Fact Check: Indisputable Connections Between Donald Trump And Russian Alfa Bank [Opinion]

FBI Director James Comey testified to the House Intelligence Committee yesterday that the FBI is investigating possible collusion between Donald Trump’s election campaign team and the Russian government, and that the Trump campaign and its key players have been under investigation since July of 2016. One such player involved in the Donald Trump and Russia scandal being investigated by the FBI is a Russian bank known as Alfa Bank.

Last week, CNN reported that the Russian bank known as Alfa Bank issued a public statement saying their internet servers had no connections to the Trump Organization and that they were being framed by a hacker to make it look that way.

Whether the Alfa Bank is being framed by a hacker remains to be seen. That question is now in the hands of the FBI.

It is possible that the Alfa Bank was framed by a hacker to make it appear as if their servers were communicating with the Trump Organization. But it is demonstrably false to say there are no connections between the Trump Organization and the Russian bank known as Alfa Bank. There are some indisputable connections between the two entities that go back many years.

As the Globe and Mail reports, the significance of yesterday’s revelation that the president is being investigated by the FBI “is impossible to overstate.” At worst, it could signal the beginning of the end of the chaotic Trump presidency. At best, an investigation means that the Trump Administration will have the Trump-Russia cloud hanging over them for some time, if not permanently.

Donald Trump Russia Alfa Bank

Key players mentioned in yesterday’s hearing who were involved with the Trump campaign and have known Russian links or connections were Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page. Kellyanne Conway’s name came up in the hearing yesterday, but FBI Director James Comey would neither confirm nor deny whether she is also being investigated.

The FBI investigation into the president and his surrogates is extensive, has been in place for some time, and is still only in its early stages. Yesterday’s hearing also revealed the FBI is aware that Russian interference in the 2016 elections absolutely happened and that Russia’s intent was three-fold. Those three prongs of Russia’s intent were to interfere with America’s democracy, to harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and to help Donald Trump’s campaign.

What is being alleged is that key players in the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to make all of these three things happen. FBI Director James Comey firmly established yesterday for the House Intelligence Committee that Russia is a known enemy state to the United Stats. The FBI further said they have not ruled out the possibility of criminal charges if evidence emerges that collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia occurred.

Donald Trump Russia Alfa Bank

The Russia bank Alfa Bank has been under investigation by the FBI as being a part of this alleged collusion after it was discovered that a strange internet link had occurred between servers held at Russia’s Alfa Bank and a server held at the Trump Organization.

That internet activity occurred between the Trump Organization and the bank in Russia during the campaign season, reports CNN. This Alfa Bank and Donald Trump information has been in the news cycle for many months after having been reported by Slate. Much of this internet activity was dismissed by the FBI as “possibly” innocuous.

Although it’s been in the news for months, Alfa Bank only just came forward last week to say they were being framed by hackers to make it look like their servers were communicating with the Trump Organization. It’s not the first time that Alfa Bank has alleged they are being framed.

On Friday, March 17, Alfa Bank issued a statement saying they are being framed by a hacker to make it appear that the Trump Organization is communicating with them. Alfa Bank also stated they have contacted United States law enforcement officials themselves and are cooperating with them.

The press release stated the following.

“Alfa Bank a privately owned Russia bank confirmed today that it has contacted U.S. law enforcement authorities for assistance and offered U.S. agencies its complete co-operation in finding the people behind attempted cyber attacks on its servers that have made it appear falsely that it has been communicating with the Trump Organization. Alfa Bank believes that these malicious attacks are designed to create the false impression that Alfa Bank has a secretive relationship with the Trump Organization. In fact, there is not and never has been such a relationship.”

But there is a relationship between Trump Organization and Alfa Bank. To say otherwise is demonstrably false. If the press release is saying that there is no secretive relationship, then the Trump Organization should be willing to discuss their relationship openly.

The internet links that are leading to these strange accusations against Alfa Bank are complex and technical. To put simply, evidence now shows that the server at Alfa Bank, or posing as Alfa Bank “knocked on the door” of the servers of Trump Organization. The Trump Organization “sent the bank real, unsolicited responses,” according to CNN.

One of those “knocks” occurred on February 18, but CNN says that Alfa Bank failed to mention this when issuing a statement to CNN for a March 10 story. After that story went live, “spoofed signals” from the Trump Organization to Alfa Bank reportedly occurred for five straight hours.

The story initially surfaced last year when a group of computer scientists obtained the traffic records from the internet system that logs all of this. This is sort of like the internet “phone logs” of IP addresses and ping tracking. These signals travel along what is known as the Domain Name System, or DNS.

These records are not easy or even legal to access without cause. Essentially, what is being alleged is that these logs suggest that Alfa Bank looked up Donald Trump’s Trump Organization server, multiple times, and that signals were sent back to Alfa Bank in response. The leaked records show this happened repeatedly, and even that businesses using the name Trump began cropping up in these logs after the election.

When the pings were happening, the contact information for Trump Organization was on the domain known as mail1.trump-email.com. Then the Russia Alfa Bank-Donald Trump story went live in October in the New York Times. Slate reported that after the New York Times began investigating, the email domain was “hastily changed” from mail1.trump-email.com to trump1.contact-client.com.

Slate also reported that after the New York Times story, the communication between the two servers “went cold.” In October of 2016, Slate also contacted Alfa Bank asking about their alleged connection between Donald Trump and Russian Alfa Bank, and received the following statement.

“Neither Alfa nor its officers have sent Mr. Trump or his organization any emails, information, or money. Alfa Bank does not have and has never had any special or exclusive internet connection with Mr. Trump or his entities. The assertion of a special or private link is patently false.”

To bring money, emails, and information into the picture is obscure, as those topics were not alleged in either the Slate or New York Times report, only internet traffic data was. The New York Times report last year noted that the FBI did, in fact, look into these peculiar internet links and came to the conclusion that “there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts.”

But the FBI has not determined that conclusively, and the connections exist all the same, innocuous, or otherwise.

But the Guardian reports that the internet signal links still suggest there is some smoke burning on the issue of server communication. The Guardian consulted with John Bambenek, of Fidelis Cybersecurity, who has seen the logs and says there are unanswered questions about both their authenticity and their provenance.

“The identity of the person bringing the data can be more important than the data. I’m suspicious of the claims that this was gathered legally. They tell an interesting story, but it’s not clear whether there is selection or filter applied. I smell smoke. I just don’t know where the smoke is coming from.”

The DNS-lookup trail is part of that smoke, but where that smoke leads remains unclear. But that does not mean the dots stop connecting there. There are real-world dots to connect between Donald Trump and the Russian Alfa Bank as well.

The Democratic Coalition has uncovered many of them. One being, that Donald Trump Jr. spoke at a conference in 2008 with the CEO of Russia’s Alfa Bank. This was recently revealed by the Democratic Coalition.

It was also 2008 when Donald Trump Jr. went public about Trump Organization and Russia.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

The Democratic Coalition has also revealed that an Alfa Bank shell company, Alfa Invest USA Inc., had purchased two of Trump’s Florida condos in 2014.

On its face, there is nothing wrong with either of these two instances. It is not illegal to speak at conferences attended by foreign nationals, it’s not even illegal to do so if the foreigners come from an enemy state. It’s also not illegal for Russians to purchase property from Donald Trump.

But Donald Trump has repeatedly stated he “has no business with Russia.” Alfa Bank has said the same about Donald Trump.

As FBI Director James Comey and Admiral Michael Rogers pointed out in yesterday’s hearing to the House Intelligence Committee, it was not Michael Flynn’s contact with Russia that got him fired. It was his failure to disclose it, followed by his flat denial.

Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak allegedly discussed the lifting of sanctions. How long those calls were in the works, and who ordered those calls, remains to be seen. This is one area that the FBI is currently investigating.

Reuters reported on December 20 last year of a December 20 news conference where Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the Federation Council, held a news conference referring to “anti-Russian sanctions,” where she asserted that “she was sure that Western sanctions would be eased or lifted altogether in 2017.” She also was confident that U.S.-Russia relationships would improve in 2017, though it is unclear what gave her that confidence.

Michael Flynn reportedly made five calls to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak on December 29. December 29 was also the day that President Obama expelled 35 Russian ambassadors from the United States.

The actions of Alfa Bank and their recent statement is being viewed as suspicious by the American public, and at least one member of Congress. Rep. Ted Lieu sits on the House Judiciary Committee and tweeted in response to the statement issued Friday by Alfa Bank.

Like the entire Donald Trump Russia investigation, we know very little on a complex issue beyond that the president and his surrogates are being investigated for collusion. We also do not know what the relationship is between Russian Alfa Bank and Donald Trump. To say there is no relationship between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank is not patently false, as the facts show otherwise.

[Feature Image by Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP Images]