[NOTE: On Jan. 14, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]
Last week’s two biggest Trump-Russia stories are related to each other. They’re also related to two other stories that attracted far less media attention.
The Big Ones
On January 11, The New York Times reported that in May 2017, the FBI launched a counterintelligence inquiry into whether Trump was working on behalf of Russia. Two days later, The Washington Post revealed that Trump has concealed — even from his own senior officials — his private conversations with Vladimir Putin.
That’s shocking stuff. But it’s consistent with Trump’s open, notorious, and intensifying hostility toward America’s law enforcement institutions, his affinity for Putin, and the emerging facts that explain his solicitous behavior toward Russia’s dictator. Likewise, his secrecy in dealing with Putin is consistent with Trump’s foreign policy, which has enhanced Russia’s global position at the expense of US interests. All of that raises suspicions, to say the least.
Two developments in the saga of how Putin wound up with such a valuable asset in the White House received less media attention. They relate to Natalie Veselnitskaya and Paul Manafort.
Veselnitskaya’s Friends In The Kremlin
On Jan. 8, 2019, the court unsealed an indictment against Natalia Veselnitskaya for obstructing justice in a federal case involving her client, Prevezon. The case involved alleged Russian money laundering through “pricey New York real estate.” On the Trump-Russia Timeline name filter, clicking on “Natalia Veselnitskaya” and “Prevezon” reveals that she’s an insider at the highest levels of Putin’s government.
Why does it matter? Context:
JUNE 3, 2016: Don Jr. receives an offer purportedly originating from the “Crown prosecutor of Russia” to provide “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary.” Don Jr. responds, “I love it especially later in the summer.” He invites Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner to attend a meeting where they expect to receive the helpful material from a Russian emissary.
JUNE 9, 2016: When Veselnitskaya arrives at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, Manafort, Kushner, and Don Jr. assume that they will be meeting with an agent of the Russian government. Based on the government’s subsequent criminal charges against Veselnitskaya, that assumption is correct.
The implications of Veselnitskaya’s status will become clearer as the overall Trump-Russia story unfolds in the weeks ahead.
Also on Jan. 8, 2019, Paul Manafort’s attorneys revealed that, according to special counsel Robert Mueller, during the 2016 campaign, Manafort supplied internal polling information to his long-time Russian-Ukrainian business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik. Federal investigators assert that Kilimnik — a former Soviet military officer — had and continues to have ties to Russian intelligence. Kilimnik also served as an intermediary between Manafort and Oleg Deripaska (referred to as “Putin’s oligarch” — which speaks for itself).
What would Kilimnik want with internal Trump campaign polling data? The Trump-Russia Timeline provides context that might offer clues. Clicking on the name filters for “Paul Manafort,” “Konstantin Kilimnik,” “Facebook/Twitter,” “Julian Assange,” and “George Papadopoulos” results in dozens of entries worth reviewing. Here’s just a small sample from the highlights reel:
APRIL 2014: Russia begins its “Translator project” — using social media to exploit divisions among US voters.
MARCH 29, 2016: Manafort is broke, but agrees to work for the Trump campaign for nothing.
APRIL 26, 2016: George Papadopoulos, a Trump national security adviser, learns that the Russian government has “dirt” on Clinton — “thousands of emails” — and that it wants to help disseminate those stolen emails.
Then comes the Manafort revelation:
MAY 3-4, 2016: As Trump vanquishes his GOP rivals for the nomination, Manafort has been sending Trump’s private polling data to Kilimnik.
JUNE 2016: Kushner assumes control of Trump’s digital campaign. According to later reporting from McClatchy, by July 2017, “Congressional and Justice Department investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states — areas where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton.”
JUNE 3, 2016: Don Jr. receives a message communicating Russia’s offer to provide “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
JUNE 7, 2016: With the Trump Tower meeting now set for June 9, Trump addresses a New Jersey primary election crowd. During his victory speech, he promises to reveal “things that have taken place with the Clintons.”
JUNE 9, 2016: On the day of the infamous Trump Tower meeting that includes Veselnitskaya as Russia’s point person, Trump starts tweeting about Clinton’s deleted emails. Those emails become a recurring Trump campaign theme.
JUNE TO NOVEMBER 2016: By now, Russia’s “Translator project” is in full swing, targeting “hot-button” issues in battleground states.
JULY 7, 2016: Manafort offers “private briefings” about the campaign to Deripaska.
LATE JULY/EARLY AUGUST 2016: High-level counterintelligence officials warn Trump and Clinton that foreign adversaries, including Russia, would likely try to spy on and infiltrate their campaigns. The officials tell the candidates to alert the FBI about any suspicious foreign overtures to their campaigns. Trump doesn’t. Two weeks later, Manafort resigns from the Trump campaign; however, well past the election, he boasts that insiders keep him “aware of what’s going on.”
Throughout the summer until Election Day, WikiLeaks disseminates the emails that Russian hackers had stolen from Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Russia’s social media campaign — “Translator project—continues in earnest, targeting voters in battleground states.
The rest, as they say, is history. Fewer than 80,000 voters in three states swing the Electoral College result to Trump, who loses the popular contest by almost 3 million votes.
In the end, Trump was Putin’s candidate. His campaign embraced Russia’s help, and he won. And since the election, his behavior toward Putin and Russia has been startling — and not in a good way. In its totality, the Trump-Russia Timeline — along with likely additional evidence that Mueller has and the public doesn’t — makes one thing clear: The notion that the FBI opened a counterintelligence inquiry into Trump is surprising, but the failure to open one would have been frightening.
Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:
SEPT. 10, 2013: US Attorney Bharara Files Case Against Veselnitskaya’s Client (revision of previous entry)
MAY 3-4, 2016: Gates and Manafort Have Been Sending Polling Data to Kilimnik; Trump Stands Atop the Republican Field (revision of previous entry)
JUNE TO NOVEMBER 2016: ‘Translator Project’ in Full Swing, Targets ‘Hot-Button’ Issues in Battleground States (revision of previous entry)
JULY 29-31, 2016: Kilimnik to Manafort: ‘Black Caviar’ Guy Has Messages
AUG. 2, 2016: Kilimnik Meets with Manafort, Discusses Ukraine Plan (revision of previous entry)
MAY 17, 2017: Former FBI Director Robert Mueller Named Special Counsel, Assumes Control of Counterintelligence Investigation Into Trump (revision of previous entry)
JULY 7, 2017: Trump Meets Putin, Confiscates Interpreter’s Notes Afterwards (revision of previous entry)
NOV. 26, 2018: Mueller Says Manafort Lied After Plea Agreement; Shared 2016 Campaign Polling Data With Kilimnik (revision of previous entry)
DEC. 20, 2018: Feds Charge Veselnitskaya With Obstruction
JAN. 8, 2019: Manafort’s Attorneys Reveal Too Much: Manafort Shared Polling Data With Kilimnik; Then What?
JAN. 10, 2019: Trump: ‘No Collusion’; Denies Knowing Manafort Shared Polling Data With Kilimnik
JAN. 10, 2019: Cohen Agrees to Testify Before House; Trump Says He’s ‘Not Worried at All”
JAN. 11-12, 2019: NYT Reveals FBI Counterintelligence Investigation into Trump; Trump Blasts ‘Sleaze’ and ‘Crooked Cop’ Comey, FBI, McCabe, Strzok, Lisa Page, ‘Rigged and Botched Crooked Hillary Investigation,’ ‘Mueller & the 13 Angry Democrats’, ‘Witch Hunt’, Says He’s Been ‘Far Tougher on Russia’ but ‘Getting Along With Russia is a Good Thing’