Special counsel Robert Mueller might not have yet established that Trump’s team acted in coordination with Russians to influence the 2016 presidential elections, but growing evidence of continuous contact between Trump associates and Russians makes that possibility seem likely. On Sunday, Washington Post reported that at least 14 Trump associates were in contact with Russians during Trump’s campaign trail, leading Michael McFaul, who served as ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama, to call it the most “extraordinary” development he had noticed in his time.
“It is extremely unusual. Both the number of contacts and the nature of the contacts are extraordinary.”
As the Post reported, there were many important Trump associates who were in contact with Russians in some way. Mueller’s sentencing memo recommending that a hefty jail sentence is handed out to Trump’s former fixer, Cohen, provides just one example of such overtures. Cohen had reportedly been trying to push Trump to launch a presidential bid long before he actually did in 2015, and since the earliest days of his campaign, it appears clear that setting up a meeting with Trump and Putin was foremost on his agenda.
During a conversation with Trump surrogate Sean Hannity on his radio program back in September 2015, Cohen said there was a “better than likely” chance that Trump and Putin would meet while the Russian president was in New York to attend the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.
“People want to meet Donald Trump. They want to know Donald Trump,” Cohen had told Hannity at the time.
He has already revealed that he updated Trump constantly about such attempts, once again contradicting Trump’s position that his campaign never tried to reach out to the Russians.
The number of times Russian reached out to Trump World keeps growing.— Carol Leonnig (@CarolLeonnig) December 9, 2018
Now we know at least 14 Trump associates who had some interaction.
Some were open for business, seeking help with a Moscow project amid the campaign. Me with @PostRoz @thamburger https://t.co/t5e8HjPFy4
Cohen is just one cog in the wheel. Apart from his contact with Russian-born businessman, Felix Sater, Cohen was also in touch with Dmitry Klokov, a well-connected Russian athlete, whose wife tried to reach out to Ivanka Trump. She promised that Klokov could help her father build the Trump Tower in Moscow, something which has reportedly long been on Trump’s agenda, following which Ivanka forwarded Klokov’s contact to Cohen.
Other than Ivanka, Cohen, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and longtime ally Roger Stone, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner are also two other important Trump associates who were in contact with Russian officials.
“In June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer, who he was told would provide dirt on Clinton. The meeting was arranged by billionaire Moscow developer Aras Agalarov and his pop star son Emin.
The attendees of the Trump Tower gathering, which also included Manafort and Kushner, said lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya offered nothing helpful. But several attendees described to congressional investigators Trump Jr.’s eagerness for the Russian’s assistance, according to transcripts of their testimony.”
Supposedly, Russians constantly tried to lure Trump associates towards the possibility of a meeting with Vladimir Putin, something which some believe was considered favorably within the Trump camp.
“I think the Russians would nurture those contacts and see them as a way to establish relationships that could be useful for Putin and his government,” McFaul commented. He also pointed out that the Russians were probably pleased to see the willingness of the Trump campaign to engage and likely exploited that.
Despite all this, Trump has called reports linking his team to Russian contacts a lie and continues to deem Mueller’s investigation a “hoax” concocted by some powerful Democrats. He has repeatedly called on Mueller to table proof of “collusion” — the lack of which has been argued as proving the president’s innocence. But with the mounting evidence that Mueller is now presenting before the American public, it might not be long before he tables actual proof of Trump’s team “colluding” with Russia.