Oct. 15, 2007, Trump said: “Look at Putin — what he’s doing with Russia — I mean, you know, what’s going on over there. I mean this guy has done — whether you like him or don’t like him — he’s doing a great job.”
September 2008, Donald Trump Jr. said: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets… we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
June 18, 2013, Trump tweeted: “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow — if so, will he become my new best friend?” While at the pageant, Trump said, “I have plans for the establishment of business in Russia. Now, I am in talks with several Russian companies to establish this skyscraper.”
July 31, 2016: Manafort denied knowing anything about the change in the Republican platform. That afternoon, Boris Epshteyn, Trump’s Russian-born adviser, spouted the Kremlin’s party line telling CNN: “Russia did not seize Crimea. We can talk about the conflict that happened between Ukraine and the Crimea… But there was no seizure by Russia. That’s an incorrect statement, characterization, of what happened.”
Aug. 6, 2016: NPR confirmed the Trump campaign’s involvement in the Republican platform change on Ukraine.
Dec. 13, 2016: NBC News’ Richard Engel reports from Moscow on Trump’s secretary of state pick, Rex Tillerson. Former Russian Energy Minister Vladimir Milov told Engel that Tillerson was a “gift for Putin.”
Dec. 29, 2016: On the same day that President Obama announced Russian sanctions for its interference with the 2016 election, national security adviser-designate Lt. Gen. Flynn placed five phone calls to the Russian ambassador.
Dec. 30, 2016: After Putin made a surprise announcement that Russia would not retaliate for the new sanctions, Trump tweeted, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) — I always knew he was very smart.”
“Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all, and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign?”
Trump never answered her. Away from cameras and heading toward the elevators, he reportedly said, “No,” his team didn’t have contact with Russia.
The Flynn Affair
Jan. 13, 2017: In response to The Washington Post’s article about Flynn’s Dec. 29 conversations with the Russian ambassador, press secretary Sean Spicer said it was only one call. They “exchanged logistical information” for an upcoming call between Trump and Vladimir Putin after the inauguration.
Jan. 15, 2017: “We should trust Putin,” Trump told The Times of London. Expressing once again his skepticism about NATO, Trump lambasted Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Jan. 15, 2017: Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, Vice President Pence said Flynn’s call to the Russian ambassador on the same day President Obama announced new sanctions was “strictly coincidental:” “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure on Russia…. What I can confirm, having to spoken with [Flynn] about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.”
Jan. 23, 2017: At Sean Spicer’s first press briefing, he said none of Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador touched on the Dec. 29 sanctions. That got the attention of FBI Director James Comey. According to the Wall Street Journal, Comey convinced acting Attorney General Sally Yates to delay informing the White House immediately about the discrepancy between Spicer’s characterization of Flynn’s calls and US intelligence intercepts showing that the two had, in fact, discussed sanctions. Comey asked Yates wait a bit longer so the FBI could to develop more information, including an interview of Flynn that occurred shortly thereafter.
Feb. 8, 2017: Flynn told reporters at The Washington Post that he did not discuss US sanctions in his December conversation with the Russian ambassador.
Feb. 9, 2017: Through a spokesman, Flynn changed his position: “While [Flynn] had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”
Feb. 10, 2017: Trump told reporters he was unaware of reports surrounding Flynn’s December conversations with the Russian ambassador.
Feb. 13, 2017: The Washington Post broke another story: Then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned the White House in late January that Flynn had mischaracterized his December conversation with the Russian ambassador, and that it made him vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Later that evening, Flynn resigned.
Feb. 14, 2017: The New York Times corroborated the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister’s admission on Nov. 10. Based on information from four current and former American officials, The Times reported, “Members of the Trump campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior intelligence officials in the year before the election.”
No, the real story is the question Trump ducked on Jan. 11: What contact did Trump or anyone on his team have with Russia before the US election?
Stay on message. Tell Republicans in Congress that American democracy requires an answer — under oath — to Ann Compton’s Jan. 11, 2017 question: “Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all, and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign?”
Putin knows the answer. So does the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, who said in November that the Kremlin had maintained continuing communications with Trump’s “immediate entourage” prior to the election. So do any campaign members and other Trump associates who, according to The New York Times, had “repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.”
But the American people don’t, and that asymmetry of information could give Putin the power to blackmail the country’s leaders. On Jan. 7, Sen. Lindsey Graham urged an investigation “wherever it leads.” A few Republicans want the Senate Intelligence Committee to add the Flynn affair in its ongoing inquiry — but they’re offering too little, too late. At this point, a credible investigation requires the approach that Sen. John McCain initially proposed: a bipartisan commission with subpoena power. American democracy can no longer trust Senate Republicans to run this show. Nor can hearings be conducted secretly.