at least six members of Trump’s broader team knew about offers of dirt from Russians during that campaign — and, depending on how that information was shared, as many as 10 may have, including Trump.
.. Torshin-Trump Jr. In May, a former member of the Russian parliament named Aleksandr Torshin made repeated efforts to contact Donald Trump Jr., the candidate’s son. He sent multiple emails hoping to set up a meeting with Trump Jr. when both were at a National Rifle Association convention in Kentucky. The two met briefly at a dinner associated with that event. It is not clear whether Torshin had any information to offer Trump Jr.
.. Agalarov-Veselnitskaya-Trump Jr.-Manafort-Kushner.
.. It is apparent that Agalarov and Trump Jr. almost certainly spoke on the phone multiple times before that meeting and that Trump Jr. informed both Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort of what was being offered.
.. The question is whether any of those three also informed Trump. There is good reason to think he knew. The night that the meeting time was set up, following calls between Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner — and the day after Trump Jr. had a call with a blocked number before agreeing to the meeting — Trump told reporters, “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”
When that dirt did not materialize, the speech about Clinton the following Monday did not either.
.. This is noteworthy not only because of the connection between Page and a senior government official but because of what other reports suggest about Page’s time in Russia. Specifically, the controversial dossier of reports compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele includes a report from mid-July alleging that Page met with a Russian official who “rais[ed] a dossier of ‘kompromat’ ” — compromising material — “the Kremlin possessed on TRUMP’s Democratic presidential rival, Hillary CLINTON, and its possible release to the Republican’s campaign team.”
.. WikiLeaks-Trump Jr. The following month, Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks exchanged private messages on Twitter. None of those messages suggest Trump Jr. and the organization coordinated the released of information damaging to Clinton. But the exchange occurred shortly before WikiLeaks began releasing the emails stolen from Podesta in early October.
.. So we are confident the following people were offered or told about information allegedly incriminating Clinton:
- George Papadopoulos
- Roger Stone
- Michael Caputo
- Donald Trump Jr.
- Jared Kushner
- Paul Manafort
It is possible that the following other people knew about or received similar offers, too:
- Stephen Miller
- Carter Page
- J.D. Gordon (if Page was offered dirt)
- Donald Trump
Trump’s argument has long been that there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russian government. That claim increasingly depends on how one defines “collusion.”
.. there were 82 known “contacts between the Trump team and Russia-linked operatives.”
.. the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between the Trump campaign high command and Kremlin emissaries promising dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of the Kremlin’s “support for Mr. Trump.” “If it’s what you say, I love it,” Donald Trump Jr. gushed. When this was revealed last summer, President Trump personally orchestrated an attempted coverup by claiming the meeting was about adoptions.
This was shortly after Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey to stop the investigation of “this Russia thing,” as he put it in an interview with “NBC Nightly News” — showing just how much he fears this inquiry.
.. Trump’s deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, was in touch in 2016 with Konstantin Kilimnik, a business associate with “ties to Russian intelligence.” Campaign chairman
Paul Manafort, who has a long history of representing Russian interests and was running the campaign for no pay, also reportedly met with Kilimnik in 2016.
Manafort was also in contact with the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska (whom he owed at least $10 million) , offering him “private briefings” that would no doubt have been instantly conveyed to Putin.
.. Russians first tried to hack into Clinton’s email on July 27, 2016, hours after Trump asked them to do just that (“Russia, if you’re listening”).
.. Both Stone and Donald Trump Jr. were also in contact with WikiLeaks, the Russians’ conduit for releasing stolen emails. Surely it is no mere coincidence that Stone predicted on Aug. 21, 2016 — nearly seven weeks before Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s stolen emails were released — that “it will soon [be] Podesta’s time in the barrel.”
.. the indictment also reveals that the Russians stole not just emails but also the data analytics Democrats used to run their campaign. This happened in September 2016. A few weeks later, the Trump campaign shifted its “datadriven” strategy to focus on the states that would provide the margin of victory, raising the question of whether it benefited from stolen Democratic data.
.. The application, approved by four Republican judges, notes that “the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with Candidate #1’s [Trump’s] campaign.” It also says that Putin aide Igor Diveykin “had met secretly with Page and that their agenda for the meeting included Diveykin raising
a dossier or ‘kompromat’ that the Kremlin possessed on Candidate #2 [Clinton] and the possibility of it being released to Candidate #1’s campaign.”
.. Helsinki, where Trump refused to criticize Putin and insisted on meeting with him alone for two hours. Why doesn’t Trump want his own aides in the room when he talks with Putin? What does he have to hide?
.. Former director of national intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. , among others, suspects that Putin has “something” on Trump — perhaps evidence of financial wrongdoing. But, by now, any such “kompromat” could well include the help that Russia provided in 2016. Trump certainly gives the impression that he knows how much he owes Russia and how important it is to repay that debt lest Putin release the evidence that might bring him down. And the
Putin Republicans give the impression that they couldn’t care less if the president plotted to win power with help from a hostile foreign state.
Character, not collusion, best explains the president’s bizarre deference to Vladimir Putin.
Last week, I wrote that the best way to think about a Trump Doctrine is as nothing more than Trumpism on the international stage. By Trumpism, I do not mean a coherent ideological program, but a psychological phenomenon, or simply the manifestation of his character.
.. During a joint news appearance with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Trump demonstrated that, when put to the test, he cannot see any issue through a prism other than his grievances and ego... Trump made it clear that he can only understand the investigation into Russian interference as an attempt to rob him of credit for his electoral victory, and thus to delegitimize his presidency.’.. For most people with a grasp of the facts — supporters and critics alike — the question of Russian interference and the question of Russian collusion with the Trump campaign are separate. Russia did interfere in the election, full stop. Whether there was collusion is still an open question, even if many Trump supporters have made up their minds about it. Whether Russian interference, or collusion, got Trump over the finish line is ultimately unknowable, though I think it’s very unlikely... Among the self-styled “resistance,” the answer takes several sometimes overlapping, sometimes contradictory forms.
- One theory is that the Russians have “kompromat” — that is, embarrassing or incriminating intelligence on Trump. Another is that
- he is a willing asset of the Russians — “Agent Orange” — with whom he colluded to win the presidency.
.. their real shortcoming is that they are less plausible than the Aesopian explanation: This is who Trump is. Even if Russia hadn’t meddled in the election at all, Trump would still admire Putin because Trump admires men like Putin — which is why he’s praised numerous other dictators and strongmen.
.. The president’s steadfast commitment to a number of policies —
- animosity toward NATO,
- infatuation with protectionism,
- an Obama-esque obsession with eliminating nuclear weapons, and
- his determination that a “good relationship” with Russia should be a policy goal rather than a means to one
— may have some ideological underpinning. (These policies all seem to be rooted in intellectual fads of the 1980s.)
Steele further claimed that Page met with Ivan Diveykin, a Kremlin official. Diveykin is said to have informed Page that Russia had a kompromat file on Mrs. Clinton that it might be willing to share with the Trump campaign. He also suggested that the Kremlin had such a file on Trump, too, which Trump should bear in mind in his dealings with Russia.
Steele placed these allegations in the framework of what he described as a conspiracy of cooperation between Russia and the Trump campaign, overseen on the latter’s end by Paul Manafort (then the campaign chairman). Page was said to be an intermediary between Manafort and Kremlin contacts. Steele’s reports suggest that coordination with Russia on the theft of DNC emails and their subsequent transmission to WikiLeaks was part of this scheme. The Steele dossier, in other words, is the version of the “collusion” narrative that Trump detractors want to believe.
.. . Much of the GOP shunned the Trump campaign, so Page is like many others who were instantly designated “advisers” if they were willing to help — these were will-o’-the-wisp arrangements.
A central tool of those operations is “kompromat,” “compromising material”: things of seemingly great value that are dangled, at what appears to be no cost, before unwitting targets. This is the “free cheese” that ensnares victims in a trap.
.. F.S.B., wants, as much as anything, to destabilize the American political process. For all his talk of desiring friendly relations, Mr. Putin favors a state of animosity between our two nations. By characterizing the United States and NATO as Russia’s enemies, he can attack within his own borders what threatens him the most — the ideals of liberty, freedom and democracy, of which the United States has been a defender.
.. But to me, the clearest evidence that this was a Russian influence operation is the trail of bread crumbs the Kremlin seemed to have deliberately left leading from Trump Tower to the Kremlin. This operation was meant to be discovered.
.. Sophisticated Russian intelligence tradecraft that was meant to be kept secret would not have permitted such an insecure opening gambit for establishing continuing communication with the Trump campaign. They would not have used something as insecure as email, or relied on liaison cutouts who could so easily be traced to the Kremlin.
.. I can’t say how news of the meeting broke, but once it did, Mr. Putin achieved one of his goals: throwing the American government into greater turmoil amid the frenzied media coverage, escalating F.B.I. and congressional investigations and intensified political conflict. And with the revelation that Russia was behind the meddling, Mr. Putin achieved another objective: to allow Russia, despite its economic and military inferiority, to claim that it could rival the United States on the global playing field. He could do all this while denying, with a wink and a nod, any involvement.
.. In the 1968 presidential campaign, Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin unsuccessfully offered financial assistance to the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey, according to a K.G.B. archivist, Vasili Mitrokhin. Mr. Mitrokhin also uncovered a Soviet intelligence campaign to spread vicious attacks in 1976 against Senator Henry Jackson, a Democratic presidential candidate known for his anti-Soviet views. Russia’s active-measures operations slowed during the 1990s under President Boris Yeltsin, but Mr. Putin has resurrected the art of covert influence often in conjunction with cyberwarfare, particularly against Georgia, Ukraine and the United States.
.. The most effective method to combat Russia’s intrusions into our political process is to be clear, transparent and honest with ourselves about how the Kremlin operates and what it hopes to achieve. The Trump campaign did not need to collude with the Kremlin for Russia’s cyber and covert influence campaign to be considered a serious breach of our electoral process
Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya fits the profile of someone who might serve as a “cut-out” or “access agent” sent to assess and test a high-priority target’s interest in cooperation
.. But everything we know about the meeting — from whom it involved to how it was set up to how it unfolded — is in line with what intelligence analysts would expect an overture in a Russian influence operation to look like. It bears all the hallmarks of a professionally planned, carefully orchestrated intelligence soft pitch designed to gauge receptivity, while leaving room for plausible deniability in case the approach is rejected. And the Trump campaign’s willingness to take the meeting — and, more important, its failure to report the episode to U.S. authorities — may have been exactly the green light Russia was looking for to launch a more aggressive phase of intervention in the U.S. election.
.. My read, as someone who has been part of the U.S. intelligence community for more than four decades, is that Veselnitskaya is probably too well-connected to have independently initiated such a high-level and sensitive encounter. If she had, her use of known Trump and Kremlin associates (Aras and Emin Agalarov) to help make introductions and the suggestion, in Goldstone’s account, that she wanted to share “official documents and information” as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump could have gotten her into significant trouble.
.. A better explanation is that Veselnitskaya is far enough removed from Moscow’s halls of power to make her a good fit as an intermediary in an intelligence operation — as a “cut-out” with limited knowledge of the larger scheme and as an “access agent” sent to assess and test a high-priority target’s interest in cooperation.
.. Trump Jr.’s assertion that Veselnitskaya didn’t deliver the promised dirt in that meeting is also consistent with how Russian intelligence operates.
.. Russia would have wanted to feel out the campaign before sharing its most prized material. Intelligence officers prefer to dip their toes in the water before taking a plunge. And it’s too risky to attempt a blunt approach to an extremely sensitive target (such as the son of the Republican front-runner for president), especially on hostile (in this case, American) soil.
.. Formalizing a relationship with the Trump campaign would be left for another day. If and when that day came, the pitch would be carried out by an experienced intelligence officer in favorable circumstances, with the right Trump associate and on friendly turf.
.. standard Russian intelligence practice would require making clear what was on offer. The point is to test the target. Are they open to entering into a compromising relationship? Will they rebuff the mere suggestion of such impropriety? Will they alert authorities and thus stand in the way of Russian efforts?
.. the deal should have been obvious to everyone. Moscow intended to discredit Clinton and help get Trump elected, and in exchange it hoped the Republican would consider its interests — in sanctions relief and otherwise. The Russian government appears to have signaled its direct involvement and real intention in advance of the meeting, presumably to avoid the possibility that its offer might be misconstrued, perhaps naively, as an innocent gesture of support and nothing more.
.. From the Russian perspective, the fact that Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting would have been the first promising sign. That veteran political operative Paul Manafort and senior adviser Jared Kushner showed up with him would have furthered the impression that there was strong interest in Russian assistance (and vulnerability to compromise) on the part of the campaign. But, according to standard espionage tradecraft, the most notable achievement of this encounter lay in the campaign’s failure to report it to the appropriate U.S. authorities
.. the Steele dossier suggests that the Kremlin was trying to cultivate the Trumps as far back as 2011.
.. And it would have allowed Russian intelligence to be comfortable initiating the next phase of its operation — systematically leaking information on Clinton and trying to penetrate the U.S. voting process — with the knowledge that the Trump campaign was interested in such Russian government assistance.
.. Although the Kremlin could have meddled without active or tacit approval from the campaign, having the campaign on board would have made the meddling more effective. For example, Russia could be sure that its actions would fit with Trump campaign strategy. Even Trump Jr.’s initial thought to drop the Clinton information later in the summer would be valuable for the Kremlin to know in terms of best timing.
.. Russia also would have wanted an implicit if not explicit agreement that intelligence assistance would be rewarded by a grateful Trump administration willing to relieve sanctions and embark on a more constructive relationship.
.. And after Russia’s overtures to the Trump campaign and the Trump campaign’s public denials that it had ever interacted with Russians, Vladimir Putin may have had the kompromat he needed to indirectly influence the Republican Party (such as the GOP platform on Ukraine) and Trump if he made it to the White House. The worst outcome would be that Trump would lose the election and, as a billionaire with global interests, still be a very useful ally for Putin.
.. Had this Russian overture been rejected or promptly reported by the Trump campaign to U.S. authorities, Russian intelligence would have been forced to recalculate the risk vs. gain of continuing its aggressive operation to influence U.S. domestic politics. Russian meddling might have been compromised in its early stages and stopped in its tracks by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies before it reached fruition by the late fall.
So the suggestion that this was a nothing meeting without consequence is, in all likelihood, badly mistaken.