- June 15, 2016: After the Ukrainian prime minister visits Capitol Hill, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WS), House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and other Republican leaders meet privately. During the session, McCarthy says, “I’ll guarantee you that’s what it is…The Russians hacked the DNC and got the opp [opposition] research they had on Trump.” Moments later he says, “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” referring to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) who is known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia. Some of the lawmakers laugh, but McCarthy continues, “Swear to God.” According to a transcript prepared from a tape of the discussion, Ryan immediately interrupts the conversation, saying, “This is an off the record…[laughter]…NO LEAKS…[laughter]…alright? This is how we know we are a real family here… What’s said in the family, stays in the family.” When The Washington Post obtains the transcript in May 2017, it seeks comment from Ryan and McCarthy. Ryan’s spokesperson says, “That never happened. The idea that McCarthy would assert this is false and absurd.” As detailed in the Post video accompanying its eventual story, the Post reporter then says that he has a transcript of the discussion. Ryan and McCarthy respond that the transcript is false, maybe even made up, and certainly inaccurate. When the reporter says he has listened to an audio recording of the conversation, Ryan’s spokesperson says it was a failed attempt at humor.
- May 10, 2017: At an Oval Office meeting with Russian Ambassador Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and their aides, Trump reveals highly classified intelligence about the Islamic State and American counterterrorism plans. The meeting occurs because Putin had previously asked Trump to meet with Lavrov, and Trump didn’t feel he could say no. Kislyak’s attendance was unexpected. The intelligence that Trump reveals is so sensitive that it has not been shared with American allies and has been tightly restricted within the U.S. government. Minutes after the meeting ends, Kislyak’s presence becomes known when the Russian news agency TASS publishes photographs that a Russian photographer had taken of the three men. The White House had not permitted any U.S. news organization to attend any part of the meeting, even for photographs.
- Jan. 4, 2017: NSA-designate Mike Flynn tells the transition team’s chief counsel Donald F. McGahn II that he is under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey. Flynn’s lawyer followed up, but did not get a call back until Jan. 6.
- May 15, 2017: At his daily press conference, Sean Spicer refuses—seven times—to answer whether Trump is secretly recording his conversations.
- Also May 15, 2017: National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster issues a 40-second “non-denial denial” of the Washington Post story that Trump disclosed highly classified intelligence to Russian Ambassador Kislyak and Foreign Minister Lavrov. McMaster says, “The story that came out tonight as reported is false… At no time, at no time were intelligence sources or methods discussed. And the president did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known.” The Post story had said nothing about disclosure of intelligence sources and methods. “I was in the room,” McMaster concludes, “It didn’t happen.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who also attended the Oval Office meeting with the Russians, issues a statement saying the group “did not discuss sources, methods or military operations.
- May 16, 2017: Trump tweets:
- Also on May 16, 2017: NSA McMaster tells reporters repeatedly that Trump’s disclosure of intelligence with the Russians was “wholly appropriate.” He doesn’t answer questions about whether the information was classified, including the location of the city from which the intelligence had been obtained. As his press conference ends, McMaster says that Trump “wasn’t even aware where this information came from. He wasn’t briefed on the source and method of the information, either.”
- May 17, 2017: Putin offers to provide the U.S. Congress with transcripts of the May 10 Oval Office conversations among Trump, the Russian ambassador, and Russia’s foreign minister.
- Also on May 17, 2017: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein names former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference with the election. In a White House statement, Trump says, “As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know—there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly.”
- May 18, 2017: Trump tweets: