Remember the few years our country spent hearing about the Trump campaign’s ties to, and possible collusion with, Russia? Remember how President Trump insisted the entire time that the whole thing was a hoax? A witch hunt? Remember when the Mueller Report finally came out, and the president claimed it totally exonerated him?
Only for Robert Mueller to respond repeatedly that his report did no such thing?
Have you seen how right-wing pundits, FOX News, and most of the GOP have enthusiastically embraced Trump’s claim that it was all a hoax?
Well. The GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee recently released its fifth and final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. And wow.
Before I dive into the report highlights, let’s look at a few other highlights (lowlights?) from Trump’s history with Russia and its
president dictator-for-life, Vladimir Putin.
In 2007, private citizen Trump wrote a congratulatory letter to Putin after he was named TIME magazine’s “Person of the Year.” Trump wrote, “…you definitely deserve it,” followed by, “I am a big fan of yours!” underlined in black marker.
A few years later, in 2013, Trump wondered via tweet whether Vladimir would be attending the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, and whether Putin would “become my new best friend?” Eight days later, he sent another letter, inviting Putin to be his “guest of honor” at the pageant. He handwrote a note in black marker at the bottom: “THE WORLD’S MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN!”
Fast-forward to a press conference in July, 2016, during the presidential campaign. Trump said he hoped that Russia had hacked Hillary Clinton’s emails while she was Secretary of State. He went on: “I will tell you this: Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” He later claimed it was a joke, but it turned out Russia was listening. Robert Mueller’s investigation found that the first Russian attempt to hack Clinton’s server happened that same day.
Concern in the intelligence community mounted, fueled partially by the now-infamous Steele Dossier, put together by a former British intelligence agent. The president fired FBI director James Comey, and Congress appointed a special prosecutor to look into the allegations. Trump insisted the whole thing was a witch hunt, and some Republicans claimed the Mueller investigation was illegal. I’ll leave it to Ann Coulter, one of candidate Trump’s earliest and biggest supporters, to contradict them:
Throughout the investigation, Trump indignantly insisted there had been no collusion, and that the Mueller investigation was a hoax. And in July 2018, he stood in Helsinki next to Vladimir Putin and sided with him against the entire American intelligence community. “President Putin says it’s not Russia. I don’t see any reason why it would be,” he said. “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” This was after Trump spent two hours with Putin. We don’t know what they discussed, because they were alone other than two interpreters, and the president has taken steps to keep the content of every private meeting he’s had with Putin secret, including from his own administration’s officials.
Now, for the new Senate Intel Committee report. Keep in mind: the GOP controls the Senate, and therefore leads this committee. Some of its key findings:
First, one that will please Trump and his supporters: the Steele Dossier lacked credibility; the FBI gave it “unjustified credence,” and kept using it after it should have been apparent that it was unreliable. I’m afraid this is the only positive piece of information in the report for the president.
Ukraine did not interfere in the 2016 election. The committee found no evidence to support this conspiracy theory—one Trump believed in and acted on to the point that it led to his impeachment.
Trump’s campaign chair, Paul Manafort, posed a “grave counterintelligence threat.” Manafort shared secret campaign strategy and polling information with Russian Konstantin Kilimnik—remember that name—with whom he had formed a “close and lasting relationship” while working in Ukraine. “The committee found that Manafort’s presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign.” (Paul Manafort was convicted on eight felony counts in 2018.)
“Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer.” Kilimnik, mentioned over 800 times in the report, was also mentioned in the Mueller report as having ties to Russian intelligence. The Senate report goes further than Muller did, making clear Kilimnik was himself a Russian agent. And Trump’s campaign chair was secretly in frequent communication with him, sharing confidential information with him.
“Kilimnik almost certainly helped arrange some of the first public messaging that Ukraine had interfered in the U.S. election.” If you’re keeping track, this means that a Russian intelligence agent who was in close communication with the Trump campaign helped spread the false Ukraine story, which Trump tried to use to deflect blame from Russia. This alone is a vastly damning conclusion; in normal times it would constitute a massive scandal.
The Trump campaign used its relationship with Roger Stone to seek advance knowledge of when Wikileaks would drop hacked documents, and use them to Trump’s advantage. Stone was later convicted of seven felonies for witness tampering and lying to Congress about this very issue. But Trump commuted his sentence.
Trump lied in his written answers to Robert Mueller about Stone and Wikileaks. The president claimed he didn’t recall ever talking with Stone or anyone else about Wikileaks. But the (GOP-led!) committee says, “Despite Trump’s recollection, the Committee assesses that Trump did, in fact, speak with Stone about WikiLeaks and with members of his Campaign about Stone’s access to WikiLeaks on multiple occasions.” In fact, the campaign directed Stone to access inside knowledge from within Wikileaks regarding the timing of leak drops, which he did, and which he communicated directly to Trump.
At Trump’s request, Stone drafted at least 8 pro-Russia tweets for him in July 2016. Trump apparently really, really liked Russia and wanted to make a good impression on Putin.
Jay Sekulow (one of Trump’s personal attorneys) discussed a potential presidential pardon with Michael Cohen (a former Trump lawyer) multiple times after Cohen was indicted. Cohen testified the pardon idea had come from Trump through Sekulow. Dangling a pardon over someone who’s about to be put on trial for lying and doing other potentially illegal things for you? That’s a pretty big incentive to shut up and not cooperate with prosecutors. It’s also unethical as all get out.
The infamous meeting at Trump Tower, attended by Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner, was worse than we thought. It was “part of a broader influence operation targeting the United States that was coordinated, at least in part with elements of the Russian government.”“The committee assesses that at least two participants in the June 9, 2016 meeting…have significant connections to the Russian government, including the Russian intelligence services,” the panel concluded. “The connections the committee uncovered, particularly regarding Veselnitskaya, were far more extensive and concerning than what had been publicly known.” So, that’s the president’s son and son-in-law taking a meeting with at least two people with significant, extensive, and concerning connections to the Russian government, specifically in order to get dirt on another American and get him elected. But the FBI was supposed to ignore this, and investigating it was a made-up hoax. Okay.
The committee made criminal referrals of Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Steve Bannon to federal prosecutors over their concerns that the three had misled the committee in their testimony. The referrals were made in 2019, but apparently no investigations ever happened.
The White House “significantly hampered and prolonged the Committee’s investigative effort.” The Trump administration did everything in its power to obstruct the Senate’s investigation. Donald Trump, Jr. ignored a subpoena until he realized the Committee was seriously considering holding him in contempt of Congress.
Committee Chair, Senator Marco Rubio, insists that they found no evidence of collusion. One wonders what exceedingly narrow definition of “collusion” the Committee used in order to come to that conclusion. Perhaps the same sort of tortured logic Senator Rubio employed when he insisted that even though the president had committed an impeachable offense, he shouldn’t be removed from office.
The Trump campaign eagerly sought and accepted help from Russians in our election, and actively shared confidential information directly with a Russian intelligence agent. At the very least, this report proves that the Russia investigation was no hoax. The president will never admit this, and his supporters will never believe it. But for anyone still open to the truth, this report makes it clear.
Update: Just since I posted this ten minutes ago, I learned that Steve Bannon has been arrested—by US Postal Service agents. (I admit: I did not know such people existed.) Bannon was Chief Executive Officer of Trump’s election campaign from August 2016, and afterword served as Chief Strategist in Trump’s administration until 2017. He is accused of defrauding donors to an online crowdfunding campaign called “We Build the Wall.”
In case you’ve lost count, that’s four Trump associates just in this article who’ve been arrested/convicted of felonies.