Vladimir Putin was "targeting" Donald Trump since before the real estate developer and reality TV star began his presidential candidacy. The targeting of Trump by Russian intelligence agencies goes back to his career as a businessman, according to the full transcript of testimony by Russia expert Fiona Hill.
Hill is the former special assistant to Trump for Russian and European affairs. She gave 10 hours of testimony to the House impeachment inquiry into Trump on October 14, and the transcript is now available online via PBS.
Hill, a former intelligence officer, is also the co-author of a Putin biography, Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, which was published in 2015.
Near the end of the 446 pages of testimony, which was delivered in a closed session, Hill says that Trump would have been one of many businessmen targeted by Putin when the man who went on to become Russia's president was a mid-level KGB agent working in Leningrad, the Russian city now known as St. Petersburg.
"He was part of a directorate in the KGB in Leningrad," Hill told the House Intelligence Committee, which has spearheaded the impeachment inquiry hearings. "That's what they did exclusively, was targeting businessmen."
Hill's assertion that Trump has long been a target for Russian manipulation has been previously alleged by several journalists, including investigative reporter Craig Unger, in his 2018 book, House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia.
Journalist Luke Harding, author of the 2017 book, Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, has also documented contacts between Trump and Russia dating back to 1987. At that time, Russia was still part of the Soviet Union.
"The top level of the Soviet diplomatic service arranged his 1987 Moscow visit," Harding wrote, in a report for Politico. "With assistance from the KGB."
Before the 1987 trip to the Soviet Union, Trump was known primarily as a real estate developer and frequent subject of gossip in the pages of New York City's tabloid newspapers. But within months of his return from the USSR, Trump began to exhibit a keen interest in politics, even telling talk show host Oprah Winfrey that he was considering a run for president in 1988.
That presidential bid never happened, but Trump nonetheless gave a fiery speech in October of 1987 in which he raged against U.S. foreign policy, and even called America a "failure."
Putin "specializes in manipulating people's vulnerabilities and exploiting corruption," Hill said in her now-public testimony. "They went after American businessmen and set up sting operations."