ANOTHER TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE

Russian dollars flowing into Trump’s pocket, Roger Stone’s “time in the barrel,” and FBI Director James Comey’s confirmation that he’s investigating connections between the Trump campaign and Russia during the U.S. presidential campaign highlight the newest entries to the Trump/Russia Timeline. On March 20, 2017, I added the following items to the complete Moyers & Company Timeline.

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  • March 12, 2017: John McCain told CNN’s Jake Tapper that former Trump adviser and surrogate Roger Stone “obviously” needed to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee concerning his communications with Guccifer 2.0. McCain said that Stone should also explain fully his prior involvement with former business partner Paul Manafort in matters relating to Ukraine’s pro-Putin former president. [Added March 20, 2017]
  • March 15, 2017: Riding in a car near Pompano Beach, Florida, Roger Stone was sitting in the front passenger seat when another car broadsided it, shifted gears, backed up, and sped away. In January, Stone had claimed that he was poisoned in late 2016 with polonium, a radioactive material manufactured in a nuclear reactor and used to kill former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. Litvinenko had defected to Britain and become an outspoken critic of Putin. As he lay in a hospital bed, he said that Putin had been responsible for his impending death. On January 21, 2016, retired British High Court Judge Sir Robert Owen concluded a House of Commons inquiry and issued a 328-page report finding that Litvinenko’s accusation was probably correct. [Added March 20, 2017]
  • Also on March 15, 2017: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, said that the Committee had no evidence to support Trump’s March 4 wiretapping claim. “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” Nunes said. “Are you going to take the tweets literally? If you are, clearly the president is wrong.” [Added March 20, 2017]
  • March 16, 2017: Senate Intelligence Committee leaders issued a joint statement rebutting Trump’s unfounded assertion that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower: “Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016.” [Added March 20, 2017]
  • March 17, 2017: Roger Stone said he had just received via email the Senate Intelligence Committee’s February 17 letter asking him to preserve his records relating to Russian election interference. Quoted in The New York Times, Stone said, “I had never heard allegations that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian asset until now, and am not certain it’s correct.” He said that his 16 interactions with Guccifer 2.0, which included public Twitter posts and private messages, were all part of “exchanges,” not “separate contacts.” [Added March 20, 2017]
  • March 20, 2017: On the morning of FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before Congress on its investigations into Russian election interference, Trump tweeted: “The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in Electoral College & lost!” Hours later, Comey testified that the FBI was investigating Russian interference with election, including “the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.” With respect to Trump’s wiretapping claims, Comey said, “I have no information that supports these tweets.”

THE TRUMP RESISTANCE PLAN: STEP 5 – “PRESIDENTIAL CORRUPTION MATTERS”

[This article first appeared on billmoyers.com on March 10, 2017. It’s the seventh in my series. You can read the earlier installments here.]

“The present state of America is truly alarming to every man who is capable of reflection.”

— Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)

Paine’s line should resonate with former White House attorney Fred Fielding. As deputy and associate counsel to President Richard Nixon during Watergate, he witnessed the truly alarming spectacle of a president undermining the office’s integrity. Donald Trump must be giving Fred Fielding unpleasant flashbacks. All of Trump’s scandals – from Russia to his business conflicts – are on track to coalesce in the definitive crisis for American democracy.

About Those Conflicts

As foreign countries seek to curry Trump’s favor, his Washington, D.C. hotel gets the most attention. But it’s a symbol of larger problems. Trump’s business holdings rumble beneath every presidential decision. Sometimes they bubble to the surface.

The most obvious example is Russia. It’s impossible to divorce Trump’s infatuation with Vladimir Putin from his persistent efforts over the past three decades to develop business in that country. As recently as November 2013, Trump boasted: “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.”

But Russia is just one of many conflicts between Trump’s business interests and his presidential responsibilities. The unconstitutional ban on immigrant travel to the U.S. from seven (now reduced to six) Muslim-majority Middle Eastern countries – none of which produced a terrorist who killed anyone on American soil – excludes five Mideast nations where the Trump Organization has done business, including:

  • Saudi Arabia, Osama Bin Laden’s birthplace and the home of more terrorists who have attacked the United States than any other country;
  • The U.A.E., which includes Dubai where Trump has two golf club projects, and Abu Dhabi whose Tourism & Culture Authority is a Trump Tower tenant;
  • Azerbaijan, where the Trump International Hotel & Tower Baku was built but never opened. According to legal experts, that project should have raised numerous Trump Organization red flags relating to involvement of the country’s oligarchs, connections to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, and potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

The first lawsuit on Emoluments Clause issues offers a sample of Trump’s additional foreign entanglements:

The Con

On January 11, 2017, Trump revealed a plan that was supposed to deal with all of this. He trotted out Sheri Dillon and Nixon’s former deputy counsel, Fred Fielding (now 77). Dillon, who did all the talking, invoked Fielding’s reputation as a legal adviser to presidents: “Mr. Fielding has been extensively involved with and approved this plan.”

Except as a public relations ploy, Fielding’s imprimatur is meaningless. Immediately after Trump’s press conference, the director of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, spoke on behalf of the American people: “[T]he plan does not comport with the tradition of our Presidents over the past 40 years.”

Across the political spectrum, legal experts agreed: Trump’s conflicts plan is a sham.

  • Trump’s two adult sons and a current Trump executive now control his businesses. They get input from “Ethics Advisor” Bobby Burchfield, a long-time Republican insider and partner at the King & Spalding law firm. Burchfield serves as chair of Crossroads GPS, which Karl Rove founded. It collects “dark money” – meaning its donors remain secret.
  • Trump still owns his businesses through a “revocable trust,” a standard estate-planning tool that wealthy individuals use to avoid probating assets at death while retaining the benefits of ownership during life. Functionally, Harvard Law School Professor Robert H. Sitkoff observes, the trust beneficiary – here, Donald Trump – remains the owner.
  • The trust isn’t “blind.” Trump sees periodic reports of how much money he’s making.
  • A new “Chief Compliance Officer” is supposed to “assure that Trump Organization businesses operate at the highest levels of integrity and are not taking any actions that actually exploit, or even could be perceived as exploiting, the Office of the Presidency.” For that role, the company designated George Sorial, a Trump executive since 2007. He blew his assignment when, shortly before Trump announced his U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Trump’s sons greeted senators at the White House. (More on the plan’s legal flaws here, here, and here.)

The Plan at Work

Every day, Trump violates a core principle of the U.S. Constitution – that foreign states should be unable to buy influence over any government official, much less the president. Domestically, his conflicts are equally troublesome. Two weeks after the election, he told The New York Times, “The brand is certainly a hotter brand than it was before.” Thanks to the illusory constraints of the Dillon/Fielding plan, Trump is making the most of it.

His extensive biography remains a prominent page on the Trump Organization website: “On January 20, 2017, Mr. Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States….”

  • January 24: The Guardian reported that the Trump Organization would proceed with multi-million dollar plans to expand a boutique hotel and build another 18-hole course at the Trump International Golf Course Scotland in Aberdeenshire. “Implementing future phasing of existing properties does not constitute a new transaction, so we intend to proceed,” a Trump spokesman said.
  • February 11: Trump hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago. Trump asserted that he was hosting Abe and his wife as a “gift,” but it’s unclear whether his largesse extended to the entourage accompanying both world leaders to Florida.
  • February 16: Trump finally prevailed in his decade-long quest to secure trademark rights in China.

And when it comes to exploiting his office, Trump is a family man. On February 8, Trump blasted Nordstrom’s for dropping Ivanka’s fashion line. The next morning, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway took a cue from her boss and violated federal ethics rules with a Fox & Friends appearance plugging Ivanka’s “stuff”: “I’m going to give it a free commercial here. Go buy it today everybody. You can find it online.” For that, Conway received “counseling.”

The Challenge

Sinister forces of corruption have clear pathways to a president who embraces their arrival. We, the people, must send a message to Republican senators who will determine the fate of the republic. Based on their cautious approach to candidate Trump, the most receptive are likely to be: Maine’s Susan Collins, Colorado’s Cory Gardner, Nevada’s Dean Heller, South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham, Arizona’s John McCain and Jeff Flake, Utah’s Mike Lee, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Ohio’s Rob Portman, and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse. Senators Heller and Flake are up for re-election in 2018. So is Tennessee’s Bob Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He’s responsible for assuring that Trump’s business conflicts are not distorting America’s foreign policy.

In addition to Step 3’s message urging Congress to establish a bipartisan commission investigating Putin’s role in Trump’s victory, send this:

“Trump’s business conflicts undermine the presidency. For the sake of the country, stand up for democracy.”

In a 1985 interview, Fred Fielding reflected:

“Every time I think that the lesson of Watergate is a permanent legacy, someone turns around and does something so stupid that I realize that there is never a universal lesson to learn from anything. I guess history does have to repeat sometimes.”

Call; write; visit. At anti-Trump protests, add this banner: “Presidential corruption matters.” Maybe Fred Fielding will see it.

LATEST UPDATES TO THE TRUMP/RUSSIA TIMELINE

It has been an eventful ten days for the Trump/Russia Timeline that I’ve been curating for Bill Moyers’ website. After Attorney General Jeff Session’s qualified and carefully worded recusal – covering only investigations relating to the 2016 presidential campaigns – Trump campaign surrogate and adviser Roger Stone returned to the spotlight. Stone’s recent revelations shed new light on 2016 events that have taken on added significance and are now included in the Timeline. Below are the new entries, but for the full contextual impact, see how they fit in the entire Motyers & Company Timeline.

  • 2015: An FBI special agent contacted the Democratic National Committee to report that at least one DNC computer system had been hacked by an espionage team linked to the Russian government. The agent was transferred to a tech-support contractor at the help desk. Neither of them followed up on the call. [Added Mar. 13, 2017]
  • May 2016: CrowdStrike determined that highly sophisticated Russian-intelligence affiliated adversaries – denominated COZY BEAR and FANCY BEAR – had been responsible for the DNC hack. FANCY BEAR, in particular, had indicators of affiliation with Russia’s Main Intelligence Department (also know as the GRU). [Added Mar. 13, 2017]
  • July 6, 2016: Another batch of hacked DNC documents appeared on the Guccifer 2.0 website. [Added Mar. 13, 2017]
  • July 14, 2016: Another batch of hacked DNC documents appeared on the Guccifer 2.0 website. [Added Mar. 13, 2017]
  • Aug. 12, 2016: A batch of hacked Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) documents appeared on the Guccifer 2.0 website. [Added Mar. 13, 2017]
  • Aug. 15, 2016: Continuing their private exchange, Guccifer 2.0 responded to Stone: “wow thank u for writing back and thank you for an article about me!!! do u find anything interesting in the docs I posted?” [Added Mar. 13, 2017]
  • Aug. 17, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 sent another private message to Stone: “I’m pleased to say that u r great man and I think I gonna read ur books” “please tell me if I can help u anyhow it would be a great pleasure to me.” [Added Mar. 13, 2017]
  • Sept. 9, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 sent Roger Stone a link to a blog post about voter turnout, along with this message: “hi what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign? Basically how it works is there are people who will vote party line no matter what and there are folks who will actually make a decision. The basic premise of winning an election is turnout your base (marked turnout) and target the marginal folks with persuadable advertising (marked persuadable). They spend millions calculating who is persuadable or what we call a ‘soft democrat’ and who is a ‘hard democrat.’” [Added Mar. 13, 2017]
  • Jan. 6, 2017: The CIA, FBI and NSA released their unclassified report, concluding unanimously, “Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The three intelligence agencies agreed that “the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible.” The report also stated that WikiLeaks had been Russia’s conduit for the effort. “Russian military intelligence (GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release US victim data obtained in cyberoperations publicly and in exclusives to media outlets and relayed material to WikiLeaks.” [Added Mar. 13, 2017]
  • Feb. 25, 2017: Nigel Farage, ex-leader of the U.K. Independence Party, key Brexit campaigner, and one of Donald Trump’s most visible foreign country supporters during and after the presidential campaign, dined with Trump, daughter Ivanka, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Florida Governor Rick Scott at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. [Added Mar. 13, 2017]
  • March 2, 2017: Trump said he has “total confidence” in Jeff Sessions and he shouldn’t recuse himself from the Russia investigation. An hour later, Sessions recused himself “from any existing for future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States.” [Revised Mar. 13, 2017]
  • March 7, 2017: WikiLeaks released a trove of alleged CIA documents relating to the agency’s hacking tools for smartphones, computers, and Internet-connected devices. [Added Mar. 13, 2017]
  • March 9, 2017: In an online press conference, Assange threatened to release more documents relating to CIA’s hacking capabilities and methods. [Added Mar. 13, 2017]
  • Also on March 9, 2017: When reporters asked Sean Spicer about Nigel Farage’s meeting with Julian Assange and whether Farange was delivering a message from Trump, Sean Spicer said, “I have no idea.” [Added Mar. 13, 2017]
  • March 10, 2017: Trump campaign surrogate Roger Stone admitted that in August 2016 he had engaged in private direct messaging with Guccifer 2.0, whom U.S. intelligence agencies had later identified as the persona for the Russian hacking operation. Describing the messages as “completely innocuous,” Stone said, “It was so perfunctory, brief and banal I had forgotten it.” [Added Mar. 13, 2017]

AN UPDATED TIMELINE: RUSSIA AND TRUMP

This Timeline was first published and updated at billmoyers.com. It will be updated periodically. 

  • Trump’s efforts to develop business in Russia date to 1987. In 1996, he applied for his trademark in that country. Discussing ambitions for a Trump hotel in 2007, he declared, “We will be in Moscow at some point.”
  • 2002: Russian-born Felix H. Sater and his company, Bayrock Group – a Trump Tower tenant – began working with Trump on a series of real estate development deals, one of which became the Trump SoHo. Another development partner in Trump SoHo was Tamir Sapir, a Russian immigrant born in the Republic of Georgia who left the Soviet Union in 1973. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • 2005: Donald Trump gave Sater and Bayrock an exclusive deal to develop a project in Russia, according to Sater’s 2008 deposition. “I’d come back, pop my head into Mr. Trump’s office and tell him, you know, ‘Moving forward on the Moscow deal.’ And he would say ‘All right… I showed him photos, I showed him the site, showed him the view from the site. It’s pretty spectacular.” But that early effort to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow failed. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • 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.”
  • July 2008: As the Florida real estate market began to crash, Trump sold a Florida residence to a Russian oligarch for $95 million, believed to be the biggest single-family home sale in U. S. history. The Russian oligarch never lived in the house and, since then, it has been demolished. Three years earlier, Trump had bought the home at auction for $41 million. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • September 2008Donald 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.”
  • January 2010 – January 2011: After leaving Bayrock, Sater became “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump,” according to his Trump Organization business card. He also had a Trump Organization e-mail address and office. The phone number listed on his business card belonged previously to a lawyer in Trump’s general counsel’s office. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • 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 8, 2013: After a BBC reporter questioned Trump about Felix Sater’s alleged prior connections to organized crime, Trump ended the interview[Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • October 17, 2013: On The Late Show, David Letterman asked Trump, “Have you had any dealings with the Russians?” Trump answered, “Well I’ve done a lot of business with the Russians…” Letterman continued, “Vladmir Putin, have you ever met the guy?” Trump said, “He’s a tough guy. I met him once.”
  • Nov. 5, 2013: In a deposition, an attorney asked Trump about Felix Sater. “If he were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn’t know what he looked like,” Trump answered. When asked how many times he had ever spoken with Sater, Trump said, “Not many.” When asked about his July 2013 BBC interview during which he was questioned about Sater’s alleged connections to organized crime, Trump said he didn’t remember it. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • November 2013: Trump said: “I do have a relationship [with Putin] and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today [at the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow]… I do have a relationship with him… He’s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and who he’s represented.”
  • Mar. 6, 2014: Trump said: “You know, I was in Moscow a couple of months ago. I own the Miss Universe Pageant and they treated me so great. Putin even sent me a present, a beautiful present.” On the same day, President Obama signed an Executive Order imposing sanctions on Russia for its unlawful annexation of Crimea.
  • June 16, 2015: Trump declared his candidacy for president.
  • Sept. 21, 2015: On Hugh Hewitt’s radio program, Trump said, “[T]he oligarchs are under [Putin’s] control, to a large extent. I mean, he can destroy them, and he has destroyed some of them… [T]wo years ago, I was in Moscow… I was with the top level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top of the government people. I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Nov. 10, 2015: Trump said: “I got to know [Putin] very well because we were both on 60 Minutes.We were stablemates, and we did very well that night.”
  • Nov. 30, 2015: When an Associated Press reporter asked Trump about Felix Sater, he answered, “Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it. I’m not that familiar with him.” Trump referred questions about Sater to his staff. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Feb. 17, 2016: As questions about Russia swirled around Trump, he changed his story: “I have no relationship with [Putin], other than he called me a genius.”
  • Feb. 28, 2016: Jeff Sessions formally endorsed Donald Trump’s candidacy for president. Three days later, Trump named Sessions chairman of his campaign’s national security advisory committee. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • March 17, 2016: Jeff Sessions discussed Trump’s foreign policy positions, saying, “I think an argument can be made there is no reason for the U.S. and Russia to be at this loggerheads. Somehow, someway we ought to be able to break that logjam. Strategically it’s not justified for either country.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Mar. 21, 2016: In a Washington Post interview, Trump identified Carter Page as one of his foreign policy advisers. Page had opened the Moscow office of investment banking firm Merrill Lynch and had advised Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom, in which Page is an investor. He blamed U.S. 2014 sanctions relating to Russia’s annexation of Ukraine for driving down Gazprom’s stock price. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Mar. 31, 2016: Meeting with several of his national security and foreign policy advisers, including J.D. Gordon, Trump said that he “didn’t want to go to World War III over Ukraine.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • April 20, 2016: Paul Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager. Reports surfaced about his 2007 to 2012 ties to Ukraine’s pro-Putin former president, whom Manafort had helped to elect.
  • Early June 2016: At a closed-door gathering of high-powered foreign policy experts visiting with the Prime Minister of India, Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page hailed Vladimir Putin as stronger and more reliable than President Obama and touted the positive effect that a Trump presidency would have on U.S.-Russia relations. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • July 18, 2016: The Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign worked behind the scenes on a Republican Convention platform plank. It gutted the GOP’s longstanding support for Ukrainians’ popular resistance to Russia’s 2014 intervention.
  • Also on July 18, 2016: At a Heritage Foundation event during the Republican Convention, Jeff Sessions spoke individually with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • July 22, 2016: On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks released its first trove of emails stolen from the DNC.
  • July 24, 2016: When ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked whether there were any connections between the Trump campaign and Putin’s regime, Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort answered, “No, there are not. And you know, there’s no basis to it.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • July 25, 2016: Trump tweeted, “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.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • July 27, 2016: Trump said: “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.” At the same press conference, he insisted: “I never met Putin. I’ve never spoken to him.” In an interview with CBS, he reiterated: “But I have nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do, I never met Putin, I have nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.”
  • 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.”
  • Also on July 31, 2016: Jeff Sessions defended Trump’s approach to Russia: “This whole problem with Russia is really disastrous for America, for Russia and for the world,” he said. “Donald Trump is right. We need to figure out a way to end this cycle of hostility that’s putting this country at risk, costing us billions of dollars in defense, and creating hostilities.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Also on July 31, 2016: Trump told ABC News that he was not involved in the Republican Party platform change that softened America’s position on Russia’s annexation of Ukraine. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Aug. 19, 2016: As reports of Manafort’s financial connections to Ukraine intensified, he resigned from the Trump campaign.
  • Sept. 23, 2016: In response to reporter inquiries about Carter Page, Trump campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks replied, “He has no formal role in the campaign.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Oct. 7, 2016: In a joint statement, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence said, “The US Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations… We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” But two other stories dominated the news cycle: WikiLeaks began publishing stolen emails from the account of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tapes became public.
  • Oct. 19, 2016: During the third presidential debate, Trump dismissed the Oct. 7 US intelligence findings: “[Clinton] has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else… Our country has no idea.” And he said this: “I don’t know Putin. I have no idea… I never met Putin. This is not my best friend.”
  • Oct. 31, 2016: Asked about news reports that the FBI was investigating connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, former campaign manager Manafort said, “None of it is true… There’s no investigation going on by the FBI that I’m aware of.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Also on Nov. 10, 2016: Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks said, “There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Early December 2016: In Moscow, Russians arrested a Russian computer security expert and two high-level intelligence officers who worked on cyber operations. They were charged with treason for providing information to the United States. The arrests amounted to a purge of the cyberwing of the F.S.B., successor to the K.G.B. and the main Russian intelligence and security agency. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Also in December 2016: Officials in the Obama administration became concerned that the incoming administration would cover up or destroy previously gathered intelligence relating Russia’s interference with the election. To preserve that intelligence for future investigations, they spread it across the government. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Dec. 8, 2016: Carter Page was in Moscow for several days to meet with “business leaders and thought leaders.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Dec. 9, 2016: In response to a Washington Post report that the CIA had concluded Russia had intervened in the election to help Trump win, he said, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’”
  • Dec. 11, 2016: Trump praised Rex Tillerson, chairman of Exxon Mobil and recipient of Russia’s “Order of Friendship” Medal from Vladimir Putin in 2013, as “much more than a business executive” and a “world-class player.” Trump said Tillerson “knows many of the players” and did “massive deals in Russia” for Exxon. Two days later, Trump nominated him to be secretary of state.
  • Also on Dec. 11, 2016: Asked about the earlier US intelligence report on hacking, Trump said, “They have no idea if it’s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place. I mean, they have no idea.”
  • Dec. 12, 2016: While in Moscow, Trump’s former campaign surrogate Jack Kingston met with Russian businessmen to discuss what they might expect from a Trump administration. “Trump can look at sanctions,” Kingston said. “They’ve been in place long enough.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Dec. 13, 2016: NBC News’ Richard Engel reported 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.”
  • Jan. 3Jan. 4, and Jan. 5, 2017: Trump tweeted a series of attacks on the integrity of the US intelligence community’s findings that Russia had hacked the election.
  • Jan. 6, 2017: The CIA, FBI and NSA released their unclassified report, concluding unanimously, “Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election.” The three intelligence agencies agreed that “the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible.” The report also stated that WikiLeaks had been Russia’s conduit for the effort.
  • Jan. 10, 2017: At Jeff Sessions’ confirmation hearing to become attorney general, Sen. Al Franken asked Sessions, “[I]f there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?” Sessions answered: “I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Jan. 11, 2017: At his first news conference, Trump said, “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”
  • Also on Jan. 11, 2017: The final question of Trump’s first news conference came from Ann Compton of ABC News: “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.
  • Jan. 13, 2017: In response to The Washington Post’s article about NSA-designate 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.
  • Also on 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,” explaining: “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. 19, 2017: The New York Times reported that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, along with advisers Roger Stone and Carter Page, were under investigation in connection with possible links to Russia. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Jan. 20, 2017: Trump inaugurated. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Jan. 22, 2017: Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn was sworn in as National Security Adviser, a position that did not require Senate confirmation.
  • Jan. 23, 2017: At Sean Spicer’s first press briefing, Spicer said that 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 reportedly asked Yates to wait a bit longer so that the FBI could to develop more information and speak with Flynn himself. The FBI interviewed Flynn shortly thereafter.
  • Jan. 24, 2017: According to a subsequent article in The Washington PostFlynn reportedly denied to FBI agents that he had discussed US sanctions against Russia in his December 2016 calls with the Russian ambassador.
  • Late January 2017: At the Manhattan Loews Regency hotel on Park Avenue, Trump’s personal attorney, Michael D. Cohen, met with Felix Sater and Andrii Artemenko, a pro-Putin lawmaker from Ukraine. Artemenko and Sater gave Cohen a peace plan whereby Russia would lease Ukraine for 50 or 100 years and, eventually, get relief from U.S. sanctions. According to The New York Times, Cohen said he would give the plan to NSA Mike Flynn. Responding to questions from the Washington Post, Cohen denied that statement, calling it “fake news.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • 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.
  • Also on Feb. 10, 2017: On the Friday preceding Trump’s weekend at Mar-A-Lago, the plane belonging to the Russian oligarch who had bought a Florida residence from Trump for $95 million in 2008 flew from the south of France to Miami International Airport. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Feb. 13, 2017The 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.” Meanwhile, advisers to Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated his earlier position: Sessions saw no need to recuse himself from the ongoing Justice Department investigations into the Trump/Russia connections.
  • Feb. 15, 2017: Trump tweeted a series of outbursts attacking the Trump/Russia connection as “non-sense” and diverting attention to “un-American” leaks in which “information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy.”
  • Shortly thereafter, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz and other congressional Republicans formally asked the Justice Department’s Inspector General to investigate the leaks, but they and their GOP colleagues resisted the creation of an independent bipartisan commission with the power to convene public hearings and discover the truth about the Trump/Russia connections. During an afternoon appearance with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump refused to answer questions about connections between his presidential campaign and Russia. That evening, The New York Times reported that Trump was planning to appoint Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire hedge fund manager and Trump ally, to lead “a broad review of American intelligence agencies.” Feinberg has no prior experience in intelligence or government, but he has close ties to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.
  • Also on Feb. 15: Chief of staff Reince Priebus asked FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to rebut publicly The New York Times’ story about Trump aides’ contacts with Russia during the campaign. McCabe and FBI Director Comey refused. The White House then asked senior intelligence officials and key lawmakers – including the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees conducting the Trump/Russia investigation – to contact the media and counter the Times story themselves. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Feb. 16, 2017: Trump continued his diversionary twitter assault on the intelligence leaks that were fueling intensified scrutiny of his Russia connections. At Trump’s afternoon press conference, he said: “I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia… Russia is fake news. Russia — this is fake news put out by the media.” Reporters asked repeatedly about anyone else involved with Trump or his campaign. “No,” Trump said. “Nobody that I know of.”
  • Feb. 17, 2017: FBI Director Comey met privately with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee to discuss the Russia investigation. Immediately thereafter, the Committee sent a letter asking more than a dozen agencies, organizations and individuals – including the White House – to preserve all communications related to the Senate panel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Feb. 26, 2017: NBC’s Chuck Todd noted a pattern: Trump’s attacks on the press followed immediately after a new and unflattering Trump/Russia story breaks. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Also on March 1, 2017: More than 10 days after the Senate Intelligence Committee had requested that the White House and other agencies preserve Trump/Russia-related communications, the White House counsel’s office instructed Trump’s aides to preserve such materials, according to the Associated Press[Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • March 1, 2017: In response to reports in The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times about Jeff Sessions’ pre-election contacts with the Russian ambassador, Sessions issued a statement saying he “never met with any Russian officials to discuss any issues of the campaign.” [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • Also March 2, 2017: Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page admitted to meeting with Russian ambassador Kislyak during the campaign. Another former adviser, J.D. Gordon, admitted that he’d met with Kislyak during the Republican Convention in July. Gordon said he had successfully urged changes in the party platform that Trump had sought to soften U.S. policy regarding Ukraine. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • March 4, 2017: Trump was reportedly furious that Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the Trump/Russia investigation. He unleashed a Tweet-storm, claiming that President Obama had wiretapped his phones during the presidential campaign. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]
  • March 5, 2017: Sean Spicer announced that neither Trump nor the White House would comment further on Trump/Russia matters until Congress completed an investigation into whether President Obama’s executive branch abused its powers during 2016 election. [Added Mar. 6, 2017]

This is part of a series by Steven Harper for Moyers & Company. Read the other posts in the series: Trump Resistance Plan.

JERRY FALWELL JR.’S NEW ASSIGNMENT

Since his inauguration, Donald Trump has dominated news cycles with chaos. It was easy to miss his new task force charged with deregulating higher education. The leader is Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University.

“The goal is to pare it back and give colleges and their accrediting agencies more leeway in governing their affairs,” said Falwell, an evangelical leader with a law degree.

Heaven help us all.

Liberty University

Falwell’s father founded Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. It thrives on federal student loan and grant dollars — $347 million for undergraduates alone in 2015, according to The New York Times. Liberty’s nominal student loan default rate within three years of graduation is nine percent. But only 38 percent of Liberty borrowers are paying down at least one dollar on their student loan principal amounts within three years of leaving the school. The Times also reports that six years after entering college, 41 percent of Liberty students earn less than $25,000 a year. That’s about what a typical 25-year-old with only a high school diploma earns.

For years, law schools have been the leading edge of this crisis. Falwell’s Liberty University has one of those, too. Tuition is $32,000 a year. Twenty percent of first-year students entering in 2014 left for academic reasons. Of 61 students who graduated in 2015, only half got full-time long-term jobs requiring a J.D. —  including one graduate who went to work for Liberty. There was some relatively good news: the average debt load for Liberty’s class of 2015 students who borrowed for law school was $68,000 — a lot lower than the $112,000 average for all law schools.

Reversal of Fortune 

Any progress that the Obama administration made to increase accountability in higher education seems destined for Trump’s dustbin. The Department of Education had put heat on schools that were exploiting students who incurred enormous educational debt for degrees of dubious value. Last summer, one of the department’s advisory committees took the American Bar Association to task for allowing law schools to run such scams. In November, the ABA put Charlotte Law School on probation while the school tried to work out its problems. In December, Charlotte lost its eligibility for federal student loans and its death spiral accelerated.

At long last, someone noticed that federal money was allowing bottom-feeder law schools to stay in business. But the legal profession’s accrediting agency – the types of organizations that Falwell says he wants to vest with greater decision-making power – hadn’t pulled the trigger on Charlotte. The DOE had.

President Obama also moved the vast majority of student lending from the private sector to the federal government. The expectation is that Trump will move it back. Since the election, the stock prices of private student lenders and loan servicing companies have soared. They’re a good bet. Federal guarantees protect lenders; borrowers can’t discharge educational debt in bankruptcy.

The end result is that marginal schools still have no financial skin in the game. They keep filling classrooms with students who borrow huge sums for degrees that aren’t worth it. Income-based repayment programs may provide some relief, but eventually someone will figure out that the U.S. Treasury will wind up footing that bill, which could become a very big number. When loan forgiveness programs shrink or disappear, an entire generation will live — and, in many cases, die — with educational debt incurred to pay the big salaries of people like Jerry Falwell, Jr.

How much damage could Falwell’s task force do? Plenty. The ABA is institutionally incapable of cracking down on law schools that should have closed long ago or never opened at all. Watch out for this: If the federal student loan spigot reopens for Charlotte Law School, there’s no bottom in sight.

What Would Jesus Do?

Jerry Falwell, Jr. was an anchor of Trump’s evangelical constituency. As president of Liberty, he earns $900,000 a year. In fact, Falwell said Trump offered him the Secretary of Education position that DeVos now occupies, but he turned it down. Trump wanted a four-to-six year commitment; Falwell reportedly said he couldn’t afford to work at a cabinet-level job for more than two years.

As Falwell and others like him prosper, their students suffer. Now that Falwell is in charge of deregulating higher education, Trump’s victory speech after winning the Nevada primary last year takes on new meaning: “We won the evangelicals… We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

I suspect Jerry Falwell, Jr. loves the poorly educated, too. When it comes to selling a dubious degree from a marginal school, they’re especially inviting targets.

THE TRUMP RESISTANCE PLAN: A TIMELINE — RUSSIA AND PRESIDENT TRUMP

[This article first appeared on billmoyers.com on February 15, 2017 (updated on on February 17). You can read the earlier installments in my Trump Resistance Plan series here.]

The last installment of the Trump Resistance Plan began with Thomas Paine’s 1776 observation in Common Sense, “Time makes more converts than reason.”

Sometimes, it doesn’t take much time at all. Russia interfered with an American presidential election; Congressional Republicans unwilling to convert and seek the truth no longer have anywhere to hide.

Putin’s 2016 Ticket

Investigative reporters have begun to fill out the Trump/Russia timeline. To keep everything in one location, here’s an updated summary (so far):

— Trump’s efforts to develop business in Russia date to 1987. In 1996, he applied for his trademark in that country. Discussing ambitions for a Trump hotel in 2007, he declared, “We will be in Moscow at some point.”

October 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.”

— October 17, 2013: On The Late Show, David Letterman asked Trump, “Have you had any dealings with the Russians?” Trump answered, “Well I’ve done a lot of business with the Russians…” Letterman continued, “Vladmir Putin, have you ever met the guy?” Trump said, “He’s a tough guy. I met him once.”

November 2013, Trump said: “I do have a relationship [with Putin] and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today [at the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow]… I do have a relationship with him… He’s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and who he’s represented.”

November 11, 2013, Trump tweeted: “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.”

March 6, 2014, Trump said: “You know, I was in Moscow a couple of months ago. I own the Miss Universe Pageant and they treated me so great. Putin even sent me a present, a beautiful present.” On the same day, President Obama signed an Executive Order imposing sanctions on Russia for its unlawful annexation of Crimea.

— June 16, 2015: Trump declares his candidacy for president.

— September 29, 2015, Trump told Bill O’Reilly: “I will tell you in terms of leadership he [Putin] is getting an ‘A,’ and our president is not doing so well.”

November 10, 2015, Trump said: “I got to know [Putin] very well because we were both on 60 Minutes. We were stablemates, and we did very well that night.”

— December 10, 2015: Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who would become Trump’s National Security Adviser, sat at Putin’s table for the 10th anniversary gala of Russia’s state-owned television propaganda network, RT. Flynn had made a paid appearance on the network. 

February 17, 2016: As questions about Russia swirled around Trump, he changed his story: “I have no relationship with [Putin], other than he called me a genius.”

— April 20, 2016: Paul Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager. Reports surfaced about his 2007 to 2012 ties to Ukraine’s pro-Putin former president, whom Manafort had helped to elect. 

— July 18, 2016: The Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign worked behind the scenes on a Republican convention platform plank. It gutted the GOP’s longstanding support for Ukrainians’ popular resistance to Russia’s 2014 intervention.

July 22, 2016: On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks released its first trove of emails stolen from the DNC.

July 27, 2016, Trump said: “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.” At the same press conference, he insisted: “I never met Putin. I’ve never spoken to him.” In an interview with CBS, he reiterated: “But I have nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do, I never met Putin, I have nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.”

— 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.”

— August 6, 2016: NPR confirmed the Trump campaign’s involvement in the Republican platform change on Ukraine.

—August 19, 2016: As reports of Manafort’s financial connections to Ukraine intensified, he resigned from the Trump campaign.

— October 1, 2016: Six days before Wikileaks released emails that the Russians had hacked from John Podesta’s email account, Trump’s informal adviser and surrogate, Roger Stone tweeted: “Wednesday@HillaryClinton is done. #Wikileaks.”

October 4, 2016: Trump tweeted: “CLINTON’S CLOSE TIES TO PUTIN DESERVE SCRUTINY.”

— October 7, 2016: In a joint statement, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence said, “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations… We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” But two other stories dominated the news cycle: WikiLeaks began publishing stolen emails from the account of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tapes became public.

October 12, 2016: Roger Stone told NBC News, “I have back-channel communications with WikiLeaks.”

October 19, 2016: During the third presidential debate, Trump dismissed the October 7 U.S. intelligence findings: “[Clinton] has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else… Our country has no idea.” And he said this: “I don’t know Putin. I have no idea… I never met Putin. This is not my best friend.”

— November 9, 2016: After Putin announced Trump’s election victory, Russia’s Parliament erupted in applause.

— November 10, 2016: Russia’s deputy foreign minister admitted that during the campaign, the Kremlin had continuing communications with Trump’s “immediate entourage.”

December 9, 2016: In response to a Washington Post report that the CIA had concluded Russia had intervened in the election to help Trump win, he said, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’ ”

December 11, 2016: Trump praised Rex Tillerson, chairman of Exxon Mobil and recipient of Russia’s “Order of Friendship” Medal from Vladimir Putin in 2013, as “much more than a business executive” and a “world-class player.” Trump said Tillerson “knows many of the players” and did “massive deals in Russia” for Exxon. Two days later, Trump nominated him to be Secretary of State.

— Also on December 11, 2016: Asked about the earlier U.S. intelligence report on hacking, Trump said, “They have no idea if it’s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place. I mean, they have no idea.”

December 13, 2016: NBC News’ Richard Engel reported 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.”

December 29, 2016: On the same day that President Obama announced Russian sanctions for its interference with the 2016 election, NSA-designate Lt. Gen. Flynn placed five phone calls to the Russian ambassador.

December 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.”

January 3January 4, and January 5, 2017: Trump tweeted a series of attacks on the integrity of the U.S. intelligence community’s findings that Russia had hacked the election.

January 6, 2017:The CIA, FBI and NSA released their unclassified report concluding unanimously, “Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. The three intelligence agencies agreed that “the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible.” The report also stated that Wikileaks had been Russia’s conduit for the effort.

— January 11, 2017: At his first news conference, Trump said, “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

— Also on January 11, 2017: the final question of Trump’s news conference came from Ann Compton of ABC News:

“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

January 13, 2017: In response to The Washington Post’s article about General Flynn’s December 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.

January 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.

January 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.”

— January 22, 2017: Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn was sworn in as National Security Adviser, a position that did not require Senate confirmation.

January 23, 2017: At Sean Spicer’s first press briefing, he said that none of Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador touched on the December 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 U.S. 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.

— January 24, 2017: According to a subsequent article in The Washington Post, Flynn reportedly denied to FBI agents that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia in his December 2016 calls with the Russian ambassador.

January 26, 2017: Acting Attorney General Yates informed White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had made misleading statements about his late December conversations with the Russian ambassador. Sean Spicer later said that Trump and a small group of White House advisers were “immediately informed of the situation.”

— January 30, 2017: Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. According to his statement, the reason was that she had “betrayed the Department of Justice” by refusing to defend Trump’s travel ban in court.

February 8, 2017: Flynn told reporters at The Washington Post that he did not discuss U.S. sanctions in his December conversation with the Russian ambassador.

— Also on February 8, 2017: Jeff Sessions, the first senator to endorse Trump’s candidacy and the former chair of theTrump campaign’s national security advisory committee, became Attorney General. Every Republican senator and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted to confirm him. During the confirmation process, Sessions had said he was “not aware of any basis to recuse myself” from the Justice Department’s Russia-related investigations of Trump.

February 9, 2017: Through a spokesman, NSA Mike Flynn changed his position: “While [Flynn] had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

February 10, 2017: Trump told reporters he was unaware of reports surrounding Flynn’s December conversations with the Russian ambassador.

February 13, 2017: The Washington Post broke another story: Then-acting Attorney General 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.

February 14, 2017: The New York Times corroborated the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister’s admission on November 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.” Meanwhile, advisers to Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated his earlier position: Sessions saw no need to recuse himself from the ongoing Justice Department investigations into the Trump/Russia connections.

February 15, 2017: Trump tweeted a series of outbursts attacking the Trump/Russia connection as “non-sense” and diverting attention to “un-American” leaks in which “information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy.”

Shortly thereafter, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz and other congressional Republicans formally asked the Justice Department’s Inspector General to investigate the leaks, but they and their GOP colleagues resisted the creation of an independent bipartisan commission with the power to convene public hearings and discover the truth about the Trump/Russia connections.

During an afternoon appearance with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump refused to answer questions about connections between his presidential campaign and Russia. That evening, The New York Times reported that Trump was planning to appoint Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire hedge fund manager and Trump ally, to lead “a broad review of American intelligence agencies.” Feinberg has no prior experience in intelligence or government, but he has close ties to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.

— February 16, 2017: Trump continued his diversionary twitter assault on intelligence leaks that were intensifying scrutiny of his Russia connections. At Trump’s afternoon press conference, he said: “I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia… Russia is fake news. Russia — this is fake news put out by the media.” Reporters asked repeatedly about anyone else involved with Trump or his campaign. “No,” Trump said. “Nobody that I know of… Russia is a ruse.”

Keep Sending the Message

In response to the latest controversy surrounding Mike Flynn and Russia, Trump tweeted a Valentine’s Day diversion: “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?”

No, the real story is the question Trump ducked on January 11 and deflected repeatedly on February 16: What contact did Trump or anyone on his team have with Russia before the U.S. election?

Stay on message. Tell Republicans in Congress that American democracy requires an answer – under oath – to Ann Compton’s January 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 January 7, Senator Lindsay 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 Senator 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.

Congress must authorize a special independent 9/11-type commission. Step 2 of The Trump Resistance Plan has contact information for messages to Republicans and Democrats in Congress. The message to all of them is simple: “Step up, stand strong, and save democracy while someone still can.”

 Call, write, email, march, and win.