning development," and notes that such raids are usually used for "the most serious criminal investigations dealing with uncooperative or untrusted potential targets." Blumenthal adds, "A federal judge signing this warrant would demand persuasive evidence of probable cause that a serious crime has been committed and that less intrusive and dramatic investigative means would be ineffective."

Mueller Wants to "Flip" Manafort?

Many believe that Mueller intends to bring heavy pressure on Manafort in order to "flip" him – to persuade him to testify against others involved in the Russia-Trump situation.

Ukrainian Connections at Heart of Mueller Investigation

Manafort recently retroactively declared himself a foreign agent on behalf of Ukraine, and in the documentation admitted to receiving some $17 million in fees and other monies from Ukrainian officials. The time period in the search warrant spans most of the time Manafort worked for Ukraine's pro-Russia ruling party, a time period that first brought Manafort to the FBI's attention. Aside from the Mueller and Congressional investigations, Manafort is also under investigation by the Treasury Department. He is also being investigated by prosecutors in New York and Virginia, though Mueller has since taken over the Virginia investigation.

Attempt to Deflect Attention?

In the hours after the raid, Donald Trump launches a Twitter attack on Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe. He writes: "Why didn't A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got … big dollars ($700,000) for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!" It is unclear whether Trump just wakes up in a pique against McCabe, and decides to lambast McCabe for his supposed ties to Clinton, or whether he is trying to deflect media attention away from the Manafort raid. (Washington Post, New York Times, Business Insider, CNN, Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, Fox News)

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July 26, 2017: Former Watergate Prosecutor: Kushner Lying about Russia Collusion

Jill Wine-Banks, a former assistant special prosecutor for the Justice Department who worked on the Watergate investigation, says that senior White House advisor Jared Kushner's recent denials about engaging in any collusion with Russia are "blatantly ridiculous."

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Interviewed by MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell, Wine-Banks says of the statement he recently issued: "First I want to say it was a very smoothly written document. He clearly has a very good lawyer. But as soon as you start to probe it, it falls apart. The explanations that are offered seem blatantly ridiculous." Wine-Banks discusses several aspects of Kushner's statement, delivered before his questioning by the Senate Intelligence Committee, focusing on his description of the June 2016 meeting with a group of Russians who promised to deliver damaging information about Hillary Clinton. "The most incredible to me is, 'I didn't know what I was going to that meeting for. I had no idea what it was about. And when I got there it was about adoptions, and so I was just bored and wanted to leave.'" She also disputes his explanation for leaving more than 100 foreign contacts off his initial security clearance. "There are so many questions. And almost everything when you really probe it, even though it sounds credible when you first read it – when you think about it, you want to tear your hair out and think, These are just lies, they are not believable." (Independent)

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— August 2017 —

August 16, 2017: FEC Complaint Alleges Illegal Contributions to Republicans from Pro-Putin Ukrainian Political Interest

A group of private citizens file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission against Senator James Risch (R-ID), Representatives Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Ed Royce (R-CA), and six Republican lobbyists for illegally accepting or facilitating contributions from the pro-Russian Ukrainian Party of Regions.

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That organization is the same one which employed former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. The complaint alleges that in 2013 and 2014, Risch, Rohrabacher and Royce accepted campaign contributions from the lobbyists, who were foreign agents for the Party of Regions and its front group, the European Centre For a Modern Ukraine. The complaint alleges: "After making the contributions in their own names, the lobbyists were reimbursed by their foreign clients as part of a straw donor scheme." The lobbyists were not registered as foreign agents, and post-dated that registration in 2017. The payments were orchestrated by Manafort and his then-lobbying partner Rick Gates, along with Republican lobbyist and former Congressman Vin Weber. The complaint reads in part: "We believe that Rohrabacher, Royce and Risch betrayed the United States and their own constituents by corruptly accepting thousands of dollars in illegal payments from foreign agents. We believe that Manafort, Weber and the other lobbyists, acting as intermediaries, illegally transferred campaign contributions from foreign nationals to elected officials in the United States Senate and House of Representatives." (Independent Reporter)

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August 30, 2017: Mueller Joining New York Attorney General Investigation into Manafort

Special counsel Robert Mueller is working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on its investigation into the financial escapades of former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort.

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Reports indicate that Mueller's investigation into Trump-related financial issues is intensifying, and many speculate that Mueller may be pressuring Manafort into cooperating with his investigation. If Manafort is convicted of any crimes under New York state law, Trump cannot pardon him for those crimes. The two teams are sharing evidence and working together, and have both collected evidence of a range of financial crimes, including money laundering. In late July, FBI agents raided Manafort's home, seizing documents and other items. Mueller is probing Manafort's long and checkered history of lobbying for foreign interests as well as his real-estate deals in New York. Schneiderman earned Trump's ire after winning a $25 million settlement against Trump University in November 2016, after a long investigation into allegations of massive fraud. (Politico)

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August 30, 2017: Press Learns that Manafort Worked with Russian Oligarch to Advance Pro-Russian Interests from 2004-2015

The Wall Street Journal names Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska as one of the primary funders behind former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort's lobbying and political consulting work in Ukraine, Georgia and Montenegro. Manafort's work was always favorable to Russian interests in those countries.

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The Journal notes that those countries are considered to be in its "sphere of influence" by the Kremlin. Manafort's work, backed by Deripaska, extended much longer and in a broader sense than has previously been known, from 2004 through 2015 at the very least. Manafort's work in Ukraine have been reported before, as has his connections with Deripaska, but the degree of Manafort's involvement has heretofore not been known. Manafort left the Trump campaign after the media reported on the large payments he received from a former Ukrainian autocrat with deep ties to Vladimir Putin. Deripaska has made no secret of his alliance with Putin, telling the Financial Times in 2007: "I don't separate myself from the state. I have no other interests." Manafort is a prime person of interest in the ongoing Mueller investigation as well as the various Congressional investigations probing the depth of Trump's collusion with Russia. Those Congressional committees have rejected Deripaska's offer to testify before them in return for immunity, because they don't want to interfere with Mueller's investigation. Deripaska is suing the Associated Press for reporting that he had financial ties to Manafort, with a May complaint reading in part: "Mr. Deripaska never had any arrangement, whether contractual or otherwise, with Mr. Manafort to advance the interests of the Russian government. … Mr. Deripaska severed relations with Mr. Manafort many years ago." The AP disputes that characterization and is fighting the lawsuit. Deripaska became wealthy during the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union when he became the principal shareholder of Rusal, then the world's largest aluminum producer. Manafort spokesperson Jason Maloni says, "Mr. Manafort's work for Mr. Deripaska and his company, Rusal, was to advance its commercial interests." Deripaska was for a time banned from entering the US due to concerns about his ties to organized crime that date from that period, allegations that Deripasks disputes. While Manafort's foreign lobbying and consulting efforts were not illegal, they often ran in opposition to stated US foreign policy positions at the time.

2004 Attempt to Return a Pro-Russian Politician to Georgia

In early 2004, Deripaska hired Manafort's firm DMP to facilitate the return of an exiled pro-Russian politician, Igor Giorgadze, to power in Georgia, which had just elected a pro-Western president after the so-called Rose Revolution of 2003. Manafort's work on behalf of Deripaska and Giorgadze has not been previously reported. One of Deripaska's investment partners, British oligarch Nathaniel Rothschild, invited Rick Davis, Manafort's partner, to a meeting at the Moscow offices of Deripaska's company Basic Element to discuss returning Giorgadze. They also met Giorgadze at the office. Giorgadze was widely believed to have orchestrated a 1995 assassination plot against Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. After fleeing to Moscow, Giorgadze had constructed a pro-Russian political party. The Bush administration publicly backed Shevardnadze. Davis, Manafort, Rothschild and Deripaska concocted a strategy that would first have Rothschild invest in Georgian businesses, then petition the government to allow Giorgadze to return. Former US Ambassador to Georgia Kenneth Yalowitz says, "Giorgadze would have been a loyal, trustworthy subaltern" to Russia "who would not have gone Westward." The plan was scuttled in late 2004. Maloni now says Manafort was not directly involved in the Giorgadze project.

Fomenting Anti-Western Sentiment in Ukraine

After Ukraine elected pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych to the presidency over pro-Western contender Viktor Yushchenko in what was dubbed a fraudulent election, Ukraine erupted in an uprising later called the Orange Revolution. Deripaska and Rothschild again contacted Davis. DMP consultant Philip Griffin says the firm was hired for "intelligence gathering" in Ukraine on behalf of Yanukovych, a project headed by Manafort. Between Thanksgiving and Christman 2004, Manafort and Griffin talked to contacts in Washington, where they learned that the US government was not going to counter the Orange Revolution. At Deripaska's behest, Manafort traveled to Donetsk, an eastern Ukrainian city with a strong pro-Russian citizenry, where he met with Ukrainian coal and steel magnate Rinat Akhmetov. According to Griffin, Manafort told the pro-Kremlin Akhmetov that "this train is not going to be stopped." Yushchenko won a new election in January 2005. Akhmetov hired DMP to "Westernize" the image of his holding company, System Capital Management. Akhmetov paid DMP $12 million. Manafort later worked with Akhmetov on another project to benefit the pro-Kremlin Party of Regions, a project Griffin says did not involve Deripaska: in summer 2005, Manafort and Griffin traveled to Moscow to meet with Akhmetov, Yanukovych, and other Ukrainian officials with pro-Russian positions to discuss how to bolster the party's fortunes. Manafort hired over 40 consultants, many from Washington, to meet the goal. DMP was paid $20 million for its efforts. In 2006, Yanukovych became prime minister when the Party of Regions won a plurality of the parliamentary vote. Manafort and Yanukovych developed a close personal and working relationship; the two often shared a sauna and played tennis, with Yanukovych's bodyguards acting as ball boys. Manafort helped Yanukovych build his profile among pro-Russian Ukrainian citizens, and cast Yanukovych as a harsh opponent of Yushchenko and his pro-Western policies. Then-US Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor says that he and other American officials were concerned about Manafort's support for an anti-US candidate: "We didn't see it as helpful." Manafort then unsuccessfully tried to portray Yanukovych as pro-Western in subsequent advertisements and political presentations. Maloni now says: "For years Ukraine was caught in a proxy war between the West and Russia. Mr. Manafort's work for the Party of Regions aimed to bridge this divide, bring Ukraine closer to the West, and provide greater economic stability and security." Manafort continued to work on Yanukovych's behalf during the violent 2014 protests in Ukraine, and continued to fly to Kiev to consult with the Party of Regions until late 2015.

Buying Influence in Montenegro

In 2005, Deripaska hired DMP to work in Montenegro, then in the process of establishing itself as a separate nation. Deripaska was acquiring a smelter and bauxite mine there. Then-US Ambassador to Serbia and Montenegro Michael Polt says Deripaska's purchase "was all part of the broader effort to determine what Montenegro's future was going to be and who was going to be holding the major economic and political levers." Maloni says Manafort's work for Deripaska was strictly to advance Deripaska's commercial interests: "One of the projects involved supporting a referendum in Montenegro that allowed that country to choose membership in the EU, a measure that Russia strongly opposed." After the referendum passed in May 2006 and Montenegro chose to enter the European Union, Deripaska left the country and abandoned his business interests.

Falling Out Over Millions

In 2007, Deripaska promised $19 million for Davis and Manafort's Cayman Islands-registered private equity fund, Pericles Emerging Market Partners, to invest in a Ukrainian telecommunications firm. Deripaska also paid Davis and Manafort $7.3 million in management fees. Deripaska filed a petition with the court in the Cayman Islands in 2014 to recover the funds. (Wall Street Journal)

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— September 2017 —

September 25, 2017: Former Trump advisor Roger Stone lies, pontificates and levels false accusations in a belligerent session before the House Intelligence Committee about his connections to WikiLeaks and Russian hackers.

— October 2017 —

October 15, 2017: Manafort Received Total of $33 Million in Unsecured Loans from Russian Oligarch, Experts Suspect Money Laundering

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort had a much more lucrative relationship with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska than has been previously reported. NBC News has learned that Manafort was the recipient of a previously undisclosed $26 million loan to companies owned by Manafort from a company owned by Deripaska, who has close ties to Vladimir Putin. The total received by Manafort from Deripaska is around $60 million over the last ten years.

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Manafort has worked with Deripaska to advance Putin's interests since at least 2006. Manafort is now being probed by the Mueller investigation for ties between himself and Russia, particularly his financial interests. Most of the Manafort-Deripaska financial dealings went through banks in Cyprus and the Cayman Islands. Initially, Manafort spokesperson Jason Maloni issues a denial of the report, saying in part, "Mr. Manafort is not indebted to former clients today, nor was he at the time he began working for the Trump campaign." Maloni soon withdraws that statement, and issues a "clarification" that reads in part: "Recent news reports indicate Mr. Manafort was under surveillance before he joined the campaign and after he left the campaign. He has called for the US Government to release any intercepts involving him and non-Americans in hopes of finally putting an end to these wild conspiracy theories. Mr. Manafort did not collude with the Russian government." The new statement removes the denials of having any indebtedness to Deripaska or other foreign clients. The entire $26 million loan was unsecured, meaning that Manafort put up no collateral whatsoever to obtain the loan. It is not clear if Manafort has ever repaid the loan, or if he will ever be required to. Financial experts say the loan – actually a compendium of two loans to two separate Manafort-controlled loans totaling $33 million – may well be attempts at money laundering. "Money launderers frequently will disguise payments as loans," says former federal prosecutor Stefan Cassella. "You can call it a loan, you can call it Mary Jane. If there's no intent to repay it, then it's not really a loan. It's just a payment." A spokesperson for Deripaska, Vera Kurochkina, says the report is part of NBC's objective of trying "to continue damaging Donald Trump's reputation insisting on alleged Russia's collusion." Kurochkina denies any ties between Deripaska and the Kremlin, nor any ties between Deripaska and Manafort during the 2016 election. The statement does not deny the existence of the loans. Two weeks after this report is published, Manafort and his colleague Rick Gates will be arrested and indicted for a raft of financial crimes. (NBC News, Salon)

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October 17, 2017: Judge Dismisses Libel Suit Involving Manafort

A federal judge dismisses a libel lawsuit filed by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska over reports by the Associated Press about his business dealings with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Deripaska alleged that the AP falsely implied he had paid Manafort for work that helped the Russian government and Vladimir Putin, and falsely implied that his dealings with Manafort had any connection to the Trump campaign.

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THIS STORY IS UNDER DEVELOPMENT. (Politico)

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Stone Twitter account suspended

October 27-28, 2017: Stone Banned from Twitter After Violent, Homophobic Tirade Against CNN Figures

Former Trump campaign advisor Roger Stone, who is under investigation for, among other things, communicating with the Russians who illegally stole Democratic Party communications, working with WikiLeaks during the campaign, communicating with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and using a cutout to communicate with WikiLeaks while that organization was cooperating with the Russian election sabotage efforts, engages in a crude, homophobic and violent tirade on Twitter against a number of CNN anchors and commentators. Stone's Twitter account is permanently banned.

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Stone says he plans on suing the provider, and says he is a victim of threats to himself and his family. Twitter, he says, is engaged in what he calls a "systematic effort by the tech left to censor and silence conservative voices." Stone continues to use Twitter under other names. He first targets CNN anchor Jake Tapper, saying that he "must be held accountable for his lies and very severely punished" along with the hashtag "fakenewsasswipe." As his tirade continues, he loses control of his spelling and syntax, becoming almost incomprehensible at times. Stone continues by attacking CNN anchor Don Lemon, calling him an "ignorant, lying covksucker" (sic), a "fake news … dumb piece of shit," a "buffoon," and a "dull witted arrogant partyboi" who must be "confronted, humiliated, mocked and punished." He calls CNN guest Charles Blow, a New York Times columnist, a "fast talking arrogant fake news piece of shit," prompting Blow to respond, "Stoned." He insults conservative pundit Bill Kristol's weight, calling him "porky," and then accuses Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame of lying in his reporting about the Nixon scandal. He wraps up by calling CNN guest Ann Navarro a "dumbfuck," calls Tapper, Lemon and Navarro "human excrement," and says when AT&T purchases Time Warner (the owner of CNN), the "house cleaning of CNN … will be swift." Twitter's abuse policy says users can "not incite or engage in the targeted abuse or harassment of others" by "inciting others to harass another account." Typically, Twitter ignores almost all abusive posts, even those containing graphic sexual harassment, "doxxing" (posting private information about other users) and even threats of violence. Oftentimes, those who are targeted for violent and abusive Twitter posts are the ones who are banned. (Deadline, Recode, Daily Kos, photo of Stone's Twitter suspension notice from Daily Kos)

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October 29, 2017: More Suspicious Financial Transactions by Manafort Discovered

The FBI has discovered 13 wire transfers of money linked to former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, in which offshore companies owned and operated by Manafort moved over $3 million around the world in 2012 and 2013. These transactions are just now being reported, though federal law enforcement officials have been interested in them since 2012.

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The offshore companies owned by Manafort and involved in the suspicious financial transactions are Global Endeavour Inc, Lucicle Consultants Ltd, and three others that have no current contact information. The companies most often used nations like Cyprus and St. Vincent and the Grenadines to facilitate the transfers. All of those nations are known havens for money launderers. Federal officials say they found evidence of what they call "layering," or multiple companies used to obscure the origins of the money. Much of the money ended up in the US. The FBI and Treasury Department have compiled a massive amount of information about Manafort's financial transactions, some going back as far as 2004. The total amount of money handled through Manafort vastly exceeds the $3 million being reported today. At least one of the companies involved, Global Endeavour, was used by former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who employed Manafort until an uprising sent Yanukovych fleeing to Russia. Yanukovych was spectacularly corrupt, with Ukraine's general prosecutor saying his embezzlement of state funds resembled a "mafia structure." Some of the Global Endeavour funds were transferred to Konstatin Kilimnik, a close business partner of Manafort's and who is suspected of being a Russian intelligence asset. Some of the financial transactions documented in the current release have ties to other, previously reported transactions. (Buzzfeed)

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October 30, 2017: Papadopolous Evidence Proves Sessions Perjured Himself

The evidence against former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos proves that Attorney General Jeff Sessions perjured himself before the Senate.

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In January, Sessions answered a question by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) by responding that he knew nothing about any communications with Russians by anyone in the campaign, nor did he have any such communications. However, Sessions was aware of Papadopoulos's efforts to facilitate a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Kremlin officials. On March 31, 2016, Sessions, then a campaign official, disagreed with Papadopoulos's call for Trump to meet with Vladimir Putin. The New Republic writes: "The good news for Sessions is that he can plausibly claim to have opposed any Russian collusion. The bad news is that, in making those claims, he opens himself up to charges of perjury." (New Republic)

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October 30, 2017: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates are arrested and charged with multiple felonies surrounding their financial dealings with Russian and other foreign clients.

October 31, 2017: White House Attempting to Distance Itself from Manafort

The White House is busily attempting to distance itself from former campaign chair Paul Manafort, who along with another Trump campaign official was indicted on multiple felony counts yesterday. The attempts are extraordinarily dishonest efforts to rewrite Manafort's history with Trump and his campaign.

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Yesterday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders says: "Paul Manafort was brought in to lead the delegate process, which he did, and was dismissed not too long after that." In March, then-press secretary Sean Spicer attempted the same kind of distancing: "Paul was brought on sometime in June, and by the middle of August he was no longer with the campaign." Both lied, and Spicer misstated the time period in which Manafort was associated with the campaign. Neither Sanders nor Spicer acknowledged how deeply Manafort was involved with the campaign after his firing. A series of leaked texts made by Manafort's daughters Jessica Manafort and Andrea Manafort Shand prove that Manafort and Trump were close allies and friends before, during and after the campaign. Manafort Shand called the two "perfect allies." On March 29, 2016, weeks after Manafort joined the campaign ostensibly to manage Republican delegates at the upcoming convention, Manafort Shand said her father was "second in command" of the campaign, and added: "The campaign manager is all for show. [Corey Lewandowski] doesn't do shit. Trump has been managing his own campaign." On April 8, she said of her father: "This is pure sport. He is a power hungry egomaniac. Yes. He is loving it. Conclusively. Him and [T]rump are perfect allies for this agenda. It's so weird he is my dad. … Trump probably has more morals than my dad. Which is really just saying something about my dad. My dad is a psycho!!! At least [T]rump let his wives leave him." Later that same day, Jessica Manafort wrote, "Dad and Trump are literally living in the same building and [M]om says they go up and down all day long hanging and plotting together." On May 19, Manafort Shand explained to a friend how Manafort came to be considered the campaign's "co-manager:" "My mom told me they were gonna call them co-managers, and then Corey went to Trump's son-in-law, Ivanka's husband, and burst into tears about how that would ruin him. So since my dad doesn't care about titles, this was the compromise." Manafort was officially named campaign manager shortly thereafter. After he was officially fired from the campaign, Manafort Shand wrote that Manafort was still heavily involved with the campaign: "So I got to the bottom of it. As I suspected, my dad resigned from being the public face of the campaign but is still very much involved behind the scenes. He felt he was becoming a distraction and that would ultimately take a toll on the campaign." (Yahoo News)

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— November 2017 —

November 1, 2017: Manafort Travels Under 3 Different Passports, Uses Fake Names on Phone, Email

Court documents show that Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chair who was indicted for multiple felonies by the Mueller investigation, has three active US passports, all with the same name but different numbers, and submitted 10 passport applications over the last decade.

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Manafort traveled to Mexico, China and Ecuador with a phone and email account registered under a false name. Both he and his protege Rick Gates, who also faces multiple felony charges, are considered extreme flight risks. Both Gates and Manafort have used multiple methods to conceal the amount of money they control. In August 2016, Manafort said in one document that he owned assets worth $28 million, and in another document filed during that same month, he reported that he owned $63 million in assets. Gates "frequently changed banks and opened and closed bank accounts," according to prosecutors, opening a total of 55 bank accounts with 13 separate financial institutions. (CNN)

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November 2, 2017: Manafort Indictment Alleges Financial Ties to Russian Mobster

The documents accompanying the indictment of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort contain evidence of Manafort's extensive dealings with Ukrainian lawmaker Ivan Fursin, who is in turn closely connected to Russian mob kingpin Semion Mogilevich. Manafort used a Cyprus-based shell company, Lucicle Consultants, to wire millions of dollars into the US.

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Lucicle in return received millions from Fursin. Fursin's patron, Mogilevich, is commonly referred to as "the most dangerous mobster in the world." He lives in Moscow, safe from prosecution for a number of felonies: according to the FBI, he is responsible for arms dealing, contract murders, and international prostitution. He has been on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. "Ivan Fursin was a senior figure in the Mogilevich criminal organization," says Russian expert Taras Kuzio. Retired IRS criminal investigator Martin Sheil says, "This indictment strongly indicates the existence of a previously unknown relationship between an alleged Russian organized crime leader and Mr. Manafort." The indictment states that Manafort and his business partner, Rick Gates (also indicted), used Lucicle to avoid paying taxes on the money wired through the account. They then spent the money on luxury items such as clothes, antiques, and expensive cars. Manafort's attorney Kevin Downing calls the allegations laughable and "ridiculous." The indictment alleges that Lucicle transferred over $1.3 million into a home improvement company in the Hamptons between April 2012 and March 2013. Manafort owns property there. Lucicle also wired over $200,000 to a men's clothing store in New York City between March 2012 and February 2013. In that same period, it sent over $100,000 to a New York antique dealer, over $340,000 to a Florida contractor, $88,000 to a landscaper in the Hamptons, and $7500 to a clothier in Beverly Hills. In October 2012, Lucicle wired $62,500 to pay for a Mercedes-Benz automobile. In February 2013, it sent $14,000 to a Florida art gallery. In total, Lucicle wired more than $5 million into the US on behalf of Manafort and Gates. Much of that money came from Fursin. Lucicle and Fursin are linked to an offshore shell company, Mistaro Ventures, registered in the Caribbean and listed on a Ukrainian governmental disclosure form. Fursin was a senior official in Ukraine's Party of Regions, which paid Manafort well over $17 million for services rendered. Fursin is a business partner of Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who has worked with Manafort several times. Both Fursin and Firtash are high-ranking members of Mogilevich's criminal operation. (Newsweek)

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November 3, 2017: Papadopolous Had Far Stronger Role in Campaign than Trump Officials Admit

Former Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos, who recently pled guilty to charges of lying to the FBI in the course of the bureau's investigation into the Trump-Russia collusion, has been the subject of desperate attempts by Trump officials to denigrate his role in the campaign. One of the terms used to describe Papadopolous's job in the campaign was "coffee boy." Those descriptions are entirely false. Papadopolous played a much larger role in the campaign than officials are willing to admit.

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On March 31, 2016, Papadopoulos took part in a meeting with Trump and his national security team, a meeting commemorated by a photo posted by Trump on Instagram. During the meeting, Papadopoulos told Trump that he could set up a meeting with Vladimir Putin. Another team member, J.D. Gordon, recalls that senior party advisor Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) rejected the idea, but recalls that Trump was intrigued. Trump, who has repeatedly claimed he has an extraordinarily good memory, says he doesn't remember the meeting. "It was a very unimportant meeting – took place a long time – I don't remember much about it," he now says. Papadopoulos took part in a panel about US foreign policy on behalf of the Trump campaign during the Republican National Convention in July 2016, an event hosted by the American Jewish Committee. AJC spokesperson Ken Bandler says: "Papadopolous was only one among the many contacts AJC established and maintained among advisers to both parties' 2016 presidential candidates and in the two parties' national committees … Among the panelists in our 2016 Republican National Convention program – in a session titled 'Defining America's Role in Global Affairs' – was George Papadopolous, then a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser." Papadopolous was joined on the panel by Republican congressmen Tom Marino (R-PA) and Ted Yoho (R-FL), both members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The event was chaired by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Spokespersons for both Corker and Yoho downplay their contacts with Papadopoulos during the panel. In late September 2016, Papadopolous represented the campaign in an interview with the Russian Interfax News Agency; he told the reporter that if elected, Trump will "restore the trust" between the US and Russia. Days after the January 2017 inauguration, he met with Israeli leaders as a Trump administration foreign policy advisor. He told the Jerusalem Post the next day, "We are looking forward to ushering in a new relationship with all of Israel, including the historic Judea and Samaria." White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has unsuccessfully lied about Papadopoulos's role in the campaign, calling him a "volunteer" with an "extremely limited" role in the campaign. (NBC News)

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November 8, 2017: Lewandowski Admits Giving Page Permission to Go to Moscow; Gave Permission Same Day Russian Contact Asked for Another Campaign Rep to Come

Former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski changes his story about not giving former campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page permission to visit Moscow in July 2016, at the height of the campaign. Days after Page testified before Congress about the trip, Lewandowski now tells Fox News that he forgot about giving Page permission. Why? Because the day he gave Page permission to go was Father's Day.

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Lewandowski says his memory was "refreshed" by the testimony: "You have to remember, in the context of the campaign world – now, my memory has been refreshed, but to be clear, from what I understand and what I recall, that email was sent on June 19th of 2016, so about 18 months ago. It also happened to be Father's Day on a Sunday, and it also happened to be the day prior to me being terminated from the campaign, so with all due respect, there were many other things on my mind that day other than trying to understand why a volunteer was telling me he may or may not be traveling outside the country." Page told the House Intelligence Committee that he has emails verifying that Lewandowski gave him permission to go, as long as he did not declare himself to be an official representative of the Trump campaign. In March 2017, Lewandowski flatly denied giving Page permission to go to Moscow. As noted by Daily Kos senior writer Frank Vyan Walton, June 19, 2016 was also the date that Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos receives an email from his contact at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) advising him that if Trump was unable to come to Moscow, "perhaps that he or another campaign rep could attend." Walton notes that in May, Lewandowski and campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates had been discussing Papadopolous's attempts to persuade the campaign to have Trump go to Moscow. Manafort suggested that since Trump would not be going to Moscow, the campaign should send "someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal." Walton writes, "So it's not that much of a stretch to question that this suggestion to send someone 'low level' was communicated back to the MFA contact and that when he agreed on June 19th Carter Page – who already had plans to travel to Moscow – was dispatched in Trump's place." (Think Progress, Daily Kos)

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— December 2017 —