The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

What Trump was saying about Russia and Putin — and what the campaign was doing

President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin pose for a photo on Nov. 10, ahead of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation dinner in the Vietnamese city of Danang. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images)

There have been a few times that President Trump has been coaxed into saying something that, we eventually learn, doesn’t really capture his true feeling on a subject. Sometimes, we learn that Trump’s represented position was inaccurate because he himself quickly undermines it, as he did during his response to the violent protests in Charlottesville this summer. Sometimes, the contradiction between what Trump is saying and what he clearly believes is more obvious.

That was the case when, during a news conference nine days before his inauguration, Trump grudgingly conceded that it was Russia that had hacked the server of the Democratic National Committee and the email account of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, leading to a flood of documents being released by WikiLeaks.

“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” Trump said. He quickly undercut that statement, however, adding: “But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.” He then said that he respected that Russian President Vladimir Putin had denied being involved in the hacking.

How do we know that Trump doesn’t actually accept the view of U.S. intelligence agencies (and most members of the government) that Russia was behind the hacking? Because he has said so many other times that he doesn’t believe that Russia was involved.

An exhaustive new report from The Washington Post outlining Trump’s reticence about Russia reinforces the point more directly.

“It’s not me,” he reportedly told aides about his attribution of the hacking to Russia in that January news conference. “It wasn’t right.”

How Trump fought the intelligence on Russia and left an election threat unchecked

There are three threads here that intertwine. There’s the thread that deals with Trump’s stated position about Russian interference in the election. There’s the separate thread that tracks his praise for Putin. And then there’s the thread that wound through Trump’s campaign and become a nuisance once he was elected: lingering questions about his campaign’s interactions with Russian actors and the extent to which anyone close to Trump may have explicitly aided Russia in its interference efforts. The central point of The Post’s new report is that Trump’s denial of Russian interference is heavily predicated on protecting his electoral victory from allegations of having been tainted by Russian actions.

We hadn’t seen a place where those three threads were overlaid, so we created one. The table below uses information from the Trump-speech database, from our own timeline of the Russia investigation, and from timelines created by CNN and Mashable. Not every interaction between Trump’s campaign and Russian agents is listed below, but we think we’ve presented enough to give a sense of places where Trump’s public statements about Putin and interference might have been in conflict with what was happening behind the scenes. (A full interactive version of our timeline is at the bottom of this article.)

Let us know what we missed.

Date Trump on
What else
was happening
Trump on
Russian interference
Summer 2015 Hackers believed to be linked to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) gain access to the network of the Democratic National Committee, according to U.S. intelligence agencies.
July 30 “I think I’d get along very well with Vladimir Putin, I just think so. People say ‘what do you mean?’ I think I’d get along well with him.”
— Media availability
Aug. 20 “I actually think that he is somebody that can be dealt with. I think his dislike of President Obama is so intense, that it really has affected the whole relationship. We’ve driven them into the arms of China, so that now these two are together, which has always been the great sin. Don’t ever let Russia and China get together. We’ve driven them together. I think he is somebody that I would have a very decent relationship with if I ever win.”
— Fox Business interview
Aug. 28 “Putin hates us, he hates Obama today, less I think he’d like me. I’d get along great with him I think. Wanna know the truth.”
— Speech
September An associate of Trump’s named Felix Sater reaches out to the Trump Organization about a proposed development project in Moscow. It is to be financed by VEB bank, which was being sanctioned by the U.S. government. Trump at some point signs a letter of intent to move forward with the project.
Sep. 16 “We don’t get along with anybody, and yet, at the same time, they rip us left and right. They take advantage of us economically and every other way. We get along with nobody. I will get along I think with Putin, and I will get along with others, and we will have a much more stable stable world.”
— Republican primary debate
Sep. 30 “We have a president who looked like remember, he said they were the JV, that ISIS was the JV? Well, he looked like the JV last week, when you compared him to Putin in New York, the JV.”
— Speech
Oct. 14 “It’s a great honor to be on ’60 Minutes’ last week with my stablemate Vladimir Putin. It’s a great honor to be on ’60 Minutes’ last week with my wife.”
 MSNBC interview
Nov. 9 Sater emails Trump attorney Michael Cohen to outline his idea of having a Moscow ribbon-cutting that Putin would attend. “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected,” Sater writes.
Nov. 10 “But, as far as the Ukraine is concerned, and you could Syria as far as Syria, I like — if Putin wants to go in, and I got to know him very well because we were both on ’60 Minutes,’ we were stablemates, and we did very well that night. But, you know that. But if Putin wants to go and knock the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100 percent, and I can’t understand how anybody would be against it.”
— Republican primary debate
Dec. 18 “He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country. [Scarborough: But again, he kills journalists that don’t agree with him.] Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too, Joe.”
— MSNBC interview
Dec. 20 “I didn’t praise him, he praised me. He called me brilliant. He said very nice things about me. I mean, I accept it  he is a strong leader. What am I gonna say, he’s a weak leader? He’s making mincemeat out of our president. He is a strong leader. I mean, you would like me to call him a weak leader, he’s a strong leader. And I’m not going to be politically correct.”
— NBC interview
Jan. 9, 2016 “[R]emember this . . . Putin likes me. Putin says Trump is brilliant.”
— Speech
Mid-January Cohen emails Putin’s personal spokesman seeking help in advancing the proposed development in Moscow. “As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon,” he writes.
Jan. 29 Rob Goldstone, publicist for Russian musician Emin Agalarov, emails Donald Trump Jr. pitching a page on Russian social-media site Vkontakte. Trump Jr. passes it on to Dan Scavino, the person in charge of Trump’s social media. “Please feel free to send me whatever you have,” Scavino replies. Konstantin Sidorkov, director of partnership marketing for VKontakte, follows up a few days later. “Nice to meet you and your team,” he writes in an email to Scavino, Trump Jr. and Trump’s assistant.
Feb. 9 “Now, Putin said, Trump is brilliant. I said, I’m not going to disavow that statement. Why would I ever disavow that statement?”
— MSNBC interview
March 3 “Putin said about me — I didn’t say about Putin — Putin said very nice things about me. And I say very nicely, wouldn’t it be nice if actually we could get along with Russia, we could get along with foreign countries, instead of spending trillions and trillions of dollars?”
— Republican presidential debate
March 10 “[S]trong doesn’t mean good. Putin is a strong leader, absolutely. I could name many strong leaders. I could name very many very weak leaders. But he is a strong leader. Now I don’t say that in a good way or a bad way.”
— Republican primary debate
March 14 George Papadopoulos, on Trump’s foreign-policy team, meets with a London-based professor named Joseph Mifsud, director of the London Academy of Diplomacy. Until he learns that Papadopoulos is tied to the Trump campaign, he’s uninterested in talking.
March 19 Clinton’s campaign chairman clicks a link, inadvertently giving access to his email account.
March 21 “Putin says very nice things about me. I think that’s very nice and it has no effect on me other than I think it’s very nice.”
— Speech
March 28 Political veteran Paul Manafort is hired to help the Trump campaign manage the delegate process for the Republican National Convention. He is recommended by Trump confidant Roger Stone. Before joining the campaign, Manafort lobbied on behalf of Oleg Deripaska, an ally of Putin.
March 31 “I want Putin to respect our country, okay? … Well, first of all, it’s sort of interesting. He said very good things about me. … You saw that. He said, Trump is brilliant and Trump is going to be the new leader and all that. And some of these clowns said, you should repudiate Putin. I said, why would I repudiate him? He’s not going to get anything.”
— Post interview
April Hackers believed to be linked to Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) also gain access to the DNC network.
April 11 Manafort emails longtime aide Konstantin Kilimnik t0 ensure that Deripaska’s “operation” has seen his media coverage, presumably about the Trump campaign. “How do we use to get whole?” he asks.
April 13 “You know, Putin said Donald Trump is a genius, so the press said he should disavow the statement that Putin — Donald, Putin said Donald Trump’s a genius. Now, you know what, he’s not gonna get me with that statement, but he said, ‘Donald Trump is a genius and he’s gonna be a great leader,’ or something. The press and the guys I’m running against wanted me to disavow the statement. I said, ‘I’m going to disavow a statement when somebody calls me a genius? I’m not disavowing anything.’ Besides that, honestly, wouldn’t it be great if we actually got along with Russia? Wouldn’t it be great? Is there anything wrong with that?”
— Speech
April 18 Papadopoulos is introduced to someone who has contacts at Russia’s Foreign Ministry. Papadopoulos and the contact begin communicating regularly to try to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin.
April 26 Papadopoulos is told by Mifsud that the Russians have “dirt” on Clinton. “They have thousands of emails,” he is told.
April 27 Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, meets then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a reception at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington before a foreign-policy speech given by Trump. Sessions may have spoken with Kislyak, as well. The same day, Papadopoulos emails senior campaign adviser Stephen Miller to say that he had “some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”
May Two people who support Trump email the campaign to set up a meeting between a Trump staffer and a Russian official named Alexander Torshin. The emails, sent to adviser Rick Dearborn, are titled “Kremlin Connection” and “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite.” Kushner rejects the latter overture.
May 5 Asked whether he’d spoken to Putin: “Yeah, but I don’t want to comment because, let’s assume I did. Perhaps it was personal. You know, I don’t want to hurt his confidence. But I know Russia well. I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago — Miss Universe contest — which is a big, incredible event, and incredible success. I got to meet a lot of people. And you know what? They want to be friendly with the United States.”
— Fox News interview
May 20 or 21 Torshin and Trump Jr. meet at a dinner related to the National Rifle Association convention in Louisville.
June 3 Goldstone emails Trump Jr. “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with [Agalarov’s] father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” Goldstone wrote. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and it’s government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin.” “Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. replied.
June 7 Goldstone and Trump Jr. finalize “a meeting with you and The Russian government attorney.” Trump formally clinches the nomination later in the day. During a speech that evening, Trump says he is “going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you’re going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”
June 9 Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner meet at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-connected attorney named Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, a former Soviet counterintelligence officer who works as a lobbyist.
June 15 “We believe it was the DNC that did the hacking as a way to distract from the many issues facing their deeply flawed candidate and failed party leader.”
June 29 Goldstone reaches out to Scavino again about VKontakte: “I’m following up on an email [from] a while back of something I had mentioned to Don and Paul Manafort during a meeting recently,” he wrote in an email cc-ing Sidorkov. “At the time, Paul had said he would welcome it …”
July At some point this month, the FBI begins investigating possible links between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign.
July 7 Manafort contacts Kilimnik again to invite Deripaska for a private briefing on the campaign.
July 22 WikiLeaks releases emails stolen from the DNC. The Democratic convention begins on the 25th.
July 25 “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me”
— Twitter
July 27 “I have nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do. I never met Putin, I have nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.”
— CBS interview
July 27 “Funny how the failing @nytimes is pushing Dems narrative that Russia is working for me because Putin said ‘Trump is a genius.’ America 1st!”
— Twitter
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
— News conference
July 31 “I have no relationship with Putin. I don’t think I’ve ever met him. I never met him. I don’t think I’ve ever met him.”
— ABC interview
Aug. 5 “So she said well, Donald Trump likes Putin. I don’t know Putin, folks. I don’t know. I hope I like him, I hope he likes me because I’d love to get along with Russia. Okay?”
— Speech
September At some point in September, congressional leaders are briefed about the CIA’s belief that Russia was intervening in the election to benefit Trump.
Sep. 8 Sessions and Kislyak meet in Sessions’s Senate office.
Sep. 20 WikiLeaks messages Trump Jr. privately over Twitter, pointing to a new site linking Putin to Trump. The next day, Trump Jr. responds to say that he’ll “ask around” about it. Trump Jr. then emailed senior campaign staff about the message. “Do you know the people mentioned,” he wrote, apparently referring to those behind the Putin-Trump site, “and what the conspiracy they are looking for could be?”
Sep. 26 “I don’t think anybody knows it was Russia that broke into the DNC,” Trump said. He then said, “Maybe it was,” but added, “I mean, it could be Russia. But it could also be China. It could also be lots of other people. It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, Okay?”
— Presidential debate
Oct. 2 Stone tweets about upcoming WikiLeaks revelations: “Wednesday [Oct. 5] @Hillary Clinton is done. #Wikileaks.”
Oct. 3 WikiLeaks again contacts Trump Jr. This time, WikiLeaks asks him to have the campaign offer a response to a quote from Clinton. Trump Jr. replies that he already had. Shortly afterward, he asks about the new information apparently referenced by Stone, but gets no response.
Oct. 7 The director of national intelligence and the head of the Department of Homeland Security release an unusual joint statement in which they warn of Russian efforts to meddle in the election and suggest that Russia had a hand in the WikiLeaks document releases.

WikiLeaks releases Podesta’s stolen emails.

Oct. 9 “I don’t know Putin. I think it would be great if we got along with Russia because we could fight ISIS together, as an example. But I don’t know Putin.”
— Presidential debate
“She doesn’t know if it’s the Russians doing the hacking. Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia. And the reason they blame Russia because they think they’re trying to tarnish me with Russia.”
— Presidential debate
Oct. 11 Trump Jr. travels to Paris to give a paid speech to a group that supports Russian interests. After his speech, one of the hosts traveled to Moscow, where she discussed the speech with a senior Russian official.
Oct. 12 WikiLeaks again contacts Trump Jr. sharing a link to file archives. Shortly afterward, the candidate tweets about the leaks.
Oct. 14 Trump Jr. tweets the link he’d received two days earlier. In an interview with Fox News, Mike Pence denies any connection between the Trump campaign and the organization.
Oct. 19 “I don’t know Putin. He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be good. If Russia and the United States got along well and went after ISIS, that would be good.”
— Presidential debate
Oct. 26 “First of all, I don’t know Putin, have no business whatsoever with Russia, have nothing to do with Russia. And, you know, they like to say every time WikiLeaks comes out, they say this is a conspiracy between Donald Trump and Russia. Give me a break.”
— Speech
Oct. 27 “But she speaks very badly of Putin, and I don’t think that’s smart, you know. You can be very tough, but you shouldn’t be doing what she’s doing.”
— Speech
Oct. 31 “In the meantime, Putin who she likes to say bad things about and all of the other leaders, many of whom she says bad things about, then you wonder why the world hates us.”
— Speech
Nov. 28 “I don’t believe they interfered,” he said. “That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say, ‘Oh, Russia interfered.’ . . . [The hacking] could be Russia. And it could be China. And it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
— Time interview
Dec. 1 Trump adviser Michael Flynn and Kushner meet with Kislyak at Trump Tower. Kushner allegedly proposes setting up a back channel of communication between the administration and Putin, perhaps going so far as to use secure communications systems at the Russian Embassy. The FBI believes the conversation may have included a suggestion by the Russians that easing sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump. Sources close to Kushner indicate that the only focus of the back channel would be Syria.
Dec. 12 “Unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn’t this brought up before election?”
— Twitter
Dec. 13 At Kislyak’s urging, Kushner meets with Sergey Gorkov, chairman of the government-owned VEB and a Putin confidant. The bank is under U.S. sanctions.
Dec. 22 Flynn reaches out to Kislyak to urge Russia to oppose a resolution about Israeli settlements. Russia is one of several countries Flynn contacts, apparently at the behest of Kushner.
Dec. 29 Flynn calls Kislyak multiple times about proposed sanctions, asking Russia not to retaliate immediately. At some point, he communicates with K.T. McFarland about the conversation, and she shares thoughts with other transition team officials.
Dec. 30 “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) — I always knew he was very smart!”
— Twitter
Jan. 3, 2017 “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”
— Twitter
Jan. 4 “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ — why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”
— Twitter
Jan. 6 U.S. intelligence agencies release a report outlining why they believe Russia was behind the campaign hacking. FBI director Jim Comey briefs Trump at Trump Tower. “While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”
— Press statement
Jan. 11 “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia.”
— News conference
“As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people. … President Putin and Russia put out a statement today that this fake news was indeed fake news. They said it totally never happened. Now, somebody would say, ‘Oh, of course he’s gonna say that.’ I respected the fact that he said that. And I — I’ll be honest, I think if he did have something, they would’ve released it; they would’ve been glad to release it.”
— News conference
Jan. 20 Shortly after Trump is inaugurated, Flynn allegedly signals to a business partner that sanctions against Russia will soon be lifted.
Jan. 24 The FBI interviews Flynn about his conversations with Kislyak the previous month. Flynn lies about the conversations.
Jan. 26 “I don’t know Putin, but if we can get along with Russia, that’s a great thing. It’s good for Russia, it’s good for us.”
— Fox News interview
Jan. 28 “I have been making these calls all day and this is the most unpleasant call all day. Putin was a pleasant call.”
— Call with Australian prime minister
Week of Feb. 6 Cohen and Sater partner with a Ukrainian lawmaker on a proposal for easing Russian-Ukrainian tensions, which is delivered to Flynn’s office.
Feb. 7 “I don’t know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy — yet Obama can make a deal with Iran, #1 in terror, no problem!”
— Twitter
Feb. 16 “But I want to just tell you, the false reporting by the media, by you people, the false, horrible, fake reporting makes it much harder to make a deal with Russia. And probably Putin said ‘You know’ — he’s sitting behind his desk and he’s saying ‘You know, I see what’s going on in the United States, I follow it closely. It’s going to be impossible for President Trump to ever get along with Russia because of all the pressure he’s got with this fake story.’”
— News conference
March 20 Comey testifies before the House Intelligence Committee and, for the first time, confirms the existence of the investigation into Russian hacking and possible links to the Trump campaign.
April 12 On Syria: “[F]rankly, Putin is backing a person that’s truly an evil person and I think it is very bad for Russia, I think it’s very bad for mankind. It’s very bad for this world.”
— Fox Business interview
May 9 Trump fires Comey
May 10 In a private meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kislyak, Trump reveals classified information shared with the United States by an ally, later reported to be Israel.
May 11 “I have to speak with Putin also. It’s called Russia. But when I spoke with Putin, he asked me whether or not I would see Lavrov. Now what, should show I say, no I’m not going to see him?”
— NBC News interview
The president tells NBC’s Lester Holt that Comey’s firing was because “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
July 7 “President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it’s going very well. We’ve had some very, very good talks.”
— Meeting with Putin
July 9 “I strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it. I’ve already given my opinion…”
— Twitter

Our interactive timeline

This includes a number of items not listed on the table above.