There has never been a presidential campaign with as many connections to a hostile foreign power as the Trump 2016 presidential campaign. Each day brings new revelations of foreign connections — with Russia, Russian cut-outs and/or Russian surrogates.
[Jared Kushner] failed to disclose meetings on his security clearance forms, we know that. He attended that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Russian lawyers who said they had dirt on Hillary Clinton came to meet Donald Trump Jr. … He met with a Russian banker — close to Putin, under sanctions — during the transition. He sent an email to Hope Hicks about Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks, did not disclose he was using a personal email account for some of this business.
In addition, Kushner’s New York Observer had a friendly relationship with Julian Assange, as Foreign Policy documented:
In the fall of 2014, Julian Assange, the embattled head of WikiLeaks, was meeting with a steady stream of supportive journalists in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had taken refuge to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges. Among those seeking an audience with Assange was a freelancer working for the New York Observer, the newspaper owned and published by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and key advisor, Jared Kushner. …
[That] meeting with Assange resulted in a friendly feature in the Observer and kicked off a long-running series of laudatory articles about the WikiLeaks founder — many of those stories including exclusive details about the Australian transparency advocate. Later, the Observer also became a favored outlet of Guccifer 2.0, a suspected Russian hacker, who along with WikiLeaks released troves of emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC). WikiLeaks tweeted some of the Observer’s coverage, including stories expressing doubt that the Russians had meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
During the campaign, the Observer continued to run pro-WikiLeaks pieces, touting it for proving that ” ‘the [Democratic] primary was rigged’ and for exposing dangerous corruption at the DNC. The Observer published dozens of stories largely celebrating WikiLeaks and the revelations it was helping expose.”
While Kushner’s paper was running pro-WikiLeaks stories, he was sharing emails about WikiLeaks with the campaign. Kushner failed to turn over emails to Senate investigators documenting efforts about a “backdoor overture” to Russia.
Revelations about Trump Jr.’s ties to Russia also have piled up. CBS reports:
CBS News has confirmed that Donald Trump Jr. met with Alexander Torshin — a man with close ties to the Kremlin — at an NRA event in May 2016.but ended up being introduced to Mr. Trump’s son.
A source familiar with the meeting says the two men were introduced to each other by a third party and that the conversation only last about two or three minutes. The source says the conversation centered on the men’s mutual interest in firearms and, as far as the source could recollect, there was no discussion of the campaign.
This would not have been noteworthy — except for the Trump Tower meeting a month later in June 2016.
There are several takeaways from all of this.
First, the myriad of links between Trump and his campaign and Russia is unprecedented. Russian officials were certainly interested in helping the Trump campaign in a way they had never sought to collaborate with any previous Democratic or Republican campaign. The variety of contacts and types of contacts (in person, via email, through intermediaries) surely cannot be coincidental. These efforts, plus the elaborate social media effort to influence the election, represent an extraordinary effort by the Kremlin to curry favor, wear down appropriate suspicion of Russian motives and normalize highly abnormal discussions. By meeting and communicating with the Russians, members of the Trump team set themselves up to be influenced, if not blackmailed, later on.
Second, the number of connections makes the denials of connections, the spotty memories and the incomplete disclosure forms all the more suspicious. At some point, one would need to suspend disbelief, to borrow a phrase, to think Trump was in the dark about all of this.
Third, the mound of evidence provides motive for Trump to try to interfere with the Russia investigation and, specifically, to fire former FBI director James B. Comey. There is plenty that Trump and Kushner, who urged that Comey be fired, would not want to become public, if for no other reason than that they would look like Russian patsies.
And finally, the number of Russia connections makes Trump’s current insistence that there is any question about interference ludicrous. His attempt to use a “big lie” — no Russia deals! — is indicative of someone with grave concerns about the truth coming out.
In short, no single connection between the campaign and the Russians or between Trump and the Russians (e.g. the effort to make a Trump Tower deal in Russia, his Russia-based beauty pageant) suggests wrongdoing (aside from the June 2016 campaign meeting with Russian officials, perhaps). In totality, however, like dots in a pointillist picture, each episode contributes to a portrait of interactions between Trump’s team and a foreign, hostile power that is unprecedented and deeply disturbing.