Senate Intelligence Committee hearings on the topic of the Trump Russia scandal currently plaguing the White House began today. Business Insider reports that Senator Warner said in his opening remarks that a full accounting would be investigated to discover what, if any, contacts or communications occurred between Russia and key figures in the Donald Trump campaign. Paul Manafort is one key figure that has been in the news almost daily for the past several weeks, and is expected to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Paul Manafort’s associations and every communication he has had with the Trump transition team will come under scrutiny. That will include his communications and relationship with Vice President Mike Pence, whom Paul Manafort picked to be Donald Trump’s running mate, after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was Donald Trump’s first choice.
The full relationship between Mike Pence and Paul Manafort is unclear, but there is one. The Daily Beast reported in November 2016 that Paul Manafort and Mike Pence were on the phone “regularly.” With Paul Manafort under increasing scrutiny, the Senate Intelligence Committee will uncover the details his relationship to Mike Pence during their investigation.
One thing the Senate Intelligence Committee did make clear today was that no stone would be unturned. Senator Warner noted this in his opening statements.
“In addition to what we know, any full accounting must also find out what, if any, contacts, communications, or connections, occurred between Russia and those associated with the campaigns themselves. We are seeking to determine if there is an actual fire, but so far there is a great, great deal of smoke.”
Today’s hearing is the first of what will be many for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Today’s hearing was called “Disinformation: A Primer in Russian Active Measures and Influence Campaigns.” Today’s witnesses included testimony from former National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander, and cyber firm Fire Eye chief executive Kevin Mandia.
Also testifying was Clint Watts, a senior fellow with George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, Roy Godson, a professor at Georgetown, and Eugene Rumer of the Carnegie Russia and Eurasia program.
Senator Wyden today asked the witnesses about the Trump Russia problem, and if the witnesses could help the Senate Intelligence Committee “follow the money.”
“How can the committee track this fuzzy line between the Russian oligarchs, Russian organized crime, and the Russian government?”
Counterterrorism expert Clint Watts said, “there is a money trail to be discovered.” But Clint Watts also testified that the “trail of dead Russians” should be followed as well.
In the past five months, eight high-profile Russians have either died mysteriously or been murdered. One was a critic of Vladimir Putin who had fled to the Ukraine, Denis Voronenkov. Another, a law enforcement official with ties to the Russian intelligence community Oleg Erovinkin has also died.
Watts also described Russian measures to interfere with Elections 2016 in detail, pointing specifically to the Trump campaign. He cited Donald Trump’s nature of pushing “rigged election” conspiracies. He also cited the time that Donald Trump quoted a report from the Russian news outlet Sputnik, that later disappeared from the Sputnik website after Trump made that quote.
Senator Kamala Harris asked the witnesses if they felt Russian interference was an “act of war.” Clint Watts replied that it was “definitely part of Russia’s Cold War system.”
Today’s hearing is just the first of many. Also expected to be testifying in the coming weeks is Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and former campaign manager Paul Manafort, in addition to other members of the transition team. It is unclear at this time if Vice President Mike Pence, the chair of the Trump transition team will be testifying, but Mike Pence does have existing relationships with everybody on the Trump transition team.
Senator Warren also said today that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a “subject of interest” to the committee. He also commented on Paul Manafort specifically.
“A campaign manager, who played such a critical role in electing the president, was forced to step down over his alleged ties to Russia and its associates. And since the election, we have seen the President’s national security adviser resign – and his Attorney General recuse himself – over previously undisclosed contacts with the Russian government.”
Paul Manafort was fired from the Trump campaign, and ultimately the Trump transition team after a Ukrainian ledger was uncovered by the New York Times that suggested he had taken millions of dollars from the Ukraine. But his last major move on the campaign was securing Mike Pence as Donald Trump’s running mate.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was Donald Trump’s first pick for Vice President, but it was Paul Manafort that urged Trump to take a second look at Mike Pence. CBS News reported in October 2016 that Paul Manafort even conducted a bit of a bait and switch in July 2016 to have Trump meet with Mike Pence.
Manafort reportedly “concocted” a plan that involved telling Trump that his plane was experiencing mechanical problems and they would have to stay over night in Indianapolis on the campaign trail. This would give Trump an opportunity in his schedule to have breakfast with Mike Pence and his family the following morning. It was sometime after that meeting, and after Manfort’s reported urgings, that Trump switched his running mate pick from Chris Christie to Mike Pence.
The Daily Beast reported in November 2016 that from that point forward, even after he was fired, Paul Manafort had a big influence on Trump’s transition team and cabinet picks. A former official spoke to The Daily Beast about it, suggesting that Mike Pence as the chair of the transition team was in regular contact with Manafort.
“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. 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.”
Mike Pence has taken heat in the press for the past few weeks for many reasons. Most recently he was reported as making statements for women at yesterday’s women’s empowerment panel. His full remarks were initially posted on the White House website. But a search for that on the website now returns a blank page with the response, “Thank you for your interest in this subject. Stay tuned as we continue to update WhiteHouse.Gov.”
Why the remarks disappeared is unclear at this time. It’s one of many strange events around Mike Pence. But the most serious one of recent times was when it was revealed that former disgraced National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had a lobbying relationship with Turkey and was accepting money from Turkey.
This occurred on Friday, March 10, when as a part of the Trump Russia investigation, Michael Flynn filed paperwork with the Justice Department disclosing this lobbying relationship. On paper, he should have filed that paperwork as soon as he obtained his cabinet position, but he did file it all the same albeit late.
When the Turkey relationship came to light, Vice President Mike Pence went on Fox News to say, “This is the first I’ve heard of it.” The Inquisitr performed a fact check on that and showed that this statement by Mike Pence was false.
In November, Vice President-elect received a letter by the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee Rep. Elijah Cummings that said the following.
“I am writing to raise questions about the apparent conflicts of interest of the Vice Chairman of the Presidential Transition team, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn….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. Lt. Gen. Flynn’s General Counsel and Principal Robert Kelley confirmed that they were hired by a foreign company to lobby for Turkish interests.”
So Mike Pence definitely did know of Michael Flynn’s relationship with Turkey and that he was receiving funds from Turkey while working on the Trump transition team. Mike Pence knew this when he was forming the transition team. Mike Pence hired him anyway.
He then made false statements to the American public about it when Flynn disclosed the information. On the subject, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow asked, “Why is Mike Pence repeatedly volunteering an implausible answer?” Watch her whole clip on that right here.
Paul Manafort has continued to be involved with Donald Trump well after he was fired, with sightings of him in Trump Tower with fellow transition team members as recently as December 2016. The White House has begun to distance themselves from Paul Manafort publicly however, declining to comment on anyone that does not work at the White House.
Whether or not Mike Pence and Paul Manafort still talk on the phone regularly remains to be seen, and is likely to be a subject of concern for the Senate Intelligence Committee. Many members of the Trump transition are expected to testify, with many of them having dots connecting to Russia or Russian surrogates. As chairman of the Trump transition team, it would only make sense that Vice President Mike Pence would as well, though if he is, that information has not been released to the public at this time.
[Feature Image by Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Images]