This week, Trump dismissed the explosive dossier that accused him of colluding with Russia to win the presidential election, apparently putting out a fire that threatened his presidency even before it began. President-elect Donald Trump disqualified allegations by trying to bury the episode as an example of “false news.” But the suspicions regarding Russia’s meddling have still not faded.
Wednesday’s press conference managed to somehow defuse these accusations and divert attention even though the defense Donald Trump offered was incomplete and partially inaccurate. However, since the filed allegations haven’t been verified yet, Trump was able to remedy the crisis looming over his presidency.
Some warn that this chapter should not yet be closed. They believe the “Russia case” has turned into a cloud that still hangs over Trump’s head and could unleash a storm over his presidency. Because of these pressures, the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee of the Senate, Republican Richard Burr, said Friday that the Committee will launch an investigation on possible contacts between Trump and Russia.
Trump’s failure to bury the issue is partly due to the fact that the allegations made in the dossier known on Tuesday do not occur in a vacuum. Two experts in security at Brookings Institution, Susan and Benjamin Wittes Hennessey noted that incriminating “takes place amidst the background of a great deal of public evidence of ties between the Trump campaign and Russian actors.”
To begin with, at Wednesday’s press conference neither Trump nor his lieutenants dismounted and invalidated the serious accusations against the upcoming administration. The crisis had begun on Tuesday afternoon when CNN revealed that these unverified allegations had been considered serious by the heads of the U.S. intelligence agencies. Consequently, a two-page synopsis was delivered to Trump and former President Barack Obama.
Minutes later, Buzzfeed published the document that had piqued the intelligence community’s concerns. A 35-page dossier written by British ex-spy Christopher Steele detailed the contacts of people close to Trump with Russian officials, potential goods business roots in Moscow and St. Petersburg as well as the existence of a lewd tape starring Trump that would be potentially used by the Kremlin as blackmail to win favors.
Trump labeled this as “false news,” “junk” and “fraudulent” information and “the work of sick people.” He also appeared as a victim of Nazi Germany’s own persecution and blamed it on certain media and U.S. intelligence agencies. It was unquestionably plain that Trump evaded the question towards the end of the press conference; a question that asked him to state unequivocally that no one from his team had contact with Russia during the campaign.
The only thing that Trump was able to admit for the first time, though reluctantly, was that he believed that it “might be” Russia that authored the hacking of Democrats, after weeks denying the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence community.
The Alleged Intermediaries
Press officer, Sean Spicer, spoke in defense of Trump at the start of the event, lashing out at CNN and Buzzfeed. He said it is not true as the report says that three people close to Trump met with Russian officials but did not offer evidence and lied in the case of at least one of the three suspects, that of businessman Carter Page.
Spicer said that Trump does not know Page. However, this is far from true given the fact that Trump himself remarked that Page is one of the members of his team who will serve as an electoral advisor on foreign policy issues, according to Donald Trump’s meeting with The Washington Post editorial board. Therefore, U.S intelligence was investigating whether Page was acting as an intermediary between Trump and the Kremlin.
Furthermore, the dossier said that Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, was in Prague in August where he allegedly met with representatives of the Kremlin. As proof, Trump retweeted a tweet from Cohen saying, “I have never been to Prague in my life.”
The third of Trump’s Russian agents, his former campaign chief Paul Manafort, worked in the past for the pro-Ukrainian government of Ukraine. Spicer said that Manafort flatly denied any contact with the Russians despite his service “as a top adviser to a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine from 2004 to 2012…”
Evidence of ties
But doubts about contacts between Trump’s advisers and the Kremlin are not limited to the three names mentioned in the dossier.
For example, as Brookings experts point out, there are photographs of his National Security Advisor nominee, General Michael Flynn, dining at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin at a gala in December 2015 in Moscow. Flynn has advocated for better relations with Russia and during the campaign often appeared on the Russian public channel Russia Today. Flynn spoke by phone and exchanged messages with the Russian ambassador about the date on which Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Moscow because of the electoral hacking.
Another Trump adviser close to him, Roger Stone, admitted that he has been in contact with Julian Assange and WikiLeaks, both suspected of having ties to Russia. On the Russian side, one high ranking diplomat, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov assured two days after Trump’s victory that there had been contacts between his government and the Republican candidate’s campaign team. “Obviously we know most of the people around them,” Ryabkov told Interfax news agency according to the Washington Post.
Even if the allegations have not yet been verified, they are being taken seriously enough by U.S. intelligence. As intelligence experts point out, this warning is extraordinary since it is not the role of intelligence chiefs to warn the president of any accusation or rumor circulating about him.
In addition, anonymous sources of intelligence quoted by various media indicate that Steele, the author of the dossier, is considered a reliable source, according to his record. However, one thing that raises doubts about the integrity of Steele’s work is that he worked on the dossier during the campaign while being hired by Republican and Democratic operatives to release oppositional information against Trump.
[Featured Image by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]