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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Trump collusion timeline

by digby

Just Security has put together a nice timeline of Trump's interactions with the Russian government since he was elected. It's quite interesting when you look at it all together. It's certainly fine to propose a fresh start with relations between the two countries. But they seemed to have a much more specific agenda from thevery beginning.

I've just excerpted the first six months after the election:

Nov. 14, 2016 — In their first official phone call, President-elect Trump and Putin agree on the “absolutely unsatisfactory state of bilateral relations” between Russia and the U.S., according to the New York Times. The two leaders agreed to meet at some point in the future and “endorse” the idea of taking efforts “to normalize relations and pursue constructive cooperation on the broadest possible range of issues.”

Nov. 18, 2016 — President-elect Trump names retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his national security advisor, stirring controversy in part because of Flynn’s ties to Russia, according to the Washington Post. In 2015, Flynn accepted payment from RT — a Russian news channel that had become a propaganda arm — to attend the station’s gala event in Moscow. Putin also attended the gala, and RT later published photos of the two dining next to each other.

Dec. 1 or 2, 2016 — Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak meets with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Trump Senior Advisor Jared Kushner in Trump Tower. The meeting is not disclosed to the public until March 2017. The White House first states that its purpose was to “establish a line of communication.” Kislyak later reports to superiors in Moscow that, in the meeting, Kushner suggested setting up a secure channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin, to be hosted at the Russian embassy or consulate, according to the Washington Post.

Dec. 12, 2016 — President-elect Trump officially nominates Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, spurring controversy because of Tillerson’s close relationship with Russia. As CEO of Exxon Mobil, Tillerson had engaged in joint ventures with Rosneft, a state-backed Russian oil company, and had received the Order of Friendship from Russia in 2013, according to the New York Times.

Dec. 13, 2016 — Senior Trump Advisor Jared Kushner meets with Sergey Gorkov, then-chairman of Russia’s government-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB) and a close ally of Putin, at Russian Ambassador Kislyak’s request. The bank was placed on the sanctions list following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. In June 2017, the Washington Post reports that VEB says the meeting was conducted in relation to Kushner’s family real estate business. However, the Trump White House later maintains it was a diplomatic meeting in which Kushner was acting in his role as soon-to-be presidential adviser. Kushner testifies on July 24, 2017 to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees that Kislyak had recommended the meeting because Gorkov “had a direct relationship with” Putin. Kushner said they discussed the general poor state of US-Russian relations but that they didn’t touch on any specific policies nor on Obama-era sanctions against Russia. “At no time was there any discussion about my companies, business transactions, real estate projects, loans, banking arrangements or any private business of any kind.”

Dec. 29, 2016 — Shortly after the White House notifies Russia of sanctions that the Obama administration will impose for election interference, Michael Flynn speaks with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. During the phone call, Flynn discusses the sanctions. According to several current and former officials who read transcripts of the call, Flynn told Kislyak that Russia should not overreact to impending sanctions for election interference because the Trump administration would be in a position to revisit the sanctions and change policy toward Russia, according to the Washington Post. Nearly one year later, Flynn pleads guilty to lying to investigators regarding his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Dec. 29, 2016 — Within four hours of the Obama White House’s announced sanctions against Russia for election interference, Trump issues a written statement in response saying, “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.”

Dec. 30, 2016 — Following Russia’s surprise turnaround decision not to respond to the U.S. sanctions in-kind, Trump tweets: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” Putin’s decision came as a surprise in part because Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had earlier said in televised remarks, “Of course, we cannot leave these sanctions unanswered … Reciprocity is the law of diplomacy and international relations.”

Jan. 3-4, 2017 — In a series of tweets, Trump disparages the intelligence from U.S. agencies scheduled to brief him on their findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Jan. 6, 2017 – May 9, 2017 — Jan. 6 is the date then-FBI Director James Comey helped brief Trump on Russian election interference, and May 9 was his final day as FBI Director. In his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey is asked (by Senator Joe Manchin) whether Trump showed “any concern or interest or curiosity about what the Russians were doing.” Comey responds that he does not recall any conversations with Trump about Russian election interference during the former FBI Director’s time in office. Comey is also asked (by Senator Martin Heinrich), “Did the President in any of those interactions that you’ve shared with us today ask you what you should be doing or what our government should be doing — or the intelligence community — to protect America against Russian interference in our election system?” Comey says he does not recall any conversation like that–“never.”

Jan. 6-7, 2017 — After the briefing by intelligence officials, Trump acknowledgesthat the Russian government may have been involved in the hacking of Democratic National Committee computers, but says it didn’t affect the outcome of the election because Russia didn’t gain access to voting systems, and says he wants to improve relations with Russia.

Jan. 11, 2017 — George Nader, a Lebanese-American fixer and advisor to the United Arab Emirates, convenes a secret meeting in the Seychelles at the “behest” of UAE Crown Prince Mohammed, according to the New York Times. The meeting is between Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and a Trump supporter (and brother of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s then-nominee to be secretary of education), and Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian wealth fund manager with ties to President Putin. The apparent purpose of the meeting is to test Russia’s commitment to Iran and to set up a communication channel between President-elect Trump and Moscow, according to the Washington Post.

Prince testifies before Congress in November that the meeting with Dmitriev was a “chance-encounter,” and that he traveled to the Seychelles to pursue a “business opportunity” with potential customers from the UAE, who had suggested that he meet with a Russian businessman staying at the same hotel, Vox reports. However, according to reporting by ABC News and the Washington Post, Special Counsel Robert Mueller reportedly has new evidence and a cooperating witness in Nader, who is allegedly testifying that the meeting was preplanned to set up communications between the Trump transition team and Moscow so that they could “discuss future relations between the countries.” The New York Times also reports that Kirill Dmitriev had met Trump associate Anthony Scaramucci at the 2017 Davos forum, after which Scaramucci criticized the Obama administration sanctions on Russia with a TASS reporter.

Jan. 11, 2017 — At a news conference, Trump says, “I think it was Russia” that hacked the 2016 U.S. election, but then diminishes its significance, adding, “But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.” He draws comparisons to other incidents of hacking, and suggests that the DNC left itself open to hacking and deserves some blame. Trump also says, “Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I am leading it than when other people have led it,” according to CNN.

Post-Jan. 20, 2017 — In the “early weeks” of the administration, top Trump administration officials task State Department staff “with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions,” until their efforts are blocked by State Department officials and members of Congress, according to reporting by Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News.

Jan. 20-early Feb., 2017 — National Security Advisor Michael Flynn advocates for closer military communication with Russia to fight ISIS. According to several current and former Pentagon sources cited by the Daily Beast, Flynn suggests that a military communications channel originally established to prevent in-air collisions be expanded for other purposes that could have approached “outright cooperation” with Russia. Both the Pentagon and Centcom oppose Flynn’s idea.

Jan. 26-Feb. 13, 2017 — Acting Attorney General Sally Yates meets personally with White House Counsel Don McGahn about National Security Advisor Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak in December 2016. Yates warns the White House Counsel that Flynn’s statement that he did not discuss sanctions with the Russian Ambassador is untrue and that in her view Flynn is accordingly vulnerable to being blackmailed by Russia. Yates is fired on January 30 for refusing to enforce the immigration ban. (ABC News). It is not until February 13 that Flynn is asked to resign, following a Washington Post story revealing the meeting with Yates and the White House Counsel. (New York Times) (Washington Post)

Feb. 6, 2017 — In a Super Bowl interview with Bill O’Reilly, Trump says he respects Putin and dismisses the host’s characterization of the Russian president as a “killer.” “There are a lot of killers,” Trump says. “Do you think our country is so innocent?

Feb. 14, 2017 — The New York Times reports that Russia has deployed a cruise missile in violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) treatysigned by President Ronald Reagan and his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev. In congressional testimony, Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff states, “We believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility.” The administration does not issue a public statement rebuking Russia. When Trump is asked about the violation in a February 24 interview with Reuters, he says, “To me, it’s a big deal,” and adds that he “would bring it up” with Putin “if and when we meet.” The State Department reiterated the alleged violation in its April 2017 report and in December 2017, released a strategy to counter the alleged violations, according to the Arms Control Association.

March 21, 2017 — The State Department announces that Secretary Rex Tillerson will not attend his intended first NATO meeting in Brussels on April 5-6, and will instead stay in the U.S. to join Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. During the same announcement, the State Department notes that Tillerson will travel to Russia in April, drawing criticism that the administration is prioritizing Russia over historical allies and the NATO alliance, according to Reuters. Subsequently, the State Department offers new dates to reschedule the NATO meeting, and Tillerson attends.

March 31, 2017 — Tillerson meets with NATO leaders in Brussels. In his remarks, Tillerson reiterates the frequent U.S. exhortation over the years that allies increase their defense spending, but seems to take it a step further, saying: “As President Trump has made clear, it is no longer sustainable for the U.S. to maintain a disproportionate share of NATO’s defense expenditures.”

April 2-27, 2017 — In an interview on April 2, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley says: “Certainly I think Russia was involved in the U.S. election.” On April 5, Haley criticizes Russia for obstructing UN action on Syria and for supporting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Haley says Russia made an “unconscionable choice” by opposing a resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons, and rhetorically asks “how many more children have to die before Russia cares?”

However, during a working lunch on April 24 with UN Security Council ambassadors including Haley, Trump jests, “Now, does everybody like Nikki? Because if you don’t … she can easily be replaced,” according to the Washington Post. Further, on April 27, Secretary of State Tillerson sends UN Ambassador Haley an email instructing her that, from then on, her comments should be “re-cleared with Washington if they are substantively different from the building blocks, or if they are on a high-profile issue,” according to the New York Times.

April 6, 2017 — In response to a reported chemical attack perpetrated by the Assad regime, the Trump administration launches a military attack on a Syrian-government airfield near Homs from which the chemical weapons attack reportedly was launched, according to NBC News. In an interview with Fox News, National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster suggests Russia may have known about the chemical attacks in advance saying: “I think what we should do is ask Russia, how could it be, if you have advisers at that airfield, that you didn’t know that the Syrian air force was preparing and executing a mass murder attack with chemical weapons?”

April 23, 2017 — In an Associated Press interview, Trump expresses strong support for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in upcoming French elections; Le Pen is supported by Putin and promises to remove France from the EU, a long-term goal for Putin. Le Pen had also visited Trump Tower in January, according to AP and Politico.

May 10, 2017 — Secretary of State Tillerson meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak and says the U.S. would no longer require Russia to unfreeze the construction of an American consulate in St. Petersburgbefore considering handing back seized Russian diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York as part of the Obama sanctions for election interference. The statement represented a reversal of the position staked out two days prior by Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon, the Washington Post reports.

May 10, 2017 — During an Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak, Trump tells the Russian officials that he had fired the “nut job” FBI director (James Comey) who was investigating Russian election interference, according to the New York Times. Trump also says he had faced “great pressure” because of Russia, which had now been relieved. Additionally, Trump discloses highly classified information to the Russian officials. The intelligence was provided by Israel, which had not authorized the U.S. to share it, according to the Washington Post. The intelligence centered on Syrian extremist bomb-making plans, and was obtained in part through highly classified cyber operations, the disclosure of which “infuriated” Israeli officials, according to the New York Times. Israel subsequently changes its intelligence sharing protocols with the United States. No U.S. press are allowed into the Oval Office meeting, but Trump does allow TASS, the Russian state-owned agency, according to the Washington Post. Trump does not disclose to the press that Kislyak attended the meeting until TASS publishes photographs showing him in the room; the White House releasefollowing the meeting only mentions Lavrov. In a later interview, National Security Advisor McMaster refuses to confirm that Russian interference was discussed, even when asked directly about it.

May 10, 2017 — Following the meeting with Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov tells TASS: “At present, our dialogue is not as politicized as it used to be during Obama’s presidency. The Trump administration, including the President himself and the Secretary of State, are people of action who are willing to negotiate.”

May 25 – 26, 2017 — Arriving in Europe with Trump, top White House economic advisor Gary Cohn tells reporters that the U.S. is “looking at” the future of sanctions on Russia. When pressed on what the current U.S. position is, he says: “Right now we don’t have a position.” The following day, Cohn counters that statement, saying the U.S. will not ease sanctions on Russia and, “if anything, we would probably look to get tougher.”

May 25, 2017 — In Europe, Trump chastises NATO leaders for their “chronic underpayments” to the alliance and fails to reaffirm U.S. commitment to Article 5 – the collective defense clause of the NATO agreement – promising only to “never forsake the friends that stood by our side” in the wake of Sept. 11 (a statement later labelled by the administration as an affirmation of Article 5). According to Politico, several Trump advisors, including National Security Advisor McMaster, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, are surprised by the omission, having endeavored to include language supporting Article 5 in Trump’s remarks prior to the summit. Additionally, National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton says Russia was not discussed in a larger meeting between American and European officials, but that he could not speak for a meeting involving just Trump, President of the European Council Donald Tusk, and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. Tusk later says he is “not 100 percent sure” he and Trump share a “common position, common opinion, about Russia,” according to the New York Times.

May 26, 2017 — At a political rally the day after the Brussels meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel says: “The times in which we could rely fully on others — they are somewhat over. This is what I experienced in the last few days. We Europeans truly have to take our fate into our own hands,” implying that Europe could no longer rely on a close alliance with the U.S.

May 30, 2017 — In a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is asked about Trump’s reaction to Angela Merkel’s comments implying Europe could no longer rely on the U.S. He responds that Europe, “working in friendship with the U.S., the U.K., Russia, and other partners,” is precisely “what the President called for.” (May 30 press briefing). Trump reacts to Merkel’s comments on Twitter: “We have a MASSIVE trade deficit with Germany, plus they pay FAR LESS than they should on NATO & military. Very bad for U.S. This will change.”