On Thursday, August 17, 2017, Bill Moyers and I will appear on Lawrence O’Donnell’s “The Last Word.” (MSNBC; 10:00 EDT) We’ll be discussing the Trump/Russia Timeline, Bill Moyers’ recent interview of me, and the Comey firing video.
1987: Trump’s Early Real Estate Dealings
Trump’s efforts to develop business in Russia date to 1987. In 1996, he visits Moscow with his long-time friend Howard Lorber, an American businessman who, according to Trump, has significant investments in Russia.
There, the two men scout potential locations for a major Trump project. “We are actually looking at something in Moscow right now,” Trump tells The New Yorker a few months later. “And it would be skyscrapers and hotels, not casinos… And we’re working with the local government, the mayor of Moscow and the mayor’s people. So far, they’ve been very responsive.”
June 15, 2013: The Agalarovs Meet with Trump in Las Vegas
Russian real estate oligarch Aras Agalarov and his son, Emin, meet with Donald Trump in Las Vegas, where the Trump-owned Miss USA pageant is being held. [Added Aug. 14, 2017]
Fall 2015: Plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow Put on Hold
According to a Feb. 19, 2017 article in The New York Times citing Felix Sater, Trump’s bid for the presidency brings work on a Trump Tower in Moscow to a halt.
However, in July 2017, Yahoo! News’ Michael Isikoff reports that work with the Agalarovs to build a Trump Tower in Moscow came to a halt because of an economic downturn in Russia that was caused, in part, by sanctions the US and others imposed on Russia in 2014, following its intervention in Ukraine. [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]
JUNE 9, 2016: Don Jr., Manafort, Kushner Meet With Russian Lawyer
Natalia Veselnitskaya, the “Russian government attorney” referenced in Goldstone’s earlier emails to Donald Trump Jr., meets at Trump Tower with Don Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner.
Veselnitskaya was formerly married to a former deputy transportation minister of the Moscow region. Her clients include state-owned businesses and a senior government official’s son, whose company is under investigation in the United States at the time. According to Reuters, from 2005 to 2013, Veselnitskaya represented successfully the Russian FSB’s interests in a legal dispute over ownership of an upscale property in northwest Moscow. The FSB is the successor to the Soviet-era KGB that Vladimir Putin headed before he became Russian president. Veselnitskaya is also one of the principal players in Russia’s ongoing efforts to eliminate US sanctions that the Magnitsky Act imposes.
Another Russian attendee at the June 9 meeting is Rinat Akhmetshin, a lobbyist reported by some to be a former Soviet intelligence officer, though he denies having ties to Russia’s intelligence agency. Akhmetshin also has been pushing repeal of the Magnitsky Act.
A third attendee is a Russian associate of real estate developer Aras Agalarov, Ike Kaveladze — a vice president for Agalarov’s company focusing on real estate and finance. Born in the Soviet Republic of Georgia, he came to the United States in 1991. In 2000, a congressional inquiry led to a Government Accounting Office report that Kaveladze had set up more than 2,000 corporations in Delaware for Russian brokers and then opened bank accounts for them, without knowing who owned the corporations. According to contemporaneous reporting in The New York Times, “The GAO report said nothing about the sources of the money. In view of past investigations into laundering, this wave was highly likely to have arisen from Russian executives who were seeking to avoid taxes, although some money could be from organized crime… In an interview, Mr. Kaveladze said he had engaged in no wrongdoing. He described the GAO investigation as a ‘witch hunt.’” [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]
March 10, 2017: Trump Fires US Attorney Breet Bharara and 45 Other US Attorneys
Trump fires 46 incumbent US attorneys, leaving in place only Rod Rosenstein of Maryland and Dana Boente of Virginia (who is acting deputy attorney general while Rosenstein’s nomination for that position awaits Senate confirmation).
Trump’s action comes as a surprise to Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the southern district of New York. Shortly after the election, according to Bharara, Trump and Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions had personally asked Bharara to remain in his position and Bharara had agreed.
At the time of his firing, Bharara is supervising, among other major New York-based investigations, a case allegedly involving Russian money laundering through high-end Manhattan real estate. Bharara’s civil forfeiture action against the Russian defendants involves money allegedly from the $230 million scheme that Sergei Magnitsky had uncovered. The trial is set to begin in May. [Added Aug. 14, 2017]
May 12, 2017: DOJ Settles Russian Money Laundering Case
Three days before the scheduled start of a major Russian money laundering criminal trial in New York federal court, the Justice Department approves settlement of the case for less than $6 million. Allegedly, the action involved a more than $230 million fraud scheme.
Natalia Veselnitskaya — the Russian lawyer who had met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort on June 9, 2016 — had helped fight the case and reportedly described the settlement as “almost an apology from the government.”
When he announced the filing of the complaint in 2013, then-US Attorney Preet Bharara said, “As alleged, a Russian criminal enterprise sought to launder some of its billions in ill-gotten rubles through the purchase of pricey Manhattan real estate.”
On July 12, 2017, Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee request that the Justice Department provide information about the circumstances surrounding the settlement. [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]
May 14, 2017: Operative Who Searched for Clinton Emails Found Dead
Peter W. Smith is found dead in a Rochester, Minnesota hotel room. The GOP operative from Lake Forest, Illinois, dies about 10 days after an interview with The Wall Street Journal, in which he claimed during the campaign to have connections to Trump adviser Mike Flynn.
Smith had told The Journal that over Labor Day weekend 2016, he began trying to recruit a team of experts to find any emails that were stolen from the private email server that Hillary Clinton used while she was secretary of state.
Smith’s Minnesota state death record says he committed suicide by asphyxiation. The police had recovered a note that included these lines; “NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER” — “RECENT BAD TURN IN HEALTH SINCE JANUARY, 2017” and timing related “TO LIFE INSURANCE OF $5 MILLION EXPIRING.” The Wall Street Journal reporter who had interviewed Smith in May tweets:
[Revised Aug. 14, 2017]
May 26, 2017: Senate Intelligence Committee Demands All Russia Documents From Trump Campaign
The Washington Post reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded that the Trump campaign produce all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records dating to June 2015, when the campaign was launched. Previously, the committee had asked specific individuals associated with the campaign to produce their documents, and it had asked the campaign itself only to preserve them. [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]
July 25, 2017: Manafort Meets With Senate Intel Committee
Paul Manafort meets with Senate Intelligence Committee investigators about his June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, and three Russians. Reportedly, Manafort gives investigators notes he’d taken at the meeting. On the same day, the Senate Judiciary Committee issues and then rescinds a subpoena for Manafort’s appearance on July 26. [Added Aug. 14, 2017]
July 25-27, 2017: Browder Testifies on Putin’s Opposition to Magnitsky Act
In prepared remarks released on July 25—prior to his Senate Judiciary Committee appearance set for July 26 (later rescheduled for July 27)—American financier William Browder discusses the case that, he believes, cost his Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky his life in 2009. Browder explains that repealing the Magnitsky Act and preventing it from spreading to other countries are among Putin’s top foreign policy priorities. He says that two of the Russians attending the June 9, 2016, meeting with Trump’s top campaign advisers were connected to Russian efforts seeking repeal of the Magnitsky Act: lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and former Soviet intelligence agent Rinat Akhmetshin. [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]
July 26, 2017: FBI Raids Manafort’s Home
At 6:00 am. FBI agents knock on the door of Paul Manafort’s Alexandria, VA home. In a surprise predawn raid, they execute a search warrant. Working with special counsel Robert Mueller, they depart with various records. [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]
July 26, 2017: Trump Tweets a Distraction
[Added Aug. 14, 2017]
Aug. 2, 2017: Trump Denounces New Russian Sanctions, Signs Bill Anyway
In February, Congress had begun to consider legislation that would limit Trump’s ability unilaterally to ease Russian sanctions. Despite ongoing White House objections and lobbying, the final bill had passed the House of Representatives and the Senate with veto-proof majorities. Signing the bill, Trump issues a statement calling the legislation “significantly flawed” and saying the administration “particularly expects the Congress to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our important work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, and from using it to hinder our efforts to address any unintended consequences it may have for American businesses, our friends or our allies.” In an accompanying press release, Trump says, “Despite its problems, I am signing this bill for the sake of national unity. It represents the will of the American people to see Russia take steps to improve relations with the United States. We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary.” [Revised Aug. 14, 2017]
Aug. 4, 2017: Mueller Seeks White House Documents on Flynn and Turkey as Flynn Revises Disclosure Statement
The New York Times reports that investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller have asked the White House for documents relating to former national security adviser Mike Flynn and have questioned witnesses about whether he might have secretly received payments from Turkey during the final months of the campaign.
The Times also reports that earlier in the week, Flynn had filed a third version of his required financial disclosure form. The most recent filing added his contract with SCL Group—the parent company of Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining firm that worked with the Trump campaign—and increased his reported income from $1.4 million to $1.8 million. [Added Aug. 14, 2017]
Aug. 6, 2017: Conway Calls June 9, 2016 Meeting and Russia Investigation “Nothing”
On ABC’s This Week, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway calls the June 9, 2016 meeting among Trump’s top advisers Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and the Russians “ridiculous” and “nothing.” She refuses to answer whether Trump will commit to not firing special counsel Robert Mueller. “There’s nothing in this Russia investigation,” she says. [Added Aug. 14, 2017]