MOSCOW MULES?

The ultimate guide to Donald Trump’s Russia connections

Obsession
"America First"
Obsession
"America First"

US president Donald Trump continues to be dogged by concerns about his connections to Russia and suggestions that several of his advisers were in contact with the Kremlin during his election campaign.

Alleged links between Russian officials and Trump associates are being investigated by the FBI and both sides of Congress, while two FBI field offices are reportedly investigating the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s computer system and the posting of emails stolen from Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta. US intelligence officials have concluded that Russian hackers were behind the attacks.

According to a report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, issued two weeks prior to Trump’s inauguration, the Russian government “aspired to help President elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”

Asked whether Trump has a full grasp of the interactions between his staff and Russia, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said “The big point here is the president himself knows what his involvement was and that’s zero.”

As the investigations pile up, we’ve put together a compendium of Trump and his advisers’ ties with Russia. We will update the list as warranted (and please let us know if we’ve missed anything).

We begin with Trump’s cabinet picks and current or former advisors. Next we move onto Trump’s own business and personal connections with Russia, followed by the specific speculation that has arisen since Trump’s ascendance to the US presidency.

Former US national security adviser Michael Flynn

The first major political casualty since Trump’s election, Michael Flynn was fired after he lied to vice president Mike Pence over conversations he had with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak before Trump took office. Flynn had—possibly illegally—reportedly discussed potential sanction relief with Kislyak on the very day then-president Barack Obama issued sanctions against Russian individuals and agencies for its attempts to interfere with the US election process.

Flynn had previously been a frequent commentator for Russian state-owned propaganda network RT and sat next to Russian president Vladimir Putin at a dinner on a paid trip to Moscow.

The White House had known for weeks that Flynn misled Pence, after acting US attorney general Sally Yates warned the White House that he was vulnerable to blackmail by the Kremlin. Two days after firing him, Trump described Flynn as a “wonderful man.”

Read The New Yorker’s account for the full nitty gritty.

US attorney general Jeff Sessions

As an Alabama senator, Jeff Sessions was one of Trump’s earliest supporters in Congress, and joined him on the campaign trail. Trump then picked him to serve as attorney general, which meant he would oversee the US Department of Justice—and any FBI investigations into the election hacking.

On March 1, it was reported that Sessions, who had testified to the Senate that he had no “communications with the Russians” during the campaign, in fact had spoken twice with the Russian ambassador to the US. On March 2, Sessions, acknowledging the contact, recused himself from any investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaigns. Sessions said he recused himself because he was involved in Trump’s campaign team—not because he had met with the ambassador.

US secretary of state Rex Tillerson

As CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson conducted a long and successful courtship with the Kremlin. In 2012, he received (link in Russian) the Order of Friendship medal from Putin, with whom Tillerson has said he has a “very close relationship.” Earlier that year, Exxon won a deal worth an estimated $500 billion to explore oil in Russia’s Arctic, alongside state-owned oil giant Rosneft.

In this photo taken Thursday, June 21, 2012, Russian President Vladimir Putin presents ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson with a Russian medal at an award ceremony of heads and employees of energy companies at the St. Petersburg economic forum in St. Petersburg, Russia. An aide to President Vladimir Putin praised United States President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Rex Tillerson to lead the State Department and says that the businessman is well regarded by many Russian officials. (Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Tillerson receives the Medal of Friendship from Putin. (Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Tillerson and Igor Sechin, Rosneft’s much-feared CEO and close Putin confidant, consider one other “friends.” Reportedly, Sechin’s main regret on being banned from the US (by Obama’s earlier sanctions after Russian-backed forces invaded Crimea) was that he had wanted to (link in Russian) “ride the roads of the USA on motorbikes with Tillerson.”

Soon after Tillerson was sworn in as US secretary of state, Trump signed a bill that will allow oil companies to make payments to foreign governments without disclosing them.

US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross

Billionaire vulture investor Wilbur Ross took an ownership stake in the troubled Bank of Cyprus in 2014, reportedly tying him to a number of Russian oligarch investors with close Kremlin links, including longtime Putin ally Viktor Vekselberg and former KGB agent Vladimir Strzhalkovsky. Democratic senators asked detailed questions about the bank’s investors and officials but they were never answered. Ross is still listed as vice chairman of the bank’s board, although he pledged to step down after his Feb. 27 confirmation as commerce secretary.

Cyprus is notorious for its alleged role as a haven for laundered Russian money.

Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort

A longtime political operative, Paul Manafort was fired from Trump’s then-faltering campaign in August 2016, after a report said millions of dollars in cash were earmarked for Manafort for consulting Viktor Yanukovich, the despotic, pro-Kremlin former president of Ukraine.

On Feb. 14, the New York Times reported that Manafort was one of four Trump campaign officials being investigated by the FBI for being in contact with Russian officials throughout the campaign. Manafort called the reports “absurd.”

Former Russia adviser Carter Page

Trump raised eyebrows when announcing that Carter Page, a former mid-level member of Merrill Lynch’s Moscow office, whom no one who knows their stuff on Russia had heard of, was a Russia adviser during the campaign. Page, who has a long-standing penchant for abrasive pro-Putin comments, departed the campaign in September, shortly after reports surfaced that the FBI was investigating his meetings with sanctioned Russian officials while also working for Trump.

Longtime advisor Roger Stone

Stone, like Manafort, Page, and Flynn, is being investigated by the FBI for contacts with Russian officials during the campaign, the New York Times has reported.

The political advisor helped Trump explore a presidential bid in 2000, worked on his recent campaign until he was either fired or quit in 2015, and has reportedly known Trump since 1979. (Trump called him a “stone cold loser” in 2008, but that may have been in jest.)

Ahead of a Wikileaks release of hacked emails showing the Clinton campaign in a bad light, Stone bragged she was “done.”

In an interview in February, Stone said he didn’t think the Russians affected the election in any way. “I have no Russian clients,” he said. “I have no Russian contacts, I have no Russian money. I have no Russian influences. I do like Russian vodka.”

Trump’s own business ties

Trump had been trying to invest in Russia since visiting Moscow with then-wife Ivana in 1987. But attempts at hotel ventures, or at building a Trump Tower Moscow or a luxury condo complex, have repeatedly failed to get off the ground.

Trump did, however, end up in some rather comic escapades, such as being snubbed by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and being presented with a look-alike instead in 1988. Or the time he tried to persuade New York City to accept a gigantic statue of Christopher Columbus made by the favorite sculptor of a notoriously corrupt former mayor of Moscow; the artist also had designed Moscow’s most hated statue.

That’s not to say Trump hasn’t built up a network of well-placed contacts or been the beneficiary of Russian spending. “I’ve always had very successful business relations with Russians,” Trump told Russian journalists in 2008 (link in Russian). “One Russian recently bought a house of mine in Florida for $100 million. Some Russians buy houses for $50 million. They’re excellent buyers!”

Trump’s past with Putin

Trump has a long list of conflicting claims about his history with Putin—from saying in 2013 that he has “a relationship” with and has “met” the Russian president, to hyperbolizing in 2016 that he doesn’t “know who Putin is.” Trump’s distancing himself from Russia hit an extreme on Feb.27 when he claimed he hadn’t “called Russia in 10 years”—despite having spoken to Putin on the phone just weeks before.

After visiting Moscow for a Miss Universe pageant in 2013, Trump bragged that he “spoke indirectly—and directly—with president Putin, who could not have been nicer,” and that “Putin even sent me a present.”

Trump’s 2013 Moscow trip

Aras Agalarov, a Russian real estate billionaire connected with the upper echelons of the Kremlin (link in Russian), paid $14 million to host a Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013.

Trump, the owner of the pageant at the time, traveled to Moscow, where Agalarov arranged a meeting with Herman Gref, formerly Putin’s economy minister, who is still a close ally and now CEO of state-controlled Sberbank, the country’s biggest bank. Trump was reportedly eager for a meeting with Putin himself, but the Russian president never turned up.

Nonetheless, Trump was typically bombastic on his return, claiming that “almost all of the oligarchs were in the room” at the after-party.

Agalarov is reported to have said that he and Trump signed a deal to build a Trump Tower Moscow (which has never materialized), and that he and Trump remained close; the US mogul later made a cameo in a music video for Agalarov’s pop singer son.

Trump’s sons and son-in-law

Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., told attendees at a September 2008 real estate conference in New York that he’d been to Russia six times in the previous 18 months. He said he was nervous about local partners because he wasn’t sure if he could trust them, but money from Russia was certainly flowing into Trump projects elsewhere in the world:

“And in terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Late in 2016, Don Jr. gave a speech in Paris at a dinner hosted by the Center of Political and Foreign Affairs, a group whose president nominated Russian president Vladimir Putin for the Nobel Peace Prize last December, for which he was reportedly paid at least $50,000. The wife of the group’s president is the head of a Syrian political party that is closely allied with the Russian government in trying to bring peace in Syria, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Eric Trump, the president’s middle son, spoke to a Russian journalist (link in Russian) about Trump SoHo in an undated interview (likely between 2005 and 2010) saying “most of our buyers are foreign, among which there are very many Russians.” The Trump Organization is “holding active talks about our activity in Russia,” he said, adding that “we’re really counting on high demand from the Russian side” for a project in Dubai that was later canceled.

Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, doesn’t have an official role at the White House, but he’s been advising Trump on foreign policy. He met with Russian ambassador Kislyak in December at Trump Tower.

Sergei Millian and the luxury condos

Trump’s luxury condos have been so actively marketed in Florida that the Sunny Isles Beach community where he has licensed condo towers is dubbed “Little Moscow.”

Sergei Millian, a Russian emigre who helped promote the condos and has a long, confusing history with Trump, told ABC News that the “level of business amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars—what he received as a result of interaction with Russian businessmen.” Millian runs the Russian American Chamber of Commerce, an organization that reportedly has no trace of a presence at its official Wall Street address and seemingly has close ties to the Russian government, despite insisting it is independent.

Dmitry Rybolovlev and the Florida mansion

In 2004, Trump bought a neoclassical mansion in Florida for $41 million, with the aim of touching it up and flipping it. As the housing market cooled down, it sat on the market for two years from 2006—until one of the world’s richest men, Dmitry Rybolovlev, snapped it up for an astonishing $95 million, as recession loomed in the summer of 2008. Its top known valuation since the sale was $81.8 million, according to Politico.

Rybolovlev spent almost a year in jail in the 1990s for the alleged murder of a business rival; he was eventually acquitted. He is not known for having close ties to the Kremlin. But he has, like Ross, invested in the Bank of Cyprus.

Felix Sater

Trump has a long, disputed history with Sater, a mob-connected, Russian-born, American citizen who has pled guilty to racketeering and spent a year in jail for glassing another man in a bar fight.

In 2002, Sater reportedly started working for Bayrock, a real estate firm that was a partner on the Trump SoHo project. Sater has claimed in sworn depositions that he and Bayrock had exclusive rights to find a site for a Trump Tower in Moscow from 2005, and that he showed Ivanka and Donald Jr. around Moscow in 2006, Forbes reported.

Trump said he had severed his ties to Bayrock after learning about Sater’s past, and claimed in 2013 that if Sater “were sitting in the room right now…I really wouldn’t know what he looked like.”

In 2016, Sater donated $5,400, the maximum allowed amount, to Trump’s presidential campaign. In February, Sater told various news outlets he teamed up with Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, and a wealthy Ukrainian lawmaker to make a peace plan for Ukraine. They delivered it to Michael Flynn’s office, the New York Times reported.

The “Golden Showers” dossier

This infamous dossier, compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, contained a lot of salacious allegations about Trump goings-on in a Moscow hotel room—but more importantly claimed that the Kremlin had been cultivating Trump for years and that he was liable to blackmail by them.

Buzzfeed published the dossier in full, despite being unable to confirm its findings. CNN later reported that US intelligence officials had confirmed some of the less salacious details. Trump decried the dossier’s publication as “fake news.”

The US Senate is reportedly considering questioning Steele as part of its investigation.

Pressuring intelligence services to rebut stories

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus allegedly pressured the FBI to debunk reports of Trump officials having contact with Russia during the campaign. The administration asked senior lawmakers to rebut the allegations, and White House press secretary Sean Spicer denied that the administration had asked intelligence officials to “knock the story down.”

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