The fifth and final volume of the Select Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan report on Russian interference in the 2016 election is an incredibly long and detailed document. At a whopping 966 pages, volume 5 alone is more than twice the length of the Mueller report, and it covers a great deal more ground.
It is important for another reason: Along with the shorter volumes 1-4, the Senate’s report is the only credible account of the events of 2016 to which Republican elected officials have signed their names. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a press release praised the report on the investigation he set in motion way back in December 2016, saying, “I commend my colleagues on both sides for keeping their work out of the partisan spotlight and focused on the facts.” McConnell, in the same press release, echoes the statements of Acting Committee Chairman Marco Rubio, stating that “[t]heir report reaffirms Special Counsel Mueller’s finding that President Trump did not collude with Russia.”
It is a bit of a mug’s game at this point to fight over whether what either Mueller or the Intelligence Committee found constitutes collusion and, if so, in what sense. The question turns almost entirely on what one means by the term “collusion”—a word without any precise meaning in the context of campaign engagement with foreign actors interfering with an election.
So rather than engaging over whether the Intelligence Committee found collusion, we decided to read the document with a focus on identifying precisely what the committee found about the engagement over a long period of time between Trump and his campaign and Russian government or intelligence actors and their cut-outs.
Whether one describes this activity as collusion or not, there’s a lot of it: The report describes hundreds of actions by Trump, his campaign, and his associates in the run-up to the 2016 election that involve some degree of participation by Trump or his associates in Russian activity. In this post—which we are generating serially as we read through the document—we attempt to summarize, precisely and comprehensively, what the eight Republicans on the committee, along with their seven Democratic colleagues, report that the president, members of his campaign and his associates actually did.
One overarching note: There is a fair amount of overlap between this document and the Mueller report. But the Senate report covers a fair bit more ground for a few reasons. For one thing, it was not limited to information it could prove beyond a reasonable doubt in court, as Mueller was. Just as important, the committee included counterintelligence questions in its investigative remit—whereas Mueller limited himself to a review of criminal activity. So the document reads less like a prosecution memo and more like an investigative report addressing risk assessment questions. This volume is an attempt to describe comprehensively the counterintelligence threats and vulnerabilities associated with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. So it’s inherently a little more free-wheeling and speculative.
As we read, we summarized each section of the report in the order in which it appears. As of Sept. 3, the summary is now complete.
The first section of the report concerns Paul Manafort, Trump’s one-time campaign chairman who resigned from the campaign in August 2016 following news reports of his previous work for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. Manafort was indicted in October 2017 in the course of the Mueller investigation and was eventually convicted of, and pleaded guilty to, charges including bank and tax fraud. Manafort’s business associate Rick Gates, who served on the Trump transition team, also pleaded guilty to fraud charges. Much of the Senate report’s information on Manafort echoes the Mueller report’s conclusions, but the Intelligence Committee is far more aggressive in its description of the counterintelligence threats posed by Manafort’s involvement with the campaign.
“Manafort had direct access to Trump and his Campaign’s senior officials, strategies, and information,” the committee notes, as did Gates—and “Manafort, often with the assistance of Gates, engaged with individuals inside Russia and Ukraine on matters pertaining both to his personal business prospects and the 2016 U.S. election.”
The report provides a brief overview of Manafort’s “connections to Russia and Ukraine,” which date to “approximately 2004.” In brief, Manafort began work then for the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and pro-Russian oligarchs in Ukraine, which eventually led to his role in engineering the 2010 election to the Ukrainian presidency of pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych. While the Mueller report described Deripaska as “closely aligned with Vladimir Putin,” the committee’s report is much more direct: “The Russian government,” the committee writes, “coordinates with and directs Deripaska” in conducting influence operations, with which Manafort also assisted. At another point, the committee states that “Manafort’s influence work for Deripaska was, in effect, influence work for the Russian government and its interests.”
In other words, as a baseline matter, the Trump campaign was—for a time—run by a man who himself had carried out influence operations on behalf of Russian interests.
It gets worse, however.
Manafort’s work in Ukraine and with Deripaska also led him to have a long-term business relationship with a man named Konstantin Kilimnik, the report states, who “became an integral part” of Manafort’s business. Kilimnik is no stranger to those who have followed L’Affaire Russe. The Mueller report had reported that “[t]he FBI assesses that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence.”
But here again, the Senate report goes much further, bluntly stating that “Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer.” What’s more, Manafort was likely aware of this fact, the committee states: In a footnote, the committee states that “Manafort … at some point harbored suspicions that Kilimnik had ties to intelligence services. Manafort was undeniably aware—often from first-hand experience—of suspicious aspects of Kilimnik’s behavior and network. Nevertheless, Manafort later asserted to [Mueller’s team] that Kilimnik was not a spy.”
As the Senate writes, Manafort’s work for the Trump campaign took place in the wake of a business dispute between Manafort and Deripaska involving money owed to Deripaska by Manafort, as well as a separate dispute involving money Manafort felt he was owed by other clients, pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs. The report states that Manafort “was actively seeking a position on the Trump campaign” in January 2016 on the grounds that it would help iron out his financial disputes with Deripaska and the Ukrainian oligarchs. Trump associate Roger Stone reached out directly to Trump and helped Manafort lobby for that role, the committee writes. According to Trump associate Tom Barrack, Manafort’s willingness to work for free was central to his getting the job of chairman—and, the Senate writes, Manafort was hired without the campaign conducting any vetting, “including of his financial situation or vulnerability to foreign influence."
The report states that Manafort “likely made Kilimnik aware of the possibility [that] he would join the Trump Campaign prior to its public announcement” in March 2016. After the public announcement, “Manafort used Kilimnik to send private messages to three Ukrainian oligarchs—at least one of whom Manafort believed owed him money—and to Deripaska.” The report contains several heavily redacted pages following a description of Manafort’s communications with Kilimnik during this time, which, from unredacted footnotes, seem to involve Kilimnik’s outreach to various oligarchs.
During his time on the Trump campaign, the committee writes, Manafort also worked with Kilimnik on developing a peace plan to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine on terms favorable to Russia. And, the committee states, “On numerous occasions over the course of his time on the Trump campaign, Manafort sought to secretly share internal Campaign information with Kilimnik.” Most notably, Gates told investigators that Manafort had instructed him to share internal campaign polling data with Kilimnik. Gates “understood” that the data would be shared with Deripaska as well. Notably, the committee writes that “Kilimnik was capable of comprehending the complex polling data,” given his “significant knowledge of, and experience with” such material. On the basis of testimony by Kilimnik’s business partner Samuel Patten, it appears that the data involved information about the public’s negative views of Hillary Clinton, which Manafort felt could give Trump a chance to win the election.
In other words, throughout his work on the Trump campaign, Manafort maintained an ongoing business relationship with a Russian intelligence officer, to whom he passed nonpublic campaign material and analysis.
So what did Kilimnik do with the data—and why did Manafort share it? This was one of the great mysteries left unsolved by the Mueller report, and the Senate was also unable to come up with an answer. Gates, apparently, did not know: “Gates ultimately claimed that he did not trust Kilimnik, that he did not know why Manafort was sharing internal polling data with him, and that Kilimnik could have given the data to anyone.” The report states that “the Committee did … obtain a single piece of information that could plausibly be a reflection of Kilimnik’s actions” after receiving the data—but the next paragraph is entirely redacted.
Perhaps the most tantalizing suggestion in this section involves the redacted pages following the committee’s assertion that “[s]ome evidence suggests Kilimnik may be connected to the GRU hack-and-leak operation related to the 2016 election”—that is, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. The suggestion that Kilimnik may have had some link to the hack-and-leak operation is new; it was not included in the Mueller report. Sections of unredacted text discuss the “Cyber Berkut” hacker group—which the report identifies as a “GRU influence operation”—and the 2014 leak of a conversation between State Department official Victoria Nuland and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, which the White House at the time accused Russia of releasing.
The committee goes further, stating that there is a “possibility” that Manafort himself was somehow connected to the hacking and leaking. Much of the text that follows is redacted, though the unredacted text includes information about Manafort’s one-time son-in-law Jeffrey Yohai, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The possible connection between Yohai and the GRU operation is unclear.
In other words, according to the committee, not only was the chairman of the Trump campaign engaged in a business relationship with a Russian intelligence officer during the campaign and feeding him confidential information, but one or both of them might have played some kind of role in the hacking and dumping operation at the heart of the Russian electoral interference.
The engagement did not end when Manafort resigned from the campaign in August 2016. Manafort remained in contact both with members of the Trump campaign and with Kilimnik after his resignation, the report states—and “Kilimnik was aware that Manafort remained in contact with Trump and the Campaign generally and took an interest in making use of the connection.” Manafort’s contacts included providing advice to Trump and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and sending the campaign a memo days before Election Day predicting Trump’s victory. Among the advice Manafort gave Kushner, emails show, was the suggestion to use “WikiLeaks information” for the campaign.
Manafort’s work along these lines, and his relationship with Kilimnik, continued even after the election. Kilimnik, the report states, “began considering how to leverage his relationship with Manafort for influence” under the new Trump administration. And “Kilimnik specifically sought to leverage Manafort’s contacts with the incoming Trump administration to advance” Kilimnik’s preferred policies in Ukraine. The report quotes an email shared with Manafort by Kilmnik advocating the deployment of the peace plan discussed by the two men in August 2016. As part of this effort, Manafort met with a representative of Deripaska in Madrid, the committee states—and “provided false and misleading information” about that meeting to the committee and the special counsel’s office—and later met with Kilimnik in Madrid as well. Additionally, Kilimnik traveled to the United States for Trump’s inauguration and met with Manafort while he was there, though he did not attend the inauguration itself. Through 2018, Manafort helped Kilimnik with polling on the possible peace plan, the committee states.
Finally, the report notes that “Manafort, Kilimnik, Deripaska, and others associated with Deripaska participated in … influence operations” spread by the Russian government after the election that were designed to “discredit investigations into Russian interference … and spread false information about the events of 2016.” Notably, the committee states that “Kilimnik almost certainly helped arrange some of the first public messaging that Ukraine had interfered in the U.S. election”—the same false idea that led to Trump’s animosity toward Ukraine and precipitated the scandal at the center of the president’s impeachment. Some of the material in this section is redacted, but the unredacted text sketches how Manafort and Kilimnik sought to discredit Ukrainian investigations of Manafort and seed the idea that the real 2016 election interference was by Ukraine in support of Clinton, including contacts between Kilimnik and the Ukrainian prosecutor whose false allegations against U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch became a central component of the impeachment scandal.
It is particularly striking that the committee’s Republicans signed onto this portion of the report, given the insistence by Trump and many Senate Republicans that Ukraine interfered in the 2015 election. Yet here are Republican senators, some of whom have even endorsed that theory, admitting that its origins lie in Russian disinformation.
Notably, the committee states that its investigation into Manafort was limited by the committee’s inability to interview Manafort and Gates to the extent desired; by Manafort, Gates and Kilimnik’s use of encrypted communications and other means of avoiding documentation; and by Manafort’s lies to the special counsel’s office about his relationship with Kilimnik. “Manafort's obfuscation of the truth surrounding Kilimnik was particularly damaging to the Committee's investigation,” the report notes, “because it effectively foreclosed direct insight into a series of interactions and communications which represent the single most direct tie between senior Trump Campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services.”
The section entitled “Hack and Leak” contains perhaps the frankest statements describing efforts by the Trump campaign institutionally—and Trump personally—to take advantage of Russia’s efforts, through WikiLeaks, to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy:
While the GRU and WikiLeaks were releasing hacked documents, the Trump Campaign sought to maximize the impact of those materials to aid Trump's electoral prospects. To do so, the Trump Campaign took actions to obtain advance notice about WikiLeaks releases of Clinton emails; took steps to obtain inside information about the content of releases once WikiLeaks began to publish stolen information; created messaging strategies to promote and share the materials in anticipation of and following their release; and encouraged further theft of information and continued leaks.
The report summarizes the key role of Roger Stone in these efforts:
Trump and senior Campaign officials sought to obtain advance information about WikiLeaks through Roger Stone. In spring 2016, prior to Assange's public announcements, Stone advised the Campaign that WikiLeaks would be releasing materials harmful to Clinton. Following the July 22 DNC release, Trump and the Campaign believed that Roger Stone had known of the release and had inside access to WikiLeaks, and repeatedly communicated with Stone about WikiLeaks throughout the summer and fall of 2016. Trump and other senior Campaign officials specifically directed Stone to obtain information about upcoming document releases relating to Clinton and report back. At their direction, Stone took action to gain inside knowledge for the Campaign and shared his purported knowledge directly with Trump and senior Campaign officials on multiple occasions. Trump and the Campaign believed that Stone had inside information and expressed satisfaction that Stone's information suggested more releases would be forthcoming.
These summaries are supported by detailed factual accounts that specify the roles different members of the campaign and other Trump associates played in the efforts. The report shows, in detail, that Roger Stone did not act in a vacuum or without the knowledge of the campaign or Donald Trump himself. In August 2016, following a tasking from the campaign, Stone obtained information indicating that John Podesta would be a target of an upcoming release, prior to WikiLeaks releasing Podesta's emails. Stone communicated this information to Trump and other senior campaign officials and affiliates, including Paul Manafort and Rick Gates.
Indeed, the report specifies that “[w]hile it was seeking advance information about potential WikiLeaks releases, the Campaign created a messaging strategy to promote the stolen materials.”
And crucially, the report makes clear that both Trump and the campaign continued these efforts even after it was well understood that Russia was behind them:
Trump and the Campaign continued to promote and disseminate the hacked WikiLeaks documents, even after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence [ODNI] and the Department of Homeland Security [DHS] released a joint statement officially attributing the hack-and-leak campaign to Russia as part of its interference in the U.S. presidential election. The Trump Campaign publicly undermined the attribution of the hack-and-leak campaign to Russia, and was indifferent to whether it and WikiLeaks were furthering a Russian election interference effort.
Specifically, the report states that “[t]he Campaign tried to cast doubt on the October 7 joint DHS/ODNI assessment formally attributing the activity to Russia, and was indifferent to the significance of acquiring, promoting, or disseminating materials from a Russian intelligence services hack-and-leak campaign.” It reiterates again that “[t]he Trump Campaign strategically monitored and promoted the WikiLeaks releases of John Podesta's emails from October 7 until the election.”
The report also tracks a second, related effort to obtain emails: Trump’s obsession with the "missing" emails from Hillary Clinton's server. It repeats what was already revealed in the Mueller report and widely reported in the press: that Trump publicly requested (“Russia, if you’re listening…”) that Russia find and release those emails and, hours later, that GRU hackers spear-phished nonpublic email accounts of Clinton's personal office for the first time and targeted seventy-six email accounts hosted by the Clinton campaign's domain.
But the report goes into many more specifics about the effort, the broad range of campaign officials and associates that were involved, and the willingness of campaign officials to engage with foreign actors to obtain them. According to Rick Gates, the report states, Donald Trump Jr. would ask where the Clinton emails were during "family meetings." Other senior advisers—including campaign adviser Michael Flynn, Kushner, Manafort, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, then-Sen. Jeff Sessions and campaign policy adviser Sam Clovis—also expressed interest in obtaining the emails:
Manafort also recalled hearing from Stone sometime in June 2016 that "a source close to WikiLeaks confirmed that WikiLeaks had the emails from Clinton's server." Like Gates, Manafort recalled Stone telling him that the emails would be released "soon," but Stone "did not know when." Manafort, who was not convinced that the documents were coming out, directed Gates to check in with Stone "from time to time" to see if his WikiLeaks information remained "real and viable."
The report takes pains to corroborate telephonic and in-person conversations discussing the topic, including with phone logs, calendars of members of the campaign and other detailed sources.
It shows that key members of the campaign—including Trump himself—knew of WikiLeaks’s potential Russia connection long before the intelligence community’s assessment of the issue in October 2016. On June 12, Julian Assange gave an interview in which he said that WikiLeaks was planning to release information on Hillary Clinton. The report finds that the “Trump Campaign was elated by the news about WikiLeaks's plans, which it considered an unexpected ‘gift.’” When, two days later, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) announced it had been compromised by Russian government hackers, the report documents a flurry of phone calls between Trump and Stone:
That evening, at 9:03 p.m., Stone called Trump at Trump's home number. Trump returned Stone’s call from his cell phone two times, at 9:53 p.m. and 9:56 p.m.: the calls lasted about two-and-a-half minutes and two minutes, respectively. The Committee does not know the substance of these conversations, but the pattern and timing of Stone’s calls with Trump and others during this period suggest that they could have discussed the DNC hack and WikiLeaks.
And then there’s this:
Campaign leadership reacted positively to the news that the DNC had been hacked by the Russians. Gates described the reaction in part as "disbelief," but also given "what we were told that information might be about," the Campaign "felt it would give [them] a leg up" if released.
And campaign officials made sure they were well positioned to take full advantage of the fruits of the Russian hacking: The campaign planned a "press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possibility the emails existed" and conversations were held "about what the campaign could plan for in the way of emails." Members of the campaign communicated frequently with each other and with Stone. Hours after the GRU released stolen DNC documents through its Guccifer 2.0 persona in June, Stone and Gates discussed the DNC hack by phone. Stone told Gates that "more information would be coming out of the DNC hack."
The report found that witness testimony and documentary evidence “support that Stone spoke to Trump about the WikiLeaks information prior to its release.” Although Manafort claimed that he was reluctant to tell Trump and cautioned Stone against doing so, “Stone could-and did-contact Trump directly, as Stone did on June 14.” And everyone knew Trump would be pleased: “Manafort believed Stone would have told Trump anyway because he ‘wanted the credit for knowing in advance.’” Trump’s frequent communications with Stone were no secret: “Gates was aware that Stone called Trump during the campaign. Cohen similarly noted that ‘Stone called Trump all the time,’ and ‘could call Trump's cell phone, especially if at night.’ Trump himself acknowledged that he ‘spoke by telephone with Roger Stone from time to time during the campaign.’” The report makes this assessment about Stone’s and Trump’s communications:
Any of these calls would have provided Stone with an opportunity to share additional information about WikiLeaks directly with Trump, and given the content of his conversations with Manafort and Gates combined with Trump's known interest in the issue, the Committee assesses he likely did.
In one telling tidbit that speaks to the regard the campaign had for the hacking of the DNC, a campaign staffer posed a question in an email about whether, in connection with downloading and distributing the newest batch of Guccifer 2.0 emails, "Senate or campaign rules preclude us from possessing data that's been hacked from a third party and distributed via the internet." Tellingly, John Mashburn, the policy director for the Trump campaign, replied: "I don't see a problem. Just like WikiLeaks material."
The report recounts in detail the actions by the committee in the run-up to the July 22, 2016, release by WikiLeaks of 20,000 emails the GRU had stolen from the DNC. The report states that “a possible WikiLeaks release appeared central to the Campaign's strategic focus.” Indeed, the hack-and-dump brought the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee (RNC) in a more trusting relationship: “Trump and Kushner were reportedly willing to ‘cooperate’ with the RNC's efforts on this front, overcoming their earlier skepticism of working with the RNC, and demonstrating that both were focused on the possibility of WikiLeaks releasing Clinton documents.”
It recounts in-person conversations in which Donald Trump encouraged Stone’s contact with Julian Assange, and also potential efforts to mask such conversations. It finds that witness testimony indicates that Stone may have raised WikiLeaks again to Trump in late July, shortly before the DNC release occurred. Manafort assumed such a conversation took place, and Michael Cohen recalled overhearing a phone call from Stone in Trump's office in which Stone reported that he had talked to Assange and that there would be a “massive dump” of emails in July. Trump encouraged him, though Cohen was somewhat skeptical about whether Stone was telling the truth. The report suggests that such conversations may have taken place on the phone of Trump’s bodyguard, Keith Schiller, rather than Trump’s own phone: “Witnesses said that Trump often used Schiller's phone to hide his communications.”
The campaign staff, including Gates, Stephen Miller, and Jason Miller, worked on a “messaging strategy” and had “brainstorming sessions” in the run-up to the July 22 release. After the release, the report recounts, “Trump and his Campaign immediately pivoted to leveraging the WikiLeaks documents. Gates recalled that Manafort 'express[ ed] excitement' about the release,” and Manafort and Trump discussed how they could use the DNC emails relating to Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Michael Cohen and Trump discussed "the usefulness of the released emails," including in relation to Bernie Sanders, Donna Brazile, and Wasserman Shultz. Gates recalled that following the email release, the takeoff of Trump’s plane was delayed 30 minutes so that Trump “could work the emails into his next speech.”
The campaign’s weaponization of the WikiLeaks release to attack and divide the Democratic Party “mirrored the discussion between WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 about using the emails to create conflict within the Democratic Party by splitting Clinton and Sanders supporters” and “echoed social media efforts by Russia to drive a wedge between supporters of Clinton and Sanders” as described in the second volume of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report.
The July 22 Wikileaks release energized the Trump campaign, and it “began to more actively pursue leads on WikiLeaks activities.” Manafort reminded Trump that Stone had predicted the release and, in response, Trump “directed Manafort to stay in touch with Stone to see if there were more emails coming out.” Manafort spoke with Stone during the week of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and he agreed to follow up. Manafort also instructed Gates to follow up with Stone on occasion to find out when additional information might be released. He told Gates that he would be "updating other people on the Campaign, including the candidate." But Manafort was cautious to use Stone, rather than official campaign staffers, advising Gates and others “throughout the Campaign” that no one should "touch’" Assange, even though there was a "growing belief that Assange was, in fact, assisting their effort."
Having received Trump’s direction through Manafort, Stone channeled his outreach efforts to Assange through right-wing author Jerome Corsi—but kept in close contact with the campaign. The report details multiple communications and machinations between Stone, Corsi, Ted Malloch and others in an effort to get to Assange. Stone stayed in contact with Trump and the campaign throughout this time period, including a “68-minute call” between Stone and Manafort on July 30. Stone indicated to Manafort that “additional information would be coming out down the road” and Manafort "thought that would be great."
Next came the “October surprise”: the release of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s emails. In August, Stone asked Corsi for information about the “timing and content of the Podesta email release,” and Stone told Corsi he was talking to Trump. Stone was also talking to the campaign staff: He had “at least 25 phone calls with Manafort, 20 phone calls with Gates, two calls with Bannon and two calls with Trump in the month of August 2016 alone.”
Enter Steve Bannon, who recalled discussing WikiLeaks and Assange with Stone “both before and after taking over as the chief executive officer of the Trump Campaign on August 13, 2016.” Bannon recalled that, before he joined the campaign, "Stone told him that he had a connection to Assange" and "implied that he had inside information about WikiLeaks." After Bannon became the campaign’s CEO, Stone repeated to him that he "had a relationship with Assange and said that WikiLeaks was going to dump additional materials that would be bad for the Clinton Campaign."
Notably, Trump, in written responses to questions from Mueller's office, stated, "I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with [Stone], nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign." Trump further claimed that he had "no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1, 2016 and November 8, 2016."
The Senate report does not directly conclude that Trump was lying, but it gets pretty close. It draws this conclusion: “Despite Trump's recollection, the Committee assesses that Trump did, in fact, speak with Stone about WikiLeaks and with members of his Campaign about Stone's access to WikiLeaks on multiple occasions.”
The wording is careful. It does not say that Trump did, contrary to his testimony, recall the specifics of any of these conversations. It merely says that he had repeated conversations with Stone and describes them in fashions that would be memorable to any reasonable person. It thus shows the ridiculousness of Trump’s representations to the Department of Justice about Stone and WikiLeaks, though it stops short of accusing him of lying under oath.
The report also describes the sheer volume of communications among members of the campaign, and with Breitbart employees, regarding the hoped-for “October surprise” dump of new Wikileaks documents. Although members of the campaign had grown more hesitant about communicating directly with Stone, the campaign staff tracked Stone’s commentary and the news about WikiLeaks and communicated copiously with each other about it. Andrew Surabian, who ran the campaign's war room, emailed Stone's Twitter prediction about a Wednesday release to Bannon, campaign pollster Kellyanne Conway and the Trump campaign press team. The next day, campaign staffer Dan Scavino emailed the Oct. 3 WikiLeaks Twitter announcement to Bannon. Bannon reached out to two editors at Breitbart, where he held a leadership role, to ask if they would be awake "to get what he [Assange] has live."
Bannon also received an email from another Breitbart editor, forwarding Boyle's correspondence from earlier that day with Stone. But Bannon, for one, seemed less eager. Boyle had asked Stone, "Assange-what's he got? Hope it's good." Stone responded, "It is. I'd tell Bannon but he doesn't call me back." Stone also emailed Trump supporter and associate Erik Prince on Oct. 3, telling him: "Spoke to my friend in London last night. The payload is still coming."
When no “leak” was forthcoming, Trump got frustrated and his advisers immediately reached out to Stone to see what went wrong. “Trump was frustrated with the absence of a WikiLeaks release on October 4,” Gates said, recalling that Trump asked: "When is the other stuff coming out?" Other key Trump advisers were likewise disappointed. Bannon reached out directly to Stone by email about the lack of any new releases, asking, "[W]hat was that this morning???" On Oct. 4, Prince also asked Stone whether Assange had "chicken[ed] out." Prince texted Stone, again to ask whether he had "hear[d] anymore from London." Stone wrote, "Yes-want to talk on a secure line-got Whatsapp?" and previewed that it was "good.” Prince spoke with Stone, who told him that “WikiLeaks would release more materials harmful to the Clinton Campaign.” Prince also described Stone having the equivalent of "insider stock trading" information about Assange.
On Oct. 6, Stone tweeted: "Julian Assange will deliver a devastating expose on Hillary at a time of his choosing. I stand by my prediction. #handcuffs4hillary." On the afternoon of Oct. 6, Stone received a call from Keith Schiller's number. The report states,
Stone returned the call about 20 minutes later, and spoke—almost certainly to Trump—for six minutes. The substance of that conversation is not known to the Committee. However, at the time, Stone was focused on the potential for a WikiLeaks release, the Campaign was following WikiLeaks's announcements, and Trump's prior call with Stone on September 29, also using Schiller's phone, related to a WikiLeaks release. Given these facts, it appears quite likely that Stone and Trump spoke about WikiLeaks.
It seems a new opportunity was brewing for the use of the Podesta release of emails. After it became clear to Trump associates that the famous Access Hollywood tape would be coming out, Stone sought to time the much-sought-after release of Podesta emails by WikiLeaks to divert attention from the tape. Corsi recalled that Stone "[w]anted the Podesta stuff to balance the news cycle" either "right then or at least coincident."
And Stone got his wish: “At approximately 4:32 p.m. on October 7, approximately 32 minutes after the release of the Access Hollywood tape, WikiLeaks released 2,050 emails that the GRU had stolen from John Podesta, repeatedly announcing the leak on Twitter and linking to a searchable archive of the documents.”
You get the picture. All of the key figures in the Trump campaign—including Trump himself—knew about, and anticipated, the Podesta WikiLeaks dump. Stone helped engineer the timing of it with WikiLeaks through Corsi. Afterward, Stone, Manafort and Gates all communicated with one another.
So what about Corsi? Was he really in communication with Assange directly or through another interlocutor, or was it something he fabricated? Or was it bluster on Stone’s part? The report provides ample detail regarding communications between Corsi and Stone that are very specific about both the release, timing and nature of the emails. And it leaves the reader with the unmistakable impression that Corsi was in contact with Assange either himself or through Ted Malloch. But the report also states:
The Committee is uncertain how Corsi determined that Assange had John Podesta's emails. Corsi initially explained in an interview with the SCO that during his trip to Italy, someone told him Assange had the Podesta emails. Corsi also recalled learning that Assange was going to "release the emails seriatim and not all at once." However, Corsi claimed not to remember who provided him with this information, saying he could only recall that "it feels like a man" who told him.
However, during a later interview with the SCO, Corsi revised how he had learned that Assange would be releasing Podesta's emails. Corsi claimed that, rather than being told this information by a source, he had deduced it from Assange's public statements.
And then there’s this: "The Committee did not interview Corsi, who asserted his Fifth Amendment rights in response to a Committee subpoena, and could not determine if either of the two versions of these events was accurate."
The report also states, based on an FBI interview report form, that
Corsi recalled that, at the end of August, Stone grew concerned about having made a statement about the release of Podesta materials before WikiLeaks had released any documents. On August 30, Stone and Corsi agreed to fabricate a story that Stone's knowledge and his August 21 Podesta tweet were both based on a public article and subsequent memorandum from Corsi. However, Corsi understood that he was Stone's actual source of information and admitted that this "cover story" was "bullshit."
The reality is that the information Stone got from Corsi ended up being both specific and accurate. On Aug. 21, a month-and-a-half before WikiLeaks ultimately released its first batch of stolen John Podesta emails, Stone tweeted, “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel.” The volume and connectedness of the details in this part of the report leave the reader with the impression that Corsi really did have some kind of channel to Assange and that Corsi passed that information back to Stone—though the report never says this explicitly.
The same day that the Podesta emails were released, Oct. 7, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued their now-famous public release finding that “[t]he U.S. 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. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts.”
It seems Stone met with Trump on Oct. 8, the next day. Stone messaged Corsi: "Lunch postponed - have to go see T," referring to Trump. And Stone grew concerned that his contacts with WikiLeaks through Corsi be hidden: “Corsi said that Stone was concerned about having advance information about the Podesta release, and that Stone recruited Corsi to make sure no one knew Stone had advance knowledge of that information.” Corsi claimed that Stone directed him to delete emails relating to the Podesta information. Stone’s later testimony to the House Intelligence Committee about his actions formed the basis for his indictment and trial on charges of making misleading and false statements about his communications with the Trump campaign and individuals associated with the campaign. In addition, Stone directed Corsi to "stick to the plan" and threatened radio host Randy Credico, who had also served as a link between Stone and Assange, to prevent Credico from testifying to the House Intelligence Committee and contradicting Stone's story.
Recall that on July 10, 2020, Trump commuted Stone’s sentence on seven felony crimes for which he had been convicted, sparing Stone from a 40-month prison term.
The report confirms that following the Oct. 7 release, WikiLeaks released 33 more sets of stolen materials before Election Day—more than 50,000 documents—advertising the materials on Twitter each time. And the campaign once again eagerly integrated WikiLeaks materials into the campaign’s efforts, including Trump’s tweets, speeches and press releases. The campaign even “tracked WikiLeaks releases in order to populate a fake Clinton Campaign website, clintonkaine.com.” In short, as summarized in the report:
Despite the contemporaneous statement by the U.S. Government warning of Russian responsibility for the hacking and leaking of the DNC, DCCC, and Clinton Campaign documents and emails, the Trump Campaign considered the release of these materials to be its "October surprise."
And they took full advantage—DHS and ODNI findings be damned. They even endeavored to undermine the attribution of the theft to Russia: “While the Campaign was using the WikiLeaks documents, Trump cast doubt on the assessment that Russian government hackers were responsible for the hack-and-leak campaign.” Everyone who saw the second presidential debate on Oct. 9 saw Trump assert "maybe there is no hacking." Other times he suggested it was an "absurd claim" to say that the Kremlin was promoting the Trump campaign; that "the DNC did the 'hacking'" as a distraction; that the Democrats were "putting [it] out" that the Russians were responsible; and that it was "unlikely" that the Russians did it; that nobody knew it was Russia, and it "could also be China" or "lots of other people."
Gates described a "growing belief” within the campaign that Assange was, in fact, assisting their effort. But it seems that any moral sense that it was wrong for the campaign to accept Russian involvement in assisting Trump’s campaign was nonexistent. The campaign “treated the releases as just another form of opposition research.” Bannon's view was that "anything negative that comes out [against an opponent] is clearly helpful to a campaign." Campaign aide Stephen Miller felt "[i]t would have been political malpractice not to use the WikiLeaks material once it became public." Trump “praised and promoted WikiLeaks repeatedly in the closing month of the campaign”—a “deliberate strategy employed by the Campaign” in his remarks and on social media:
In mid-October, Ivanka Trump tasked the Campaign's senior officials (including Bannon, Scavino, Stephen Miller and Jason Miller) with preparing two Trump tweets every day linking to WikiLeaks content, which, she said, would help "refocus the narrative." Trump tweeted direct references to WikiLeaks throughout October and November 2016, including on October 11, 12, 16, 17, 21 (twice), 22, 24, 27 and November 1.
And then there’s Donald Trump Jr., who had his own special connection with WikiLeaks.
It seems Trump Jr. did not get the message about obscuring contact with WikiLeaks. Instead, he responded directly when WikiLeaks reached out to him. As previously outlined in the Mueller report, the Senate report recounts how, on Sept. 21, WikiLeaks used a direct message on Twitter to reach out to Trump Jr. for a comment about a website, "putintrump.org," and provided Trump Jr. a password to access the website before it launched. Trump Jr. responded, "Off the record I don't know who that is, but I'll ask around." He then forwarded the message to the campaign team with this note:
Guys I got a weird Twitter DM from wikileaks. See below. I tried the password and it works and the about section they reference contains the next pic in terms of who is behind it. Not sure if this is anything but it seems like it's really wikileaks asking me as I follow them and it is a DM. Do you know the people mentioned and what the conspiracy they are looking for could be? These are just screen shots but it's a fully built out page claiming to be a PAC let me know your thoughts and if we want to look into it.
The report also describes how, prior to the October Podesta dump, WikiLeaks reached out directly to Trump Jr. and asked him to "comment on/push" a report about Clinton asking whether Assange could be droned. Trump Jr. responded that he had already done so, and then two minutes later, Trump Jr. wrote to WikiLeaks: "What's behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?" (He did not receive a response.)
This section of the report concludes with a description of how WikiLeaks sought to coordinate its distribution of stolen documents through Don Jr. After Trump proclaimed at an Oct. 10 rally, "I love WikiLeaks," and then posted about it on Twitter, WikiLeaks resumed messaging with Trump Jr.: "Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us ... there's many great stories the press are missing and we're sure some of your follows [sic] will find it. btw we just released Podesta Emails Part 4." Shortly afterward, Trump tweeted: "Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged System!" In case that didn’t make the point strongly enough, two days later, Trump Jr. tweeted the link himself: "For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy all the @wikileaks emails are right here: wlsearch.tk." According to the report, Trump Jr. admitted that this may have been in response to the request from WikiLeaks but also suggested that it could have been part of a general practice of retweeting the WikiLeaks releases when they came out. Trump Jr. retweeted WikiLeaks content numerous times in October and November 2016, frequently encouraging others to go to WikiLeaks or elsewhere to review the hacked emails.
But he wasn’t alone. This section of the report concludes:
The Campaign's preoccupation with WikiLeaks continued until the general election. As the general election approached, Scavino, a member of the communications team who also had a role in administering Trump's Twitter account during the campaign, increasingly forwarded updates relating to WikiLeaks to other Campaign officials, using subject lines like · "WIKI ABOUT TO DROP SOME BOMBS ... 4 pmE" and "The WikiLeaks BOMB!" and linking to the latest WikiLeaks twitter post or its website. To one, Donald Trump Jr. responded: "Blow it out."
At least there was no collusion.
The committee next examines the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, at which the Trump campaign unsuccessfully sought negative information on Hillary Clinton from individuals linked to the Russian government. The meeting was precipitated by Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov and his son, Emin Agalarov, whom Trump knew from business dealings in Russia beginning in 2013. Before the report delves into the events of the Trump Tower meeting, it first provides a great deal of detail on the Agalarovs themselves and the nature of Trump’s past dealings with them. While the report’s account of the meeting itself is consistent with Mueller’s, this information adds important texture to the interaction.
The report pulls no punches on its view of the Agalarovs, who, it writes, “have significant ties to Russian organized crime and have been closely affiliated with individuals involved in murder, prostitution, weapons trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, narcotics trafficking, money laundering and other significant criminal enterprises. Some of those activities have extended outside of Russia, including to the United States.”
Further information about Agalarov’s activities is redacted. But the report goes on to note that Aras Agalarov “has significant ties to the Russian government, including to individuals involved in influence operations targeting the 2016 U.S. election”—and “access” to Putin, among other high-level figures in the Russian government. This information is followed by several entirely redacted pages—but one unredacted paragraph notes that “in October 2010 when Russian intelligence held a celebration for the 60th anniversary of the GRU's special missions department, the event was hosted” at a venue owned by Agalarov. More redacted information follows a brief description of Emin Agalarov, who is a musician but also works with his father’s real estate development company. According to Michael Cohen, the committee says, a friend of Cohen’s warned him twice against working with the Agalarovs, saying they were “really rough.”
So the first point to bear in mind is that the Trump Tower meeting was arranged by a Russian oligarch with ties to organized crime and to Putin.
The second key point is that the Agalarovs had been cultivating Trump for some time. Trump met the Agalarovs in 2013 through efforts to bring the Miss Universe pageant, which Trump owned, to Moscow. This alone is nothing new. But the report also suggests—without stating outright—that the event, including the involvement and support of the Agalarovs, was likely a Russian effort to gain influence over Trump.
The Agalarovs agreed to fund the pageant in what resulted in a $10 million loss for them, though according to the report, “Moscow was one of the most lucrative deals that the Miss Universe Organization had ever participated in.” The report contains an incredibly detailed tick-tock of events and interactions leading up to the pageant. It includes visits to seedy Vegas nightclubs, material on Trump’s personal relationships with various Russian oligarchs linked to organized crime, and stories of multiple efforts by Trump to obtain a meeting with Vladimir Putin—which, according to the president of the Miss Universe Organization, was highly unusual. Notably, the committee writes, “Aras Agalarov was personally involved in the effort to secure a meeting” between Trump and Putin. Though Putin did not attend the pageant or meet with Trump, he “reportedly sent a senior Kremlin official … in his place”—and the president of the Miss Universe Organization remembered Trump asking her to falsely say that Putin had attended.
As a taste of the sort of people Trump was dealing with through Miss Universe, the report describes:
On October 31, 2013, the Crocus Group and the Miss Universe Organization hosted a charity auction. The initial guest list for the event, which includes individuals with ties to the highest levels of the Russian government, military, intelligence services, organized crime, Russian banks, and Russian energy companies, among others, offers some insight into the Agalarovs' social and professional network in Moscow. Some of the individuals on the Agalarovs' guest list have participated in Russian influence operations targeting the United States and its allies, some have significant connections to the Russian intelligence services, and some are currently sanctioned by the United States.
Likewise, the report outlines Trump’s participation during his Moscow visit in meetings with top banking officials, including the head of Sberbank—which is subject to U.S. economic sanctions and is closely linked to Putin. Trump even wrote a personal letter to the head of Sberbank thanking him for an “absolutely fantastic job.”
The committee takes pains to document Trump’s stay at the Ritz Carlton Moscow—the subject of allegations in the Steele dossier concerning supposedly compromising video of Trump with sex workers. According to the report, Keith Schiller, Trump’s head of security, was approached with an offer to send five women to Trump’s hotel room one of the nights he was in Moscow. While Schiller told the committee that he and Trump laughed off the offer and the liaison never occurred, a conspicuous footnote leads the reader to question whether Schiller is, in fact, telling the truth: “Cohen has testified that, ‘Keith is the ultimate protector, and he was [Trump's] bodyguard, his attache for many, many years. And he was the keeper of Mr. Trump's secrets. So, for example, if he was going to text a female, he would have Keith do it on his phone.’ Cohen has also testified that he has seen Schiller lie for Trump.”
The report also notes interactions on the Moscow trip between Trump and employees of the Agalarovs, Artem Klyushin and his wife Yulya Klyushina. The committee states that it has “significant concerns” about Klyushin, who “is a Kremlin-linked bot developer who has supported Russian influence operations on social media.” “The Committee assesses that he has provided social media influence expertise to the Kremlin,” helping spread pro-Kremlin propaganda in Ukraine in 2014. He is also connected to “a number of Kremlin-linked online influencers that are of concern to the Committee,” among them Konstantin Rykov, who “likely collaborated with the Russian Presidential Administration regarding a Russian influence operation targeting France” in 2014 in support of far-right candidate Marine Le Pen. Much of this section is redacted. The committee states that it has “little insight” into the nature of Trump’s 2013 interactions with Klyushin and his wife.
Though Trump never succeeded in meeting with Putin during the 2013 trip, Emin Agalarov’s music manager, Rob Goldstone, recalled that Putin’s representative, Dmitry Peskov, apparently indicated that Putin invited Trump on his next visit “to meet with him, whenever or wherever that should be within Russia. And he actually said to him that, if he could, he'd like to invite him to the Sochi Winter Olympics. If not, at the next possible time that Mr. Trump might be in Russia he would do everything he could to meet with him.” And the Agalarovs provided Trump with a small gift and a letter from Putin as well. An included note from Trump Jr. to his father reads, “You are being sent a gift from Putin!”
Trump stayed in touch with the Agalarovs following the Miss Universe pageant, and the report’s description of their subsequent interactions lays the foundation for understanding Trump’s efforts to construct a Trump Tower Moscow. The Agalarovs and the Trumps began discussing possible real estate collaboration shortly after the pageant: Trump actively pursued a Trump Tower Moscow project, the report shows, and Donald Trump Jr. was closely involved. Trump Jr. and Emin Agalarov even signed formal, preliminary agreements on the deal. At some point, however, the negotiations petered out. Nevertheless, the Agalarovs stayed in touch with Trump, congratulating him on victories in the 2016 primary.
All this leads up to the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower, New York, which the Agalarovs set in motion.
According to the committee, the June 9 meeting was not the first time that individuals linked to the Russian government had lobbied potentially sympathetic Americans on the subjects discussed in Trump Tower. Specifically, in April 2016, Dana Rohrabacher, then a Republican congressman, met with a “close confidant” of Putin's in Moscow, who provided the congressman with documents on “a series of allegations related to U.S. Magnitsky Act sanctions legislation.” While these documents are not the same as the documents used by Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya during the Trump Tower meeting, the committee writes, “the organization and substance of the two documents are similar, and parts of the two documents are nearly, or completely, identical.” Apart from this, much of the section on Rohrabacher’s meeting and the Russians with whom he met is redacted.
The report next describes the players in the June 9 meeting. While it has long been public that Veselnitskaya “previously worked for, and remains in contact with, senior individuals in the Russian government,” the report’s language about her activities is more ominous than that of the Mueller report: The Senate writes that Veselnitskaya, along with another participant in the meeting, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, have “significant connections to … the Russian intelligence services.” Veselnitskaya has “close ties” to one-time Russian chief prosecutor Yuri Chaika, who “likely has been involved in Russian influence activities.” As to Akhmetshin, the report states that Akhmetshin’s ties to Putin and Russian intelligence services “were more extensive than what has previously been publicly known”—and “Akhmetshin has a history of allegations against him regarding hacking and the dumping of stolen information as part of influence operations.” The section of the report concerning Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin contains extensive portions of redacted information, and the committee states that neither person was “forthcoming” in conversations with the committee.
As with Trump’s adventures in Moscow, the Senate report contains a detailed tick-tock of the Trump Tower meeting and the events leading up to it. According to Goldstone, the seeds of the June 9 meeting were planted when Emin Agalarov reached out to Goldstone to ask if he could connect “the Trumps” with a “well-connected” Russian lawyer who had information “potentially damaging to the Democrats and Hillary”; in Goldstone’s recollection, Emin said that “my dad would really like this meeting to take place.” When Goldstone reached out to Trump Jr., the latter responded—now famously—"if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” Trump Jr. told the committee that “‘l love it’ is a colloquial expression he frequently uses to indicate being in favor of something.”
During this period, Goldstone was also reaching out to the campaign with invitations from the Russian social networking site VKontakte to set up an “official” Trump campaign page on the site to reach Russian-speaking voters. Though much of the information on VKontakte’s outreach is redacted, an unredacted sentence states that the committee has “extremely limited” insight into the motivation behind the outreach but that “targeting Russians speaking voters in the United States is thematically consistent with [redacted] undertaken by the Russian government in support of Trump in the 2016 election.”
According to both Manafort and Gates, Trump Jr. discussed Goldstone’s proposal for a meeting at a regular “Family Meeting” held daily in Trump Tower for “Trump family members and senior Campaign staff.” Trump Jr. and Kushner, however, said they did not remember this. Manafort and Gates both recalled Trump Jr. telling them about the meeting; Manafort told the committee that, as the report puts it, “Trump Jr. would not have invited Manafort to attend unless Trump Jr. thought the meeting would potentially be important,” while Gates remembered Trump Jr. announcing “he had a lead on negative information about the Clinton Foundation,” and described Manafort as telling Trump Jr. to be careful.
After a back-and-forth between Trump Jr. and Emin Agalarov—documented by phone records, but which both participants told the committee they could not remember—the meeting was scheduled, and Manafort and Kushner were invited. An email chain with the subject line “FW: Russia - Clinton - private and confidential” documents the invitation, but Kushner said he didn’t remember reading the email, and Manafort said he read only the first email in the chain.
The report describes:
On June 7, several days after Goldstone's offer of information to Trump Jr. and several hours after Trump Jr. confirmed the June 9, 2016 meeting with Goldstone, then-candidate Trump publicly stated, "I'm going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting." That speech did not happen as scheduled.
Stephen Miller, who worked on the Campaign, told the Committee that the speech referenced by Trump may have been postponed due to the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida. … This is consistent with Trump's written answers to questions from the SCO. The SCO "did not find evidence that the original idea for the speech was connected to the anticipated June 9 meeting or that the change of topic was attributable to the failure of that meeting to produce concrete evidence about Clinton."
So did Trump know about the meeting? Michael Cohen recalled:
Michael Cohen testified to the Committee that he was present in Trump's office when Trump Jr. came into the office and, in a manner that was uncommon, walked toward the back of Trump's desk and leaned over and quietly said, "The meeting. It's all set." Cohen recalled that Trump replied, "Okay. Keep me posted."
But Cohen acknowledged that it was “speculation” to connect this to the June 9 meeting and could not recall the exact date of the conversation. Meanwhile, Trump Jr. told the committee he did not remember informing his father of the meeting; Kushner said he had no “reason to believe” that Trump was informed; Trump said in answers to Mueller’s team that he did not remember if the meeting took place; and Manafort said he had never told Trump about the meeting.
The committee notes that both Manafort and Kushner prioritized the meeting with Veselnitskaya despite their busy schedules. The meeting quickly got off on the wrong foot when Veselnitskaya began speaking about Democratic donors whom she accused of failing to pay taxes in Russia and the U.S.—which Veselnitskaya’s translator told the committee he understood as a “carrot”—and then transitioned to discussing the Magnitsky Act and offering to push for lifting Russian restrictions on American adoptions if Trump would undo sanctions under the legislation.
Kushner left the meeting early, sending Manafort a text reading, “Waste of time.” According to Trump Jr.: “I think it became pretty apparent to me once they made that transition that this was a way for them to lobby me about some sort of policy. We listened for a few minutes, said it has nothing to do with us, we left. Rob Goldstone apologized to me on the way out. ... The meeting really wasn't about anything that he said it was going to be about.”
Likewise, another attendee at the meeting, who was present as a representative of the Agalarovs, wrote to a family member: “[The] meeting was boring. The Russians did not have any bad info [on] Hillary."
After news broke on June 14 that the Russian government had hacked the DNC, Goldstone emailed Emin Agalarov and the Agalarov family representative, writing, “seems eerily weird based on our Trump meeting last week with the Russian lawyers etc.” The representative responded, “Very interesting.” The day before, Goldstone had spoken with Paula Shugart, the president of the Miss America Organization, who recalled him mentioning “a ridiculous meeting, where he went and they supposedly had emails from the Democrats and dirt on Hillary and then it turned out to be something about adoptions”—and when the news of the hack was reported on June 14, Shugart called Goldstone and said, “This sounds like what you were talking about,” though Goldstone denied it. The committee writes in a footnote:
The Committee notes this exchange because it is the only time that the Committee was told that emails were discussed as derogatory information at the June 9, 2016 meeting. It is noteworthy that Shugart recalls the emails being mentioned by Goldstone prior to the news of the DNC hack becoming public, and that she made the connection between the news of the DNC hack and Goldstone's account of the meeting at the time. Nevertheless, Shugart herself was not present at the meeting and noted that Goldstone is an "over-the-top personality, sometimes hard to follow." The Committee found no other evidence indicating that emails were discussed at the June 9, 2016 meeting. The Committee was ultimately not able to reconcile this discrepancy.
Oddly, following the failed meeting, the Agalarovs sent Trump a large painting as a birthday gift, and promised to send him two additional paintings (which were never delivered). They also sent the candidate more presents and messages as the campaign progressed, through Election Day. On Nov. 9, the father and son shared a congratulatory letter with the president-elect, stating, “We in Russia have been rooting for you and are very happy about your truly historic victory. People in Russia held high hopes that with your arrival into the White House, we will finally have a chance to normalize Russian-American relations, create [sic] ground for rebuilding the network of human and business contacts.”
Aras Agalarov aggressively pushed for a further meeting between Veselnitskaya and the Trump team following the election, though these efforts were unsuccessful.
In short, the committee paints the Trump Tower meeting in a somewhat more ominous light than do previous accounts: In the committee’s version, it took place against a backdrop of several years of cultivation of the Trumps by the Agalarovs, whom it describes as closely tied to mobsters and the Putin regime and specifically tied to folks involved in election-related influence operations. Against that backdrop, it describes a failed meeting that coincided in timing with the Russian hacking operation—to which it may or may not have had any relation.
Trump Tower in New York, where the infamous June 9 meeting took place, was not the only Trump Tower at issue in the interactions between Donald Trump and the Russians during the 2016 campaign. During the 2016 election cycle, senior members of the Trump Organization received at least three proposals for a Trump Tower in Moscow. Two were made to Michael Cohen, then executive vice president of the Trump Organization and personal attorney to Trump, by Felix Sater and Giorgi Rtskhiladze. One was made to Eric Trump by Boris Epshteyn, a then-Trump Campaign surrogate. Dmitri Klokov also contacted Cohen, through Ivanka Trump, during the 2016 election to set up a potential Trump-Putin meeting, possibly related to the same project.
These outreaches ended up being funneled to Michael Cohen, and he pursued them eagerly. In particular, the report describes in detail the energetic efforts by Cohen—with Trump’s blessing and encouragement—to pursue a real estate deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow through Felix Sater and his Russian-government-and-organized-crime-connected interlocutors. These efforts continued throughout the campaign. Yet Trump reassured Americans throughout the campaign and into his presidency that he had no Russian business interests or other entanglements. As just one example, on July 27, 2016, he said, “I have nothing to with Russia. I have nothing to do with Russia—for anything.”
This was a lie, and for those quick to dismiss the notion that Donald Trump was to any degree compromised by the Russians, consider the lie for a moment. Trump made these comments publicly in a high-stakes situation. He knew when he did so that they were untrue. The Russians also knew they were untrue. And Trump also knew that the Russians knew that they were untrue. The only people who didn’t know they were untrue were the American public. This creates leverage, because Trump also knew at some level that the Russians could expose his lie in a high-stakes situation at any point. Such knowledge creates counterintelligence risk for the simple reason that it creates a powerful incentive on the part of the candidate not to cross the party with leverage.
How powerful was that incentive? This section of the report spends more than 50 pages documenting communications and other machinations about the potential for a Trump Tower Moscow project. Architectural renderings were created. Trump himself signed a letter of intent. And Trump admitted to pursuing the deal only after it became utterly clear, in November 2018, that information about his, Cohen’s and others’ involvement in negotiations for the project would become public—and that denying any involvement with Russia would be impossible.
Even then, he was unrepentant: “There would be nothing wrong if I did do it. I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business. And why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
The seemingly most promising such opportunity came through Sater, who had worked for Trump and had explored the possibility of building a Trump Tower Moscow years earlier. In 1998, Sater had pleaded guilty to participation in a racketeering enterprise and agreed to serve as a government cooperator as part of his plea deal. Over the next decade, he proved extremely cooperative on a wide range of issues because of his continued connections with Russian individuals—including high-ranking military, former military and KGB officers—and with Russian criminal groups. The report states that Sater was a “prolific cooperator for the U.S. Government,” providing information on “‘the most elusive and dangerous’” individuals of interest to U.S. law enforcement.
Sater began working with the Trump Organization on real estate deals in 2000 as an executive at Bayrock. Bayrock leased office space in Trump Tower in New York around 2000, two floors below Trump’s offices. Later, while working with Daniel Ridloff, Sater got office space on the same floor of Trump Tower as Trump’s offices in exchange for work to source international deals. For less than a year, he served as senior adviser to Donald Trump. Between 2003 and 2004, he began working on a Trump project in Moscow, potentially to build a Trump Tower, and took an “exploratory trip” to Russia. These efforts continued on and off for some time but never resulted in a deal.
Fast forward to 2015. Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the presidency in June.
On Sept. 15, Cohen appeared on a radio program with Sean Hannity in which he said there is a “better than likely chance” that Trump would meet with Putin during Putin’s upcoming trip to the U.N. General Assembly in New York City. Cohen initially told the committee that he was “just throwing it out there in order to have fun.” However, Cohen later admitted that prior to the Hannity show, he had engaged in concerted efforts to arrange such a meeting. He had called the Kremlin earlier in September and asked the woman who answered if there was “[a]ny chance when President Putin is in New York at the General Assembly he’d like to come by and have a burger with Mr. Trump at the [G]rille?” Cohen claimed the Kremlin representative responded by stating that she didn't think “protocol” would allow it, but that she would “let you know if we can.”
Cohen initially claimed to the committee that he never told Trump or anyone else in the Trump Organization or Trump campaign about the outreach or the idea for the meeting, but in subsequent testimony with the committee he admitted that much of this original account was false. He had, in fact, discussed the potential Putin meeting with Trump “two or three” times and Trump had supported Cohen’s outreach.
Specifically, Cohen recalled Trump seeing press articles that suggested that then-President Obama would not meet with Putin during the U.N. General Assembly. Cohen recalled Trump asking him rhetorically, “How stupid is our President not to meet with Putin when he's here?” Cohen recalled telling Trump that it would be “really cool” if “we can get [Putin] to come here and have a burger with you over at the Trump Grille.” Trump directed Cohen to “see if you can make it happen.” Cohen subsequently conducted the initial outreach to the Kremlin. Sometime after the Sept. 15, 2015, Hannity radio interview, Cohen followed up with the representative of the Russian government. Cohen was under the impression that Putin was informed of the outreach. Cohen ultimately informed Trump that the meeting would not happen.
Yet it seems Cohen’s statements and outreach sparked interest in Russia and with Trump’s Russia-connected associates. The report states that in late September, “Cohen received two seemingly independent offers to build a Trump Tower Moscow” that “arrived within days of each other.” Although Cohen did not think the offers were related to his outreach to the Kremlin earlier in the month, he “admitted that he had never before received two separate offers for the same building location at approximately the same time.”
One offer was from Sater, who claimed that his outreach was undertaken at his own initiative. In late September 2015, Sater called Andrei Rozov, the head of a Russian real estate development firm with the concept for a Trump Tower Moscow. Notably, the report states that “a body of information suggests Rozov’s personal and professional network likely has at least some ties to individuals associated with Russian influence operations.” Sater then called Cohen and presented the idea for a Trump Tower Moscow—a skyscraper that would be the tallest tower in Europe. Sater believed that a deal this large would require approval from Putin himself.
Cohen sought and obtained approval from Trump to initiate the negotiations.
Shortly thereafter, Cohen, Sater and Rozov quickly agreed to basic deal parameters and, around late September, Cohen forwarded architectural renderings for the project directly to Rozov. By Oct. 5, Cohen had drafted a letter of intent for the project that included specifics: a 120-story residential tower to be built in Moscow, a license fee structure that included a $4 million up-front fee to be paid in various installments, and a number of other detailed financial arrangements. Various revisions were made, including the inclusion of a hotel management provision that would allow Trump International Hotels Management to operate the hotel for 25 years, collecting a percentage of gross operating revenue, with the option to manage food and other services.
Sater moved energetically from there. He met with Russian billionaire Andrey Molchanov. Putin had worked in the past with Molchanov’s stepfather, who was in St. Petersburg’s city government. He told Cohen that Andrey Kostin, whom Sater described as “Putin’s top finance guy and CEO of 2nd largest bank in Russia,” was “on board and has indicated he would finance Trump Moscow.” The bank was VTB, and Kostin was “extremely powerful and respected.” Sater also tried to get Putin “on board” and claimed he had set up a tentative meeting with “Putin and [his] top deputy.”
The meeting did not happen, but by mid-October, Sater sent Cohen a letter of intent with Rozov’s signature. In the email, Sater linked the project to relations between the United States and Russia:
Lets [sic] make this happen and build a Trump Moscow. And possibly fix relations between the countries by showing everyone that commerce & business are much better and more practical than politics. That should be Putins [sic] message as well, and we will help him agree on that message. Help world peace and make a lot of money. I would say that’s a great lifetime goal for us to go after.
Approximately two weeks later, Trump countersigned the letter of intent. At approximately the same time, Trump conducted a campaign rally in Norfolk, Virginia, to announce his policy plans for veterans. During the rally, and seemingly unprompted, Trump made positive comments about Putin:
You know, I've made a lot of money. Deals are people, deals are people. And you have got to analyze people, and I can look at people. I can tell you, I’ll get along with Putin. I was on 60 Minutes with Putin. He was my stablemate three weeks ago. We got the highest ratings in a long time on 60 Minutes. You saw that, right? He was my stablemate. I believe I’ll get along with him. It was Trump and Putin, Putin and Trump. I’d even let him go first if it makes us friendly. I’ll give up the name. I’ll give up that place. But I was on 60 Minutes three weeks ago. I’ll get along with him.
He made similar comments at a press conference a few days later. Sater told Cohen that Putin was aware of the Trump Tower Moscow project and was supportive—a claim that Cohen relayed to Trump. The report states:
(U) Cohen further believed that the Trump Moscow project, and particularly the signing of the [letter of intent], affected Trump’s thinking and rhetoric toward Russia and Putin on the campaign trail. Cohen believed that Trump’s public comments about Russia could have been influenced by Cohen informing Trump that Putin was aware of, and had approved of, the project. When asked if Cohen had coordinated Trump’s public comments about Putin, Cohen stated that he hadn’t, but pointed to the fact that he had conveyed Putin’s awareness to Trump and believed it was a factor in Trump’s statements.
The report finds that Sater, for his part, “said that the connection between the project and the campaign was so obvious that he didn’t think the connection needed to be verbalized. … Sater told the Committee that what Trump was saying on the campaign trail could ‘help’ the project move forward.”
It’s worth pausing for a moment here to consider how the Americans involved in these efforts seemed to have zero pause about using a presidential campaign to actively advance potentially lucrative private business deals. Trump clearly shared that ethos: As has been previously reported, Cohen said Trump called his campaign “the greatest infomercial in the history of politics.”
The report details Sater’s efforts to engage with personal friends of Putin, like Andrey Rozov, the Rotenbergs (a family “extremely close to Putin” who handle “special projects” for him), Mikhail Zayats, and Evgeny Shmykov.
Another Evgeny also makes an appearance in Sater’s efforts: Evgeny Dvoskin, who the report states is “strongly connected to Russian organized crime and the Russian intelligence services, particularly the FSB.”
It’s quite a crowd, and, remember, none of this is public at the time. Trump is literally running for president while attempting to negotiate a business deal with a Russian dictator and while actively courting the mobsters and spies around him.
The report goes on, in detail, to show the continued efforts by Cohen to advance the deal, that Cohen sought to visit Moscow himself as well as to lay the groundwork for a visit to Moscow by Trump in 2016. At one point, Cohen sent his own passport information to Sater, and he kept Trump apprised of his and Sater’s efforts. Cohen also recalled speaking with Donald Trump Jr. and lvanka Trump about the project.
In late December 2015, Cohen grew impatient with Sater for not delivering the high-level Russian contacts and invitations Sater had promised. Cohen told Sater he had “lost the deal” and that Cohen was contacting his “alternate”—presumably Giorgi Rtskhiladze. Cohen also reached out directly to the Kremlin to get Putin’s help to advance the project—this time with considerably better results. He tried to email Dmitry Peskov, the Russian government press secretary as well as a “high-level Kremlin insider and a key advisor to Putin.” His efforts worked. Peskov’s chief of staff, Elena Poliakova (described in the report as someone with “exceptional access within the Kremlin”) responded from her personal email account a few days later and provided a phone number for Cohen to call. They spoke for approximately 20 minutes and discussed the Trump Moscow project in great detail. Poliakova already knew all about the proposed project—Cohen stated that she had “really done her homework” and that he wished some of the Trump Organization’s assistants “would be this prepared.” Poliakova told Cohen that they would be in touch.
That conversation reignited Cohen’s and Sater’s efforts and engagement. For a while, it looked like Trump might actually go to Russia:
At some point shortly after Cohen’s call with Peskov’s assistant, Cohen told Trump about the call. Cohen recalled telling Trump that he had spoken with “someone from the Kremlin” about the Trump Tower Moscow project. … Cohen recalled that at some point in this approximate time period he also discussed the possibility of traveling to Russia with Trump. Cohen recalled that Trump did not express concerns about traveling to Russia while a presidential candidate if it would aid the deal. According to Cohen, Trump instructed Cohen to speak with then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski about dates for potential travel to Russia.
Travel dates were identified, and Rhona Graff, Trump’s assistant, brought Cohen Trump’s passport in preparation for a trip in February or March 2016.
It didn’t happen, and there was a short lull in planning, but later that spring, Cohen and Sater resumed their activity around the project and the possibility of traveling to Russia. This time, the question was whether it would happen before or after the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in late July 2016. Cohen instructed Sater: “My trip before Cleveland. Trump once he becomes the nominee after the convention.” Sater told the Committee that he “absolutely” understood that the Moscow project was still active at this time.
In early May, Sater told Cohen that Peskov himself wanted to invite Cohen to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in mid-June. SPIEF is the most important Russian business summit conducted “under the auspices of the President of the Russian Federation, who has also attended each event.” It is unclear if an invitation actually was forthcoming from Peskov, but in any event, Sater worked with “Evgeny” to arrange an invitation for Cohen.
But alas, after many machinations to arrange a trip to Moscow for Cohen and Trump to advance the Trump Tower Moscow project, it was not to be. Sater and Cohen met in the Trump Tower atrium, and Sater recalled: “[Cohen] turned around and said: I can’t go. At the last minute he said: I can't go; let’s wait until after Cleveland.” The report states that Cohen decided not to go because “he felt the invitation did not come from the highest level in Moscow.” In any event:
Through at least June 2016, Cohen said that Trump viewed the Moscow project the same way Cohen did, as an “opportunity that was active.” Cohen came to this understanding because Trump would, on a “regular basis,” ask Cohen about the status of the Russia project. Cohen recalled: “In other words, Mr. Trump is out there on the rally, in the public, stating there’s no Russian collusion, there’s no involvement, there’s no deals, there’s no connection. And yet, the following day, as we’re walking to his car, he’s asking me, ‘How’s things going with Russia?’” … Cohen understood that Trump was “interested in the project” and recalled that he had spoken to Trump “ten to twelve” times during the course of the negotiations, which lasted from September 2015 to at least until June 2016.
Imagine if the Russians had decided to disclose the fact of these discussions that Trump was then denying. Imagine as well the pressure this possibility would have created for Trump even as he was setting himself up for it.
After the Republican National Convention in July 2016, the report indicates, Sater stated that it became obvious that there was “just no way that a presidential candidate could build a tower in a foreign country.” As a result, efforts on the project ceased.
What about the other offer to build a Trump Tower Moscow that materialized in late September 2015? In addition to Cohen’s attempts with Sater, Cohen received a call from Giorgi Rtskhiladze, a businessman with whom he had previously worked, about a similar project proposal in Moscow. Rtskhiladze had worked with Cohen on at least two other business projects. Rtskhiladze said he “had a group that he wanted to talk to about doing a Trump Tower Moscow.” Simon Nizharadze, a business associate of Rtskhiladze’s, had requested he contact Cohen to facilitate a potential licensing deal between Vladimir Mazur and the Trump Organization. The architect Rtskhiladze had in mind had designed the tallest building in Russia and worked on projects for the Moscow city-level government in Russia. Later, Rtskhiladze told Cohen that a “project presentation” for the Trump residential building will be ready in several days and that the Trump World Tower project concept “is being shared with the presidents [sic] cabinet and Moscow mayor.”
It was not to be, though. Cohen decided not to pursue a Moscow project with Rtskhiladze and instead pursued the project with Sater.
And what about the other instances of outreach to the Trump family related to the Trump Tower Moscow project? According to the report, in addition to communicating with both Sater and Rtskhiladze in the fall of 2015, Cohen had contact with another Russian national, Dmitry Klokov, in the same time frame. Klokov was the director of external communications for a large Russian energy company and had served as the press secretary to Russia’s minister of energy.
This time, the outreach came not to Cohen but through a different channel: Ivanka Trump. On Nov. 16, 2015, Ivanka Trump received an email from Klokov’s wife about the Trump Tower Moscow project. According to Cohen, the report states, Ivanka Trump called Cohen, forwarded the email, and asked him to follow up and “report back to her on the outcome of the outreach.” According to Cohen, Ivanka Trump also forwarded the initial outreach from Klokov’s wife. When asked if lvanka Trump’s instruction to Cohen was about the Trump Tower Moscow project or a potential meeting between Putin and Trump, Cohen said that it was a “combination of the two.”
When Cohen spoke to Klokov on the phone the next day, Klokov already knew about the project in Moscow. Cohen told the committee that Klokov claimed he had “relationships with the government,” that he could “help with this Trump Moscow proposal, and it would be great if all parties were able to meet and to develop this property in Moscow.” Cohen said Klokov was “adamant about me coming to Moscow and to bring Mr. Trump to Moscow for the two to meet.” Klokov emailed Cohen the next day, Nov. 18, 2015, to emphasize that he was not affiliated with any business but was, instead, a “trusted person” focused on “political synergy.” He indicated that “our person of interest,” meaning Putin, was “ready to meet your candidate,” meaning Trump. Klokov said the Russian side would facilitate all aspects of the Putin-Trump meeting, including the security, transportation and accommodation. The meeting “ha[d] to be informal”:
Further, Klokov told Cohen that Cohen’s business development efforts should be separated from the proposed “informal” meeting between Putin and Trump. Klokov emphasized that although these would be bifurcated, ultimately the meeting would yield even larger business opportunities which would have “the most important support.”
Cohen quickly responded to Klokov’s email—and copied Ivanka Trump. Cohen expressed enthusiasm but told Klokov that he would advise Trump not to travel to Russia except in the context of an “official visit.”
According to the report, Klokov responded to Cohen the following day, Nov. 16, 2015, and “reemphasized that his focus was not on the immediate business project, but rather arranging an informal meeting between Putin and Trump.” Klokov stated that the meeting “has already been discussed” with Putin, who was “knowledgeable about it and would gladly meet your client”:
Klokov focused again on his goal of creating “synergy on a government level,” but made clear that the Putin meeting would have lucrative business outcomes: “Now, your client is a candidate and hardly any other political move could be compared to a tete-a-tete meeting between them. If publicized correctly the impact of it could be phenomenal, of course not only in political but in a business dimension as well. I don't have to tell you that there is no bigger warranty in any project than consent of the person of interest.”
Cohen tried to refocus the discussion on the business project and said that he would be “honored” to meet with Klokov while in Moscow “to discuss any thoughts you might have that could enhance the project.”
The report states that the committee did not obtain any further communications between Cohen and Klokov. Cohen said he relayed the sum and substance of his conversation with Klokov to Ivanka Trump. He “may have” told Trump about the outreach but said he did not recall whether he informed anyone else in the Trump Organization of the outreach during this time period.
There is one more Trump Tower Moscow outreach to describe—this one to Eric Trump. In the spring of 2016, Boris Epshteyn—a Trump campaign surrogate and later employee—received a proposal from contacts he had in the Moscow city government. He shared it with Eric Trump, with whom Epshteyn had long been friends. The report states that the committee has no indication that the Trump Organization took any action related to the proposal.
The balance of this section describes all of the efforts Michael Cohen, Trump, and others made to mislead the public—and Congress—about Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign:
As described by Cohen in his testimony to the Committee and elsewhere, Cohen believed that there was a discrepancy between then-candidate Trump’s public statements on the campaign trail stating that he had no business deals related to Russia, and the approximately nine-month effort to build Trump Tower Moscow in 2015 and 2016. During the campaign, Cohen also undertook efforts to maintain the secrecy of the negotiations.
The report also includes a puzzling little discussion about the potential for other Trump figures’ involvement with some of the same Russians that popped up in the Trump Tower Moscow narrative. After the election, Cohen was part of an alleged joint defense agreement (JDA) with an unknown number of other Trump-affiliated individuals, including Trump himself, the Trump Organization, Jared Kushner, lvanka Trump, Felix Sater, and others.
According to the report, a number of issues arose as the committee sought testimony and documents from Cohen that likely related to the functioning of this alleged JDA. One such issue involved outreach related to Dmitry Klokov. Cohen initially told the committee that a communication came into the Trump Organization requesting that Cohen speak with Klokov. Cohen’s then-attorney, Stephen Ryan, told the committee that the communications were privileged and they were therefore not produced. Cohen later told the cthat, in fact, Ryan had said the communication was privileged at the request of Abbe Lowell, who at the time served as attorney to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Cohen then told the committee the communication was not, in fact, privileged and testified about its contents in his second interview with the committee. The report states that “[i]t is unclear why Ryan ever considered the communication privileged.”
The report also makes clear that multiple emails between Cohen and Russian government officials were never produced to the committee, including Cohen’s outreach to the Kremlin's press office seeking to speak with Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov, as well as a response from Dmitri Peskov’s assistant seeking to discuss the Trump Moscow project. Cohen initially made false statements to the committee about these communications and transmitted his false statements about his outreach to the Kremlin on the project to the press and to the public generally. The goal was to give the false impression that Cohen had not communicated in a substantive way with the Russian government regarding the project.
Of course, Cohen eventually pleaded guilty to making intentionally false statements to this committee and to the House Intelligence Committee related to the Trump Tower project. Cohen told the committee that a certain email with a Russian government employee—presumably Elena Poliakova—was never provided to him by the Trump Organization, another member of the alleged JDA. As a result, he could not produce it to the committee: “The Committee was unable to determine the accuracy of this claim. However, if true, this lends support to the conclusion that Cohen’s initial false statements to the Committee were aided by other members of the alleged JDA, namely the Trump Organization.”
It doesn’t stop there. The section ends with this paragraph:
Furthermore, drafts of Cohen’s prepared statement that included this and other false or misleading statements was “circulated through all of the various individuals” who read it and, according to Cohen, these individuals “knew the information was false.” Cohen “suspect[ed]” that Trump had seen the statement. He further said that he believed Trump knew that the statement was false because “my conversations with him took place for several months after the January date that’s referenced in this statement.” Cohen also said that after he was indicted in the Southern District of New York, he discussed a potential pardon for himself with Jay Sekulow “more than a half dozen times.” Cohen further stated that he understood that the pardon discussions had come from Trump through Sekulow.
In short, the gist of this section seems to be this: Multiple efforts were made by the Russian government to create a situation in which Putin and candidate Trump could meet. It seems the enticement of the Trump Tower Moscow project was as good a predicate as any to make that happen. When it became clear that Trump’s candidacy had legs, multiple offers from Russian-government-connected interlocutors presented themselves to Trump confidantes through multiple channels. Trump encouraged Michael Cohen and asked about progress on the project. Yet a deal never quite seemed to come to fruition, despite multiple probes through multiple channels. Once it dawned on the Trump inner circle that a meeting with Vladimir Putin might not serve their political interests, they lied about it and tried to cover it up.
But it seems Putin may have gotten what he wanted anyway—a sordid story of an American president and his cronies cynically pursuing business interests while proclaiming “America First” and lying about it. So in the end, Putin can tell his countrymen what he’s always wanted them to understand—that America is really not any different from Russia.
And along the way, Trump put himself in a position in which the Russians could reveal him as a liar about one of his more famous 2016 campaign pledges.
Among the many colorful characters orbiting around the 2016 Trump campaign was George Papadopoulos, who described himself on LinkedIn as an “oil, gas, and policy consultant” despite having relatively little experience in that field. After a period working on Ben Carson’s unsuccessful presidential campaign, Papadapoulos reached out aggressively to the Trump campaign in 2015 and early 2016, and was rewarded with a volunteer spot on Trump’s foreign policy advisory team. The campaign added Papadopoulos to the team “without thorough vetting,” the committee writes, as part of a rush to put together a group of foreign policy advisers to counter negative press attention regarding the campaign’s lack of foreign policy experience. According to the report, this “resulted in [the campaign’s] recruitment of inexperienced advisors, over whom they exerted little control”—and those advisers “exposed the Trump Campaign to significant counterintelligence vulnerabilities.” The committee finds that Papadopoulos “was not a witting cooptee of the Russian intelligence services”—that is, in intelligence jargon, he was not knowingly being used by the Russian government—but he “nevertheless presented as a prime intelligence target and potential vector for Russian influence.”
“Papadopoulos,” the committee writes, “proffered himself as a conduit between the Trump team and foreign governments, including Russia, Egypt, and Greece.” Crucial to his Russia outreach was his relationship with Joseph Mifsud—a shadowy academic identified by the Mueller investigation as a link between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. (The report notes that “[t]he Committee’s awareness of Mifsud’s activities is limited to document production and testimony from other witnesses, information from the Executive Branch, and open source research, in the absence of Mifsud’s testimony.”) Papadopoulos met Mifsud during a 2016 trip to Rome, and the committee writes that “Mifsud’s interest in Papadopoulos appeared entirely reliant on Papadopoulos’s association with the Trump campaign.”
Mifsud put Papadopoulos in touch with Olga Polonskaya, a Russian woman he introduced as a relative of Vladimir Putin. (According to his Google history, Papadopoulos spent some time online after meeting her searching for “Putin’s niece.” Papadopoulos apparently had a habit of “conducting internet research on individuals he met” after meeting with them, the committee writes.) Papadopoulos told the FBI that “Polonskaya, who could barely speak English during their in-person meeting, then began communicating with him via electronic means in more fluent English.”
Following his meeting with Mifsud and Polonskaya, Papadopoulos wrote to other members of the Trump campaign foreign policy team, announcing that he had “just finished a very productive lunch with a good friend of mine, Joseph Mifsud … who introduced me to both Putin’s niece and the Russian Ambassador in London[.]” (Papadopoulos later testified to the House Judiciary Committee that he had lied about meeting the Russian ambassador, the Senate Intelligence Committee notes.) He added that the lunch had concerned arranging a meeting between the Russian government and the Trump campaign—perhaps even Putin and Trump themselves. In response, campaign aide Sam Clovis responded that the campaign would make “no commitments” for the time being, but added, “Great work.”
This early email exchange sets the tone for many of the interactions between Papadopoulos and the Trump campaign described in the report. Papadopoulos repeatedly tried to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin throughout the campaign—while also serially exaggerating his own connections and accomplishments. The committee writes that he “did not seem to consider himself a target for foreign intelligence services.” Meanwhile, the campaign sometimes encouraged Papadopoulos, sometimes ignored him, but tended neither to give his ideas enthusiastic backing nor ask him to stop entirely.
Papadopoulos raised his suggestion of a meeting between Trump and Putin during an in-person meeting of Trump’s freshly minted national security team on March 31, 2016. Papadopoulos “believed that Trump and Sessions were somewhere between tacitly supportive of his idea and very supportive of his idea, and he left the meeting with the impression that ‘these guys wanted this,’” he explained in one of his FBI interviews.
He followed up on the proposal with two other members of the foreign policy team, Walid Phares and Carter Page. Around this same time, he also followed up with Polonskaya and met with Mifsud again, who introduced him via email to Ivan Timofeev, an employee of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). Papadopoulos and Timofeev corresponded about a potential in-person meeting between the two of them and spoke over Skype. Although Papadopoulos told the FBI that he could not remember much of what the call involved, he did say that “the two likely discussed relations between Russia, Israel, Cyprus, and China.” He described a second Skype call with Timofeev as “strange” and formal, and recalled “hearing static noises on the call, which Papadopoulos thought suggested that someone was recording the call.”
On April 26, 2016—by which point, the committee writes, the GRU had already successfully hacked Democratic Party systems and John Podesta’s email account—Papadopoulos met with Mifsud once more. Mifsud proceeded to tell him that “he had just returned from a trip to Moscow” and informed Papadopoulos that “they have her emails”—“her” being Hillary Clinton.
When asked what Papadopoulos thought when he heard the information from Mifsud, Papadopoulos recalled it being “a strange thing to hear.” Papadopoulos inquired of Mifsud how he could know such information, to which Mifsud stated, “they told me.” When Papadopoulos referred to Mifsud’s statement of “they told me,” Papadopoulos extended both of his hands and pointed at himself with both index fingers.
The next paragraph is redacted, but an unredacted footnote cites Papadopoulos’s FBI interview: “Papadopoulos stated to the best of his recollection he remembers Clovis being upset after Papadopoulos said, ‘Sam, I think they have her emails.’ Papadopoulos then reiterated he was not certain if that event actually happened or if he was wrongfully remembering an event which did not occur.”
At this point, the story becomes briefly murky. Essentially, Papadopoulos informed at least one, possibly two, Australian diplomats in London about Russia’s possession of “emails”—which eventually sparked the FBI’s “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation into Russian election interference in July 2016 after Australia alerted the bureau. The committee writes, however, that it is not entirely clear when Papadopoulos conveyed that information: Papadopoulos told the FBI that he remembered having “three drinks,” but the accounts are not consistent as to when and where Papadopoulos had those drinks and informed the Australians of Russia’s “dirt.” (With some irritation, the committee writes in a footnote that “[t]he serial ambiguities and inconsistencies attached to Papadopoulos’s activities … might have been mitigated or even explained away, had the Committee benefited from the testimony of either [Australian diplomat Alexander] Downer or Papadopoulos—both of whom declined the Committee’s invitation to be interviewed.”) This portion of the report is followed by what appear to be three redacted paragraphs.
Regardless, the bottom line remains the same: Mifsud told Papadopoulos that Russia had Clinton’s emails, and Papadopoulos blurted that fact out to the Australians. Yet it’s still not clear whether or not Papadopoulos informed the Trump campaign about the emails.
After this ill-fated drinking excursion, Papadopoulos continued lobbying the Trump campaign to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin. He appears to have had little success, yet “[t]he Committee did not obtain any communications in which Clovis or other Campaign leadership telling [sic] Papadopoulos to cease his interactions with Timofeev or Mifsud regarding Russia.”
However, in an internal campaign document created by Clovis around this time, one bullet point notes, “Still working on the ins and outs of going to Russia as a candidate.” Clovis and then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski later testified to the committee that a trip to Russia by Trump was not seriously on the table, but the committee writes that it “gives greater credibility to the written records, which suggest that the Campaign was at least open to the idea of a foreign trip.”
Ironically, given the counterintelligence risks the committee found in Paul Manafort’s own presence on the campaign, Papadopoulos encountered the greatest resistance to his proposal from Manafort: After Papadopoulos reached out to Manafort about invitations for Trump to visit Greece and Russia, Manafort wrote to Gates, “We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.” Gates responded positively, but the committee did not uncover “any further actions by Manafort or Gates on this issue.”
In May 2016, Papadopoulos traveled to Greece and met with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotsias and Defense Minister Panagiotis Kammenos. According to Papadopoulos’s FBI interview, he “blurted [out]” to Kotsias what Mifsud had told him about how Russia had obtained Clinton’s emails. Kotsias, Papadopoulos said, responded, “Don’t tell this to anyone”—leading Papadopoulos to believe that Kotsias already knew about the hacking. Somewhat dryly, the committee states that it “has no reliable indication that Papadopoulos shared this same information with anyone on the [Trump] Campaign”—but it “has no additional information as to why Papadopoulos would share the information with the Greek Foreign Minister,” either.
The committee also notes Kammenos’s connections to Putin: In fact, it appears that Kammenos met with Putin, who was arriving in Athens, on the same day he met with Papadopoulos. This paragraph is followed by a block of redacted text. The report does note, however, that Kammenos was photographed in Washington, D.C., with Papadopoulos, and separately with soon-to-be-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, around the time of Trump’s inauguration.
In June, after he returned from Greece, Papadopoulos continued to push for campaign outreach to Moscow. Though Clovis told the committee he informed Papadopoulos that a Trump-Putin meeting would be a “really bad idea,” the committee writes that it “did not identify any written communications” documenting this. Papadopoulos also pitched Lewandowski on a campaign trip to Moscow, though Lewandowski told him that he was “almost certain” that Trump would not make the trip. Throughout this period, Papadopoulos was in touch with Timofeev—including through an email proposing a meeting between Trump campaign staff and Russian officials, which Papadopoulos “did not produce … to the Committee.” Timofeev later told a journalist that he “did not take [Papadopoulos’s outreach] seriously.”
Papadopoulos remained in “frequent contact” with Mifsud. At one point, he reached out to Mifsud for talking points on Libya after offering up “information” on Libya to a campaign official—though the committee writes that it could not find evidence that Papadopoulos passed the material from Mifsud along to the campaign. Twice, Mifsud suggested to Papadopoulos that Mifsud be formally brought on as a Trump campaign surrogate, traveling with the campaign and organizing meetings with foreign leaders, including in Russia. But the committee found “no indication that Papadopoulos passed on Mifsud’s request to the Campaign, or that Mifsud ever procured greater access to Campaign officials.”
Papadopoulos made two more significant connections during his time on the campaign. First, he connected with Sergi Millian, whom the report identifies as “the president of the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce and a real estate broker in New York City” and who had previously worked with Trump. Along with Mifsud, the report describes Millian as “exhibit[ing] behavior consistent with intelligence tradecraft.” From email traffic, the two were in touch from July 2016 through “past the election.” In early November, Millian wrote Papadopoulos a note warning that “I have no doubt that the forces that invested so much into H [presumably Hillary Clinton] will try to steal the election.” Later in November, Millian offered Papadopoulos significant sums of money for a business deal while encouraging Papadopoulos to secure a job in the new administration—but when Papadopoulos told Millian he did not want an administration position, Millian no longer seemed interested in the deal, according to Papadopoulos’s FBI interview.
Papadopoulos also was in touch with someone whose name remains redacted, but who—from context—appears to be an FBI informant whom news reports previously identified Papadopoulos as having been in touch with. Much of this section is redacted, but it appears that the informant invited Papadopoulos to meet with him in London and write a paper for him. The committee received written responses from the informant.
The campaign cut Papadopoulos loose as an adviser in early October 2016 after he gave two separate press interviews that created problems for the campaign. Nevertheless, “Papadopoulos remained active and engaged with the Campaign”—and Mifsud sought to remain in touch with Papadopoulos. The professor emailed Papadopoulos on Nov. 1 about planning for after the election, the committee writes. The description of Mifsud’s email is followed by two redacted paragraphs—but it appears that Mifsud emailed Papadopoulos again on Nov. 10, congratulating him and suggesting that he and Papadopoulos meet to discuss foreign policy issues. The committee counts five more emails from Mifsud to Papadopoulos over the course of November and December 2016 pushing for a meeting. But the committee found “no indication that Papadopoulos responded,” and it writes that it “does not know if Papadopoulos and Mifsud met subsequent to the election.”
Just as he had remained in touch with the campaign after his formal departure, Papadopoulos remained in touch with the Trump transition, too—and, despite his statement to Millian, sought a position in the administration, though with no success. During the transition, “[r]epresentatives from the UK, Cyprus, Egypt, Taiwan, and Greece all leveraged Papadopoulos as an interlocutor.” But the committee found “no evidence” that “the Russian government used Papadopoulos as a conduit.”
The report’s section on Papadopoulos closes with two pages on “Counterintelligence Concerns about Papadopoulos’s Interactions.” Much of this information is redacted. From an unredacted footnote, it seems that some of the material in this section was drawn from the committee’s interview with former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. The remaining unredacted text notes that Papadopoulos lied to the FBI concerning his interactions with Mifsud, which limited the FBI’s ability to investigate Mifsud. The professor “departed the United States on February 11, 2017,” the committee writes, “and has not returned.”
The report next turns to the story of Carter Page, who is described as “the only member of the Trump Campaign’s foreign policy advisory team publicly identified as a Russia ‘expert.’” It traces Page’s role in the campaign, his connections to Russian officials and attempts to identify “any connection between him and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.”
Page was designated as a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser in March 2016. By September of the same year, he had been removed from the campaign because of allegations of “significant and disturbing ties” between him and the Kremlin. Trump campaign officials subsequently disavowed the former adviser as uninvolved and largely unknown to the campaign. On Oct. 21, 2016, the FBI obtained its first Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to surveil Page’s communications.
The section begins by introducing readers to Page, who lived in Moscow for about four years between 2003 and 2007. During this time, he worked for Merrill Lynch, primarily on energy-related issues. He told the committee that, while living in Moscow, his main client was Gazprom, an energy company the report describes as “Russian-state owned.” The report also establishes that Page consistently “advocated for better relations with Russia,” all of which made him a “subject of interest to Russian officials.”
The report states that “[t]he Committee had some limited insight into the Russian government and [redacted] interest in Page” followed by four paragraphs of redaction. From the “limited insight” that is provided, it seems that Page deliberately sought to connect high-level Russian officials with the Trump campaign before, during and after his tenure as a foreign policy adviser on the campaign.
Before detailing these efforts more explicitly, the committee describes significant limitations on its investigation:
The Committee had significant challenges in its attempt to understand Page’s activities, including his role as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump Campaign. After weeks of negotiation and an eventual Committee subpoena, Page produced some electronic documents, some of which included his own annotations and alterations to the original document form, and sat for an interview that lasted six and a half hours. Page’s responses to basic questions were meandering, avoidant, and involved several long diversions. Despite the meticulous records Page kept on his personal hard drive detailing his daily routines, he was unable to recall any details of his trips to Moscow, or the names of senior Russian officials with whom he met, despite using his engagements with them to build his credentials within the Campaign.
The report claims that, prior to joining the Trump campaign, Page “communicated with, met, and provided private business information” to Russian intelligence agents whom the FBI suspects of attempting to recruit Page. In a 2015 complaint against three Russian intelligence officers filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York, Page is referred to as “Male-1”—a person the foreign agents spoke “disparagingly of” and attempted to use as “an intelligence source for Russia.” Page has since openly identified himself as “Male-1,” both in his interview with the committee and to a Russian official at the United Nations.
Page told the FBI in a March 30, 2017, interview that his relationship with Russian intelligence was “on the books”—which the report identifies as “a colloquial term for being an intelligence source”:
FBI agents attempted to explain how the Russian intelligence services worked, and suggested that the Russian intelligence services had been tracking Page since his years living in Russia. The agents further, and specifically, stated that the [redacted] might consider Page either an unwitting or witting “on the record” source for intelligence gathering. Page questioned the assessment, yet said “I’m sure I’m on the books,” and “they know who I am.” The following day, the FBI again asked Page if he knew what it meant to be “on the books.” Page reiterated that he considered himself to be “on the books,” but objected to any characterization that he was “'working with” the Russian intelligence services.
All of which sets the scene for the next segment of the Carter Page chronicle: Page and the Trump campaign.
The report details that Page joined the Trump campaign through Ed Cox, the chairman of the New York Republican Party, on the basis of an unpublished opinion piece written by Page entitled “Trump, Putin and the Possible End of the Second Cold War.” In December 2015, Page emailed Cox, inquiring if he had any advice “as to how one might be able to support [Trump], including by becoming one of his delegates.” The draft article was attached.
Cox forwarded the email to Corey Lewandowski and, a little over two months later, Page emailed multiple campaign officials (including Lewandowski, Sam Clovis and Michael Glassner) to express his interest in becoming a member of Trump’s foreign policy team. Page’s emails prior to joining the campaign articulated pro-Putin foreign policy stances and included frequent references to his “high level contacts” in Russia with “close ties to the Kremlin.”
On March 21, 2016, Trump gave Page’s name as one of his foreign policy advisers in an interview with the Washington Post’s editorial board. And 10 days after that, Trump held his first and only meeting with the “national security team,” without Page, who was traveling at the time.
In the report, the committee establishes that the Trump campaign’s vetting for its foreign policy team was minimal and rushed, “undertaken in large part to respond to public scrutiny over the lack of expertise on the Campaign.” The individuals on the March list of advisers had personally reached out to Clovis, Lewandowski, Glassner or members of the Trump family in the past and were selected because they could be brought on, in Clovis’s words, “in that short a notice.” Further, the committee found that “Clovis vetted the advisers by conducting Google searches on them ‘to make sure we didn’t have any immediate land mines out there.’”
It’s probably fair to say that if not an “immediate land mine,” Page did turn out to be an explosive device of some sort by the time he was booted from the team.
The committee writes that, during Page’s tenure as an adviser, he never individually met with Trump, and the committee “found no evidence to suggest that Page made significant contributions to speeches or policy initiatives for the Trump Campaign.” The report, however, also notes that Trump campaign staff “downplayed the significance of the National Security Advisory Committee as well as Page’s role” in their interviews with the committee. Hope Hicks, the campaign’s press secretary, claimed that Page was “just a person whose name got slapped on a list … because we didn’t have anyone else.”
“Nevertheless,” the committee writes, “in some instances, Page may have been given reason to believe his access extended further than it did.” Page attended several meetings with the foreign policy team, frequently emailed members of the campaign on Russia-related matters and put together documents including a mock-President’s Daily Brief on Russia issues. He also referenced conversations with individuals “with close ties to the Kremlin” in his emails and repeatedly tried to arrange meetings between Trump and Putin. And the report details that Page told officials on the campaign that he had “received offers for speaking engagements, including from ‘a close advisor of President Putin,’” to which J.D. Gordon, director of national security on the Trump campaign, responded, “if we had 10 Carter Pages … imagine what we could do!”
In June 2016, as Page started to receive negative press for his connections to the Kremlin, the campaign became more wary of him. Nonetheless, in July he received approval to travel to Russia in order to deliver two speeches. Then-Trump campaign manager Lewandowski “explicitly told Page this would be speaking in his own capacity and not related to the campaign,” telling the committee essentially that he didn’t care what Page did: “[A]n individual who I don't think I had ever met before is asking for permission to go to a place to give a speech on something I know nothing about, and is not part of the team I'm running, didn't raise a red flag to me because I didn't have any authority to agree or not agree to let him do something.”
The committee speculates that “interested Russians” may have seen Page as “more closely connected than he was” to the Trump campaign. According to the report, sponsors of his speeches at the New Economic School (NES) in Moscow “made it clear that they invited Page because of his perceived role” in the campaign. Shlomo Weber, a professor at NES who had recruited Page for the speeches, told the committee that “nobody ever doubted” Page was a campaign adviser.
Like the Mueller report, the Senate Intelligence Committee report stops short of determining what exactly Carter Page did during his five-day stay in Moscow.
On the trip, Page gave two speeches and had a short interaction with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich, an encounter he described to the committee strictly as a “sort of brief, in-passing moment.” It’s also possible that he met with Igor Sechin, whom the report describes as a person “widely referred to in open source reporting as being one of the most powerful figures inside Putin’s circle.” This part of the report is largely redacted, but it asserts that the Steele dossier says “Page had a meeting with Sechin during this July 2016 visit. [redacted sentence] The Committee has no further information or details about his reference.”
The report concludes definitively, however, that Page met with Andrey Baranov, who was the head of investor relations at Sechin’s company. Page told the FBI that no deals were made during this interaction and that “the subject of Sechin came up, but in an immaterial way.”
The committee alludes to, but does not explicitly confirm, the idea that Page’s visit was known to high-level officials in the Russian government:
There are indications that news of Page’s visit reached senior levels of the Kremlin. Denis Klimentov became the press secretary of the NES in the fall of 2016. Page had repeated direct contact with Klimentov starting as early as his July 2016 trip to Moscow, most of which dealt with outreach to Russian press journalists seeking to cover Page’s speech. [redacted sentences] … Klimentov’s brother and business partner, Dmitriy Klimentov[,] maintains regular contact with Dmitry Peskov, who is the Press Secretary for the President Putin [sic]. Dmitriy Klimentov told the FBI that he contacted Peskov about Page's July visit, in the event Peskov wanted to facilitate any meetings. According to Klimentov, there was no interest in meeting Page and Peskov responded that Page was not high-level enough to meet.
Page sent several emails to Trump campaign staffers during his trip. In them, he described his encounter with the Russian deputy prime minister somewhat differently than he later did to the committee. Page’s emails claimed that in “private conversation, Dvorkovich expressed strong support for Mr. Trump and a desire to work together.” But the report states that when the committee asked Page about the “incredible insights” he had described in the correspondence sent to Trump campaign members while in Moscow, Page “had difficulty recalling his allegedly high-level engagements” and further claimed his written comments “may have been an exaggeration.”
Upon Page’s return to the United States in July, his trip to Moscow generated a new wave of attention from the media. Republican operative Paul Erickson, his Russian associate Maria Butina and Russian government official Alexander Torshin, all of whom feature heavily in a later section of the committee’s report, expressed interest in meeting with Page after monitoring his moves. Page continued communicating with campaign staff, sending emails the report describes as “often conspiratorial and generally reflective of Russian policy options.”
The Trump team severed ties with Page in September 2016 as the campaign moved to distance itself from a flurry of media attention garnered on Page’s connections to Russia. As he exited the campaign, he wrote a letter dated Sept. 25, 2016, to FBI Director James Comey that stated, in part:
“I am writing to request the FBI’s prompt end of the reported inquiry regarding my personal trip to Russia in July 2016—an investigation which has been widely mentioned in the media.” Among other things, Page noted: “I have not met this year with any sanctioned official in Russia despite the fact that there are no restrictions on U.S. persons speaking with such individuals.” He also stated in the letter that he had “interacted with members of the U.S. intelligence community, including the FBI and CIA for many decades.”
The report dryly states: “The first FISA order on Page was approved October 21, 2016.” As this post deals only with Trump campaign interaction with Russia and the counterintelligence risks therein, we do not treat here the question of the integrity of the Carter Page FISA applications.
Following the election, Page returned to Moscow in December 2016 and delivered several speeches. These included:
criticisms of Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as a reference to “conspiracy theories about Wikileaks used to distract from disastrous information revealed on her illegal mail server.” Page praised Rex Tillerson, who had been nominated to be Secretary of State, and inserted a reference to Igor Sechin, who Page stated he “didn’t meet … but it would have been a great honor.” Page stated that there was “nothing there” on reports of Russia’s intervention in the U.S. presidential election. Page also said, when asked about whether he’s met with Trump, “I’ve certainly been in a number of meetings with him.”
As with Page’s visit to Russia during the campaign, the committee admits limited insight into Page’s meetings and activities on the ground in Moscow during his December trip. The report claims that Page did have dinner with Dvorkovich, who during the meeting established that “Russia would like to be a friend of the United States.” Additionally, Page told the committee that he met with Baranov again in Moscow that December.
The committee writes that Page repeatedly contacted the Trump team to inquire about a position during the transition, “stating that in his capacity as a Trump Campaign foreign policy advisor he had met with ‘top world leaders[,]’” but he received no response from staff. During the transition period, Don McGahn—who would soon become White House counsel—twice asked Page to stop publicly associating himself with the campaign.
The Carter Page section of the report concludes with a brief synopsis of Page’s prominence in the Steele dossier. The committee deems assertions made against Page in the document to be largely unsubstantiated:
Regarding assertions in the Steele dossier about Page, the Committee heard testimony from Michael Cohen that he never met Page. Page told the Committee he never met Paul Manafort, but included him only once on a group email, for which he was chastised by others on the Campaign. He told the Committee he never met, nor “heard of,” Igor Diveykin. Page has publicly and repeatedly denied meeting with Igor Sechin. Other than the dossier’s assertions that Page traveled to Moscow in July 2016 and served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump—facts which were readily available in news reports at the time of their inclusion in the dossier—the Committee did not find any information that corroborates the allegations related to Page in the dossier.
As the committee itself stated at numerous points throughout the report, its investigation into the Trump campaign foreign policy adviser and his dealings with Russian officials was marred by “significant challenges,” including a great deal of forgetfulness from Page himself.
In short, Page consistently advocated for Russian interests and described a personal network of Kremlin affiliates both before and during his time as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign. He had a past set of interactions with Russian intelligence officers that would raise obvious counterintelligence questions. And as he was acting as an adviser on Trump’s team in the lead-up to the 2016 election, he traveled to Moscow and met with several Russian figures while maintaining correspondence with the campaign about his interactions. Page was removed from the Trump team only later, amid serious backlash in the media—at which point campaign officials intentionally distanced themselves from the former adviser.
The April 27, 2016, foreign policy speech that Trump gave at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington was a big deal at the time; it is not a big deal in the committee’s report. Investigators looked into the behind-the-scenes drafting of the speech, which was the candidate’s first formal foreign policy address and one that telegraphed Trump’s Russia-sympathetic posture. And the committee, as Mueller did, zeroed in on one special guest at the event: Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. But while the committee probed the nature of the interactions between Trump staffers and the ambassador, they found no evidence that any members of the Trump team had “any substantive private conversations” with Kislyak.
Dmitri Simes, president of D.C. think tank the Center for the National Interest (CNI), organized the speech in cooperation with Jared Kushner. Simes had agreed with Kushner that the think tank would not only orchestrate the event but also provide the campaign with substantive foreign policy advice. But the committee noted that despite Simes’s offer, “no one in the Campaign relied on CNI’s expertise.”
The campaign initially proposed hosting the event at the National Press Club but opted instead for the Mayflower Hotel after Trump rejected the National Press Club as “too small and unable to accommodate ‘35-45 cameras.’”
The substance of the speech came “predominate[ly]” from senior campaign adviser Stephen Miller, who told the committee that “everything in the speech is informed by the candidate’s own publicly-stated views on all these issues.”
What views, exactly?
At the event, Trump explained, “We desire to live peacefully and in friendship with Russia and China…. I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible…. Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great—not good, great—for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table.”
The committee noted that campaign advisers Chris Christie and Adm. Chuck Kubic each pushed for tweaks to the Russia-policy lines that would have added a more adversarial inflection to the speech. But the report explains that those edits were not accepted as a group of core campaign aides—Miller, Manafort, Gates and Lewandowski—shaped the speech into its final form. The committee appeared to agree with Miller and noted that the remarks were “consistent with the candidate’s views.”
The speech was the main attraction, but CNI also put together a “VIP” gathering before the speech for a select group of attendees. The committee noted that “the reception included approximately 20-25 attendees, mostly members of Congress and ambassadors,” including Kislyak.
The committee doesn’t come to a firm conclusion about who invited the Russian ambassador. Kislyak was not on the 13-person list of suggested attendees Simes relayed to Kushner. Simes noted to the committee that the campaign didn’t make any “request about bringing any foreigners to the meeting and most certainly no particular requests about bringing any Russians to the meeting.”
Once at the meeting, the report details that Kislyak had brief interactions with some key members of the Trump campaign.
Kushner shook hands with Kislyak, and the ambassador commented to him, “I really like what he’s saying; America and Russia should have a good relationship; we don’t have one now with the current administration; and I hope if President Trump wins that will change.” And the candidate himself “exchanged pleasantries” with Kislyak after Simes introduced the pair.
The committee devoted particular attention to the question of whether Jeff Sessions interacted with Kislyak. Sessions attended the event but asserted to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his January 10, 2017, confirmation hearing on his nomination to be attorney general that he had no memory of meeting Kislyak. The report notes that Sessions had “failed to reveal” to the Judiciary Committee other interactions with Kislyak—both a meeting with the ambassador in Session’s Senate office in September 2016 and “an encounter” with the ambassador at the July 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Investigators ran into a significant obstacle in trying to discern whether Sessions indeed met with Kislayak at the Mayflower Hotel event: No Trump campaign staffers could remember who Kislyak was. The committee asked eight different Trump campaign aides—including Kushner, Miller and Hicks—whether they saw Sessions and Kislyak together at the event. Unfortunately, “[a]ll knew Senator Sessions, but none knew who the Russian ambassador was. Thus, they could not speak to seeing them together.” One oddity in this section: Kushner detailed to the committee his own personal interaction with Kislyak (a handshake with accompanying remarks from the ambassador), but Kushner is also listed in a footnote as among those who can’t recall who Kislayak was when asked if Sessions interacted with the Russian ambassador.
Nonetheless, the committee “found no evidence that foreign interference occurred during or as a result of the April 27, 2016, Trump campaign speech held at the Mayflower Hotel.”
The story of Maria Butina and her Russian government handler, Alexander Torshin—unlike most of the episodes the report describes before it—is not principally a story about Russian interference in the 2016 election. And it is mostly not a story about the Trump campaign. Rather, it’s a story that significantly predates the 2016 election cycle, and while it interacts with the election, it does so only occasionally. We examine it here only for those occasional points of tangency, the rest of the story—though a fascinating tale of Russian attempts to influence conservative politics in its own right—being beyond the scope of this post.
“Starting in 2013, and continuing over a several year period,” the report summarizes, Butina and Torshin:
established a broad network of relationships with the leaders of the National Rifle Association (NRA), conservative political operatives, Republican government officials, and individuals connected to the Trump Campaign. They took steps to establish informal communications channels to influence American government policy towards Russia. Butina and Torshin’s activities were known to and almost certainly approved by the Kremlin and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Butina was a young Russian gun rights advocate whom Torshin—a member of the upper house of Russia’s parliament and later the deputy governor of its central bank—sent to the United States to cultivate relations with the NRA and other conservative groups. But who exactly is she? The committee leaves this a bit mysterious. Amid a series of redacted paragraphs, the following sentence is left unredacted: “The Committee assesses that the nature and extent of Butina’s contacts and certain communications are indicative of work for the Russian intelligence services and inconsistent with her claims to the Committee about her activities and intentions in the United States.” Despite all this ambiguity, though, it is clear as day that Butina was operating at Torshin’s direction to develop pro-Russian sentiment in the U.S., along with a network of friendly contacts among gun rights activists and other conservative players.
All this began in 2013, when former NRA president David Keene and Republican operative Paul Erickson traveled to Russia to attend a conference hosted by Butina. Butina and Erickson stayed in touch, and she developed a romantic relationship with him and began living in the United States, attending graduate school at American University while building relations with American gun rights activists. Most of her activity, and that of Torshin, does not involve the Trump campaign. But, as the report summarizes, some of it touched the campaign—in which Butina and Torshin became increasingly interested. “Over time,” the committee writes, “Butina and Torshin gained further access to U.S. conservative political circles and met prominent Republican figures such as a Republican candidate for president, a Republican congressman, and Donald Trump Jr.” And it goes on:
Butina provided Torshin with written assessments of Republican presidential candidates, including their likelihood of winning the Republican Party nomination and the general election. After Trump became the presumptive nominee, and throughout the general election, Butina and Torshin focused their influence efforts on the Trump Campaign to shape the incoming Trump administration’s position on Russia. On several occasions, Butina and Torshin attempted to negotiate meetings for themselves with Trump and between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The intersections with the Trump world were many and varied, and they grew more intense as the Trump campaign heated up and Butina and Torshin increasingly focused on it. John Bolton, who later served as one of Trump’s national security advisers, recorded a video for Butina’s gun rights group as early as 2013. Butina asked Trump a question about sanctions against Russia at the FreedomFest Convention in 2015. He responded: “I know Putin, and I'll tell you what, we get along with Putin. ... I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, okay? And I mean where we have the strength. I don't think you’d need the sanctions.” As the committee reports, “Erickson attended the event with Butina, and may have taken the picture Butina posted to her Twitter account the evening of July 11, with the Google-translated text: ‘Asked Donald Trump about his position on Russia. Trump is saying about mitigation of sanctions.’”
As Trump emerged as the GOP front-runner, the committee finds,
Butina conveyed to Torshin that Trump had “won the last really important primaries,” and they should consider him the “presumptive Republican nominee.” In mid-March [of 2016], Butina informed Torshin that Trump had referred to Putin as a “strong leader” and had effectively clinched the nomination. Butina also cryptically proposed that Torshin “[t]hink about if we should invite someone from the Trump Administration in order to unofficial[ly] meet with someone from our ... ,” although she left the sentence unfinished.
It was against this background that Torshin came to the United States to attend the 2016 NRA convention. Butina provided Torshin with a document entitled, “'Note on the Annual General Convention of the National Rifle Association of the USA and the Possibilities of Setting Up Informal Communications between Russia and the USA,” which, the committee writes, “included the following statements tying the NRA trip to the Russian MFA’s [Ministry of Foreign Affairs’s] interest in influencing Republican candidates’ views, specifically Trump’s, on Russia (emphasis in original)”:
• “The assumption is that the influence of the NRA on election results is critically important for the Republican Party.”
•“[T]he leadership of the NRA is inviting Mr. Torshin not just to attend the general assembly of the organization and to speak at it, but is even granting him access to closed meetings with the VIP speakers at the conference. In May 2016 he has the chance to speak personally with the leaders of the Republican primary race—Mssrs. Trump, Cruz and Kasik [sic].”
•“Torshin is invited to the National Republican Convention .... In accord with Mr. Torshin’s wish, he can be an observer at the presidential election in November 2016 in a US state that interests him.”
•“On April 22, Donald Trump announced a change ... in his election strategy, where the candidate plans to pay closer attention to foreign policy. Important in these circumstances are those contacts with the candidate and his entourage that will help form Trump’s correct view of Russian-American relations. Attending the general assembly of the NRA in May 2016 fully provides this unique opportunity.”
Butina apparently told Torshin she had arranged a meeting with Trump at the convention, but Torshin seems to have perceived that this was unlikely and instructed her instead to focus on NRA contacts. While the meeting ended up not taking place, Butina was not bluffing, according to the committee. An NRA member named Johnny Yenason, whom the committee writes was “active in political and religious circles,” wrote to Butina and Torshin inviting them to a dinner he had helped organize and offering to connect them with Trump:
I would like to know if you would be interested in joining a couple of us after the dinner to meet with Donald Trump, our presidential front runner. ... I believe this would be very interesting for both you and Alex especially if [M]r. Trump is elected our next president. You may if you wish be involved in helping introduce [M]r. Trump to President Putin. Butina wrote back: “Thank you very much for the priceless opportunity to meet Mr. Trump! It’s an honor and might be a good deal for the relationships between the two countries in the future.” Erickson separately followed up on the matter with Trump campaign official Rick Dearborn:
Happenstance and the (sometimes) international reach of the NRA placed me in position a couple of years ago to slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin’s Kremlin. Russia is quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S. that isn’t forthcoming under the current administration. And for reasons that we can discuss in person or on the phone, the Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true re-set in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House. ...
President Putin’s emissary on this front has arranged to attend next week’s NRA Annual Meeting in Louisville, KY. He is attending a small private reception that Mr. Trump has (allegedly) committed to on Thursday night, May 19 in order to make “first contact” (nothing more than the presentation of a gift for Mrs. Trump tied to the Russian Orthodox Church—a fascinating artifact). The reception is being hosted by a nondescript organization, called “Heroes for Freedom and Liberty” (a veterans support group).
Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump. He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election. Let’s talk through what has transpired and Sen. Sessions’ advice on how to proceed.
Dearborn “told the Committee that he did not recall receiving Erickson’s email and did not believe he responded to this request.”
There was other outreach too. A man named Rick Clay, identified by the report as “a politically-connected NRA member from West Virginia and a friend of Yenason,” “also pursued the issue with his own Trump Campaign contacts, including Dearborn and Jordan Karem,” the committee notes. “Clay first raised the subject with Dearborn by phone on May 15, telling Dearborn that there was an invitation for Trump to attend an event in Russia and that a meeting between Trump and Putin could be arranged while Trump was there.” Clay followed up, at Dearborn’s request, with an email. He sought two things:
A “[p]rivet [sic] meeting with a high ranking representative of the Trump Campaign with Mr. Torshin before the NRA event.”
A “[m]eet and greet with a small delegation from the Freedom Dinner with Mr. Trump that will include both Mr. Torshin, Ms. Maria Butina, [and] Three Medal of Honor Recipients.”
Dearborn forwarded Clay’s email to Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, noting that Clay:
[W]ants Alexander Torshin, The Deputy Governor of the Bank of Russia to meet with a high level official in our campaign at the Louisville, KY NRA event to discuss an offer he claims to be carrying from President Putin to meet with DJT: They would also like DJT to visit Russia for a world summit on the persecution of Christians at which Putin and Trump would meet.
Kushner, however, didn’t bite. Being “dubious of the Campaign’s ability to verify any messages that people claimed to be bringing from foreign leaders,” he “directed Dearborn to decline.” And while Clay persisted in his efforts “periodically through September 2016; Dearborn told the Committee that he declined Clay’s attempts to broker a meeting each time, believing that it was a settled issue from the Campaign’s perspective.”
Torshin asked Butina whether Trump would be at the convention that day, and also planned to join Keene for a private birthday dinner—which Keene had specifically rescheduled to allow Torshin to attend.
But the NRA event was not a total bust for Torshin, who ended up meeting Donald Trump Jr. The meeting appears to have been the result of Keene’s having taken Butina and Torshin to the wrong restaurant:
Keene and Butina told the Committee that Keene made reservations at a different restaurant, but Keene had mistakenly brought them to Brendon's Catch, where they had eaten two nights earlier. The restaurant initially provided Keene’s group—himself, his wife, Butina, Torshin and Osipkin—with a private room that had been reserved for an NRA function, and then relocated them when the other NRA group arrived. As they were being relocated, Pete Brownell, whose group of NRA members was taking the room, arrived with Trump Jr. and introduced him to Keene, Torshin, Butina, and Osipkin. Butina, Torshin, and Osipkin all had their photos taken with Trump Jr., some of which Butina produced to the Committee.
The meeting does not appear to have been anything substantial. As Butina described it to the committee:
It was small talk. Mr. Torshin presented to Donald Trump Junior a coin or like something that he always had in his pockets, and he wished the best to his father, the best to Melania Trump, and the best to his family and his wife. We didn't have a lot of time to talk because they were about to have dinner, and then they walked us out to the bigger room where the NRA delegation was there having dinner with Donald Trump Junior, and asked us to introduce ourselves. I remember that because I was translating what Torshin told. He told: We are NRA life members; we are traveling from Russia.
The pattern established by Torshin and Butina at the NRA meeting proved to be a recurring one. Over the course of the next few months, they repeatedly prodded at the Trump campaign, trying to cultivate people and develop relationships. And the Trump campaign repeatedly showed itself uninterested. Even as the Trump family members were taking meetings with Natalya Veslnitskaya and seeking dirt, even as Trump was eagerly seeking WikiLeaks releases and Manafort was sharing campaign poll data with Konstantin Kilimnik, the campaign appeared lukewarm to the approaches from Butina and the people around her.
For example, in July, the Russophile Republican congressman Dana Rohrabacher organized a dinner at The Monocle, a Capitol Hill gathering spot, “to discuss his position on U.S. foreign policy towards Russia. ... The guests included then-Senator Jeff Sessions and Campaign policy advisor Sam Clovis.” Erickson was there as well. “Clovis recalled interacting with Erickson and giving him a card,” the committee reports. And “[t]his interaction apparently prompted Erickson, on July 16, to email Clovis that he had been ‘developing a back-channel to the Kremlin for the past couple of years’”:
I briefly mentioned at the Rohrabacher dinner that I’ve been developing a backchannel to the Kremlin for the past couple of years—really, just the recipient of their outreach. Comes now an important inquiry on that front.
Was Trump supporter Carter Page’s recent visit to Moscow (major speech delivered a couple of weeks ago) his idea based upon his previous years in Russia, or were you (or the campaign) aware of or sanctioned his remarks?
Carter EXACTLY echoes the “new relationship with Russia” strains echoed at the dinner, by nominee Trump and by smart international security experts. His speech is sweeping the Russian internet AND has deeply interested the most inner circles of the Kremlin. For a host of reasons, it has further reinforced Putin’s/Russia’s desire for a Trump victory over a pointless “Hillary re-set” administration.
But again, the campaign did not bite. “Clovis said he did not respond to the email and did not tell anyone about receiving it, despite claiming he was ‘always hinky about anybody who wanted to talk about Russia.’”
Around the same time, Butina and Torshin communicated about trying to set up a meeting with Carter Page, but Butina never met with him. Butina did, however, “meet several times with J.D. Gordon, a former Trump Campaign national security advisor who she first encountered at a Swiss Embassy reception on September 28,” the committee writes. “That evening, following the reception, Erickson connected the two by email, asserting that Gordon was ‘playing a crucial role in the Trump transition effort and would be an excellent addition to any of the U.S.-Russia friendship dinners you occasionally hold. His perspective on international security is informed and listened to by all the 'right' people in the immediate future of American politics.’” Butina invited Gordon to such a dinner—“[h]e seemed to have a pro-Russian position,” she told the committee—but he couldn’t come.
Nonetheless, “the two continued their correspondence in an effort to meet again. Gordon took Butina to a Styx concert at the Warner Theater on October 18, following a happy hour. Butina likewise recalled meeting with Gordon at a bar in downtown Washington, D.C., possibly before the concert, where they spoke about both Gordon’s and Trump’s positive views on Russia.” She later invited Gordon to her birthday party, and at another point Gordon and Butina “exchanged emails about a happy hour in December .” The committee notes, “In contemporaneous conversations with Torshin, Butina touted her meetings with Gordon, and the [friendship] dinners, as pathways to the Trump Campaign.” And she later boasted that she had "met with the Trump academia wing on international policy."
But there really is no evidence that her investment in any of these contacts paid off.
The efforts continued after the election. In the wake of Trump’s victory, Butina made plans to bring a delegation of Russians to Washington to establish a back channel. She continued to participate in the “friendship dinners,” in which she sought to introduce prominent Russians to sympathetic conservatives. And “Butina and Torshin were briefly on a list to meet Trump during the National Prayer Breakfast.” But the key word there is “briefly.” The committee writes: “Public reporting indicates that the meeting was canceled the night before, after a White House national security aide flagged Torshin as an individual with ‘baggage,’ including ties to organized crime. Butina told the Committee she thought the cancellation was due to the event having been overbooked.”
In the end, the Butina-Torshin story is a remarkable tale of a Russian influence operation with respect to conservative politics and the NRA in particular. It is a cautionary tale of how people can become witting or unwitting co-optees of foreign influence. But it is not a tale that casts that Trump campaign in a particularly bad light. On a fairly consistent basis, the Trump campaign seems to have kept Butina and Torshin at distance. While Butina might have gotten a lot of contacts and goodwill from conservative interest groups, she appears to have gotten nothing more from the Trump campaign than a few drinks and a Styx concert.
The committee’s findings regarding reports of “kompromat” of a sexual nature that may have been collected on Donald Trump during his various visits to Moscow are significantly redacted. The blacked-out portions include a fuller description of the threat posed by Russian intelligence services’ collection of kompromat. As a result, it is difficult to get a complete picture of the committee’s findings and what, exactly, they mean. The report does not specifically corroborate any allegations made against Trump, but it does provide surprisingly detailed context for such allegations.
The report examines three sets of allegations: (1) allegations by David Geovanis that he had information about Trump’s relationships with women in Moscow; (2) allegations that Sergey Khokhlov overheard discussion of sensitive tapes of a Trump visit to Russia; and (3) allegations that an executive at Marriott International overheard two other Marriott executives discussing a tape of Trump with women in an elevator at the Ritz Carlton Moscow.
The report describes David Geovanis, a Moscow-based Russian American businessman who holds a Russian passport and may be a dual U.S.-Russian citizen, as “a Trump acquaintance.” It says that Trump and Geovanis likely first met during Trump’s travel to Moscow in November 1996, with other U.S. investors, to explore real estate development opportunities. In summary, the report finds that:
Geovanis has claimed that, during Trump’s travel to Russia, both in 1996 and 2013, Geovanis was aware of Trump engaging in personal relationships with Russian women. Geovanis has suggested that the Russian government was also likely aware of this information.
The report finds that Geovanis has ties to Kremlin-linked oligarchs, some of whom were the subject of economic sanctions by the United States, and has contacts associated with Russia’s intelligence and security services, some of whom are involved in Kremlin influence operations. Through the 1990s and 2000s, Geovanis hosted visiting businessmen in Moscow, and the report describes that “in some circles of the U.S. expatriate business community in Moscow it has been common for visiting businessmen to be taken to nightclubs or parties where prostitutes are present.” In Moscow, the report finds, Geovanis has a reputation “for a pattern of conduct regarding women that could make him, and potentially those around him, vulnerable to kompromat operations.”
Geovanis became a managing director for Oleg Deripaska’s Basic Element, investing in real estate in 2001 or 2002. The report says Deripaska “is one of the Kremlin’s most significant malign influence operatives, has close ties to the Russian intelligence services, and has been involved in the targeting of foreign elections.” Geovanis has also been associated, the report finds, with the Russian state-funded Skolkovo Foundation and technology park, which has been controlled by U.S-sanctioned Putin-associate Viktor Vekselberg and is involved in the development of sensitive military technologies for Russia.
The report documents in detail—including pictures—Trump’s 1996 trip to Moscow, though much of this section is redacted. A friend of Geovanis told the committee he “understood that ‘David was kind of like assigned to show [Trump] around town, take him to dinner.’" It describes a party during the trip in which “Trump may have begun a brief relationship with a Russian woman named [redacted],” who was a Miss Moscow beauty pageant winner. The friend told the committee that, based on what Geovanis told him, “I think [Trump] and [redacted] might have had a brief romantic relationship.”
The report suggests there was subsequent contact between Trump and the woman, and even identifies an interview in 2007 in which she mentioned their “mutual affection” and that the two were on “friendly footing.” There was also subsequent contact between Trump and Geovanis in New York in the late 1990s. The report describes Geovanis’s handling of the information about Trump and the woman this way:
While the Committee is not specifically aware of Geovanis sharing his alleged information regarding Trump with the Russian government, he has not been discreet with it. He is believed to have told a number of people in Moscow and elsewhere about some of this information, at least some of whom are in the U.S. expatriate business community, and he may have also spoken to the press about it. Geovanis refused to cooperate with the Committee’s investigation, and some of his communications indicate that he has recently avoided returning to the United States.
Later, in early 2017, Geovanis visited one of the other attendees of the 1996 party, Theodore Liebman, in New York and asked if Liebman had any pictures of Trump with the woman. Liebman did, and that picture appears in the report—with the woman’s face redacted. The report states that the committee “is not aware of Geovanis having any direct connection with the Trump Campaign” but nonetheless continually “referred to his connections to Trump in emails around the time of the campaign, and others around Geovanis also seemed to be aware of these connections.”
Separately, the report notes that Geovanis “may have been under personal financial strain since at least 2013.”
Another attendee of the 1996 events in Moscow, Leon Black, told the committee that he and Trump “might have been in a strip club together.” Peter O’Brien, former CFO of the Russian government-controlled firm Rosneft, recalled Geovanis in 2015 talking about spending time with Trump in Moscow, telling stories about Trump being with younger women, and even bringing them to official meetings “which some people in Russia thought was weird.” The implication, according to O’Brien, was that Trump “had spent the night with these two women and showed up at this first meeting the next day.” O'Brien explained:
For years in Russia there were a number of Russian government officials or others who were exposed in these strip clubs doing not very nice things that their wives, if they have wives, probably didn't know about. I think most of us appreciated that there was that risk in these types of clubs. So, I think once David told that story, we were all concerned about that.
Based on the stories from Geovanis, O’Brien once wrote in an email to friends, “I keep thinking that … [Putin] must have some great material on Donald.”
This section of the report describes aspects of Trump’s trip to Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant that provide context for allegations about Trump’s contact with women during that trip. Here again, key portions are redacted, but it is clear that two individuals told the committee they recalled Geovanis describing spending time with Trump during that trip. One told the committee:
To the best of my recollection, Mr. Geovanis said that he showed Mr. Trump around Moscow during the Miss Universe pageant in 2013. He did not get into specifics, but intimated that there was partying and that Mr. Trump should be nice to him in light of the information he had.
The report leaves open the possibility that the latter part of this statement may have been made in jest.
So what did happen on Trump’s 2013 trip? And in particular, what happened at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow? The report does not come to firm conclusions.
Recall that an earlier section of the report makes clear that Emin Agalarov, who was one of Trump’s main interlocutors for his 2013 Miss Universe trip to Moscow, specifically arranged for Trump to stay at the Ritz Carlton during his visit. The current section of the report points to the general counterintelligence risk:
Apart from allegations related to Trump, the Committee found that the Ritz Carlton in Moscow is a high counterintelligence risk environment. The Committee assesses that the hotel likely has at least one permanent Russian intelligence officer on staff, government surveillance of guests' rooms, and the regular presence of a large number of prostitutes, likely with at least the tacit approval of Russian authorities.
A former executive at Marriott International, the parent company of Ritz Carlton, told the committee that shortly after the 2013 Miss Universe contest he overheard two other Marriott executives discussing a recording from one of the elevator security cameras at the Ritz Carlton Moscow:
One of the Marriott executives who was involved in the conversation—previously a manager of the Ritz Carlton Moscow—had clearly seen the video, which allegedly showed Trump in an elevator involved with several women who the discussant implied to be “hostesses.” The executive who had seen the video had asked the other, more senior, executive what to do with the recording. The former executive said the two discussants then left to continue the conversation in a more private location, and he did not hear anything further.
But neither of these executives recalled the conversation or seeing the recording, and the committee was not able to resolve these discrepancies.
Michael Cohen testified that he became aware of allegations of a compromising tape related to Trump and prostitutes in late 2013 or early 2014, soon after the Miss Universe 2013 pageant. He said he discussed the allegations with Trump, who told him the allegations were not true and asked him to find out where the allegations were coming from. Cohen estimated that six different people, and people in the media, contacted him over several years about the alleged tape of Trump and that one individual threatened to release information if Cohen did not pay him a large amount of money.
Cohen reached out to a friend, Giorgi Rtskhiladze, to see if he could find out if the tape was real. (Recall that the report describes, in an earlier section, how Rtsckhiladze reappears in September 2015 at the behest of an associate to express interest to Cohen in a Trump Tower Moscow project. Rtskhiladze is reportedly an American citizen from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. In June 2020, it was reported that he sued former Special Counsel Mueller for falsely describing him as a “Russian businessman” and wrongly claiming he knew of supposed tapes of Trump from 2013. Rtskhiladze also published a book on the topic in April 2020.)
Rtskhiladze told the committee that during an October 2015 phone call with a former business associate, Sergei Khokhlov, Khokhlov stated that while having dinner at a restaurant, Khokhlov overheard a stranger at a table next to him discuss tapes from Trump’s visit to Russia. Later, due to the news about the Access Hollywood tapes and its potential impact on Trump’s reputation, Rtskhiladze sent a text message to Cohen to inform him that an individual was overheard discussing sensitive tapes of Trump’s trip to Russia. The report contains text messages between Cohen and a Russian contact regarding potentially damaging tapes, believed to have been exchanged on Oct. 30, 2016, as well as a phone call. The goal, it seemed, was to run them down and keep them quiet so that Trump could “make it to” the White House.
Thereafter, Cohen discussed the matter with Trump and his head of security, Keith Schiller. Ultimately, Rtskhiladze said Khokhlov had told him the tapes were fake—but he never told Cohen. Rtskhiladze said he did not have “personal insight into the matter” but assessed that “if compromising material existed, Crocus Group [the Agalarovs] would likely be responsible.”
Then, in a mostly redacted footnote, the committee states:
The Committee is aware of a realistic and well-resourced, but fake, video of someone who looks like Trump portraying him in a situation consistent with the uncorroborated allegations that were made public in January of 2017. The video may have first appeared on the public internet in January of 2019.
The end of this section returns to the descriptions of the Ritz Carlton Moscow from former employees:
[I]n 2013 there was at least one [redacted] officer permanently stationed at the hotel. This non-uniformed [redacted] officer was believed to be a [redacted] and had access to the hotel’s property management system, guest portfolios and notations, as well as the network of “hundreds” of security cameras at the hotel. The [redacted] was believed to be able to monitor the camera feeds from his office. It was believed that the officer reported both to his [redacted] leadership, and directly to the owner of the hotel….
The former employees did not know whether there were cameras permanently in certain rooms, but both believed it was possible, and there was awareness of recording devices being prearranged in rooms in anticipation of the arrival of particular guests. One of the former employees also believed that one of the drivers affiliated with the Ritz Carlton in Moscow was from the [redacted] and had easy access to a secure government area.
Both former employees also recalled a significant presence of paid sex workers at the hotel. One reported that a third-party security firm that was employed by the hotel was responsible for managing the women, in addition to its other duties.
As stated previously, the committee does not specifically corroborate any allegations made against Trump. But it does not paint a reassuring picture either. If nothing else, it is certainly a cautionary tale for American businessmen who travel to Russia.
The Russian government, the report makes clear in the Recommendations section at the end, “treats oligarchs, organized crime, and associated businesses as tools of the state, rather than independent, private entities.” The Kremlin then uses these entities to pursue Kremlin priorities, including money laundering, sanctions evasion and influence operations. It notes rather dryly that “[t]his is a fundamentally different model than in the United States.” It politely exhorts American business leaders to understand “that they, too, are a target” of nontraditional intelligence actors—including “collection of compromising information for influence efforts”—and should “take precautions.”
That’s advice Trump might have found useful before his trips to Moscow.
The committee next examines the extent to which foreign-based influence companies played a role in shaping the outcome of the 2016 presidential election—either directly or through American counterparts. It looks specifically at three companies—Cambridge Analytica, Psy-Group and Colt Ventures—each of which had some sort of foreign ties and had contact with the Trump campaign. Each of these three companies either aspired to apply, or actually did apply, microtargeted social media messaging techniques “comparable to those employed by Russian information operatives with the Internet Research Agency.”
In other words, while we know that Russia attacked the U.S. election directly through the Internet Research Agency, the committee also looked at whether the government of Russia worked as well through any of these companies. The “Committee found no convincing evidence that Russia’s government or intelligence services worked with or through any of these companies in furtherance of Moscow’s 2016 U.S. election interference,” the report states.
Cambridge Analytica was a U.K.-based data analytics firm and political consultancy founded in 2013 as an offshoot of an existing U.K. data analytics firm and consultancy, Strategic Communication Laboratories (SCL). Cambridge Analytica attempted to solicit business from a number of Republican Party candidates for president in 2016, working first for Ted Cruz and then for the Trump campaign.
The report found that Cambridge Analytica had “a degree of intersection with and proximity to Russia, and specifically Russia’s intelligence services.” Christopher Wylie, who had been an employee of SCL, alleged that Cambridge Analytica engaged in the “procuring [of] hacked material for the benefit of its clients,” the use of “specialized technologies and intel gathering services from former members of Israeli and Russian state security services,” and the management of information operations on behalf of pro-Russian parties in Eastern Europe and the Baltics. The report states that “[a]ccording to open source information, during the campaign, [head of Cambridge Analytica Alexander] Nix emailed Julian Assange, the ostensible head of WikiLeaks, about the possible release of Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 deleted emails.”
The report states that the committee’s work was hindered by certain limitations the committee faced, including not having access to “numerous essential witnesses” like Nix (the non-U.S. citizen CEO of Cambridge Analytica) and Michael Flynn (who exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination). In addition, the committee noted, “testimony specific to certain events and relationships is either inconsistent across witnesses, or appears to purposely minimize the witnesses’ knowledge or recollection.” The committee was also unable to obtain the corporate communications of Cambridge Analytica or SCL.
This section describes a free-for-all landscape for use of data in electoral politics in America. Most Americans are certainly not keenly aware of the role they play in the lucrative “international marketplace for digital services to shape popular sentiment and electoral outcomes.” These “services,” many of which are based overseas, use “an array of personal information to build targeted messaging profiles.” Of course, the use of messaging to sway voter sentiment is not new, the report points out, but “it is now enabled by advanced data analytics and algorithmic targeting, the globally expansive reach of social media, and user-generated data and personal information that is often unwittingly provided or illicitly obtained.” However, it remains unclear whether this work is effective—a claim many researchers have disputed—and the committee writes that it “did not examine the effectiveness of the work” done by Cambridge Analytica and other companies described in this section of the report.
The general question of how pervasively various actors are seeking to use personal data to shape electoral outcomes is beyond the scope of our examination here, as is the more general question of foreign influence in U.S. elections.
Our sole focus in this post is what Trump, members of his campaign, and his associates did vis a vis Russia. On that question, the report’s findings are suggestive but ultimately not concrete.
Steve Bannon, who performed various roles in the Trump campaign (including as campaign manager) and later in the Trump White House, was responsible for connecting the Trump campaign and Cambridge Analytica. Bannon met Nix in the 2013-2014 time frame while doing investment due diligence for Robert Mercer, a politically conservative hedge fund owner who later spent $25 million in the 2016 campaign and backed Trump. Mercer believed that SCL data analysis capabilities and relationship with Cambridge University presented an investment opportunity and set about creating a U.S. entity that would be, in part, operated by SCL data scientists, including Nix. With Bannon’s help, Cambridge Analytica was established in 2013 with an initial $15 million investment by Mercer, who held a corresponding 90 percent ownership share of the company. Mercer served as president of Cambridge Analytica, Bannon was the vice president, Jennifer Mercer was the treasurer and Nix was named to the company’s board.
Bannon described his own role with Cambridge Analytica as that of a “typical investment banker,” conducting due diligence on behalf of Robert Mercer. Bannon later introduced the Trump campaign to Cambridge Analytica as a potential client.
According to Wylie, in spring 2014, Bannon approved proceeding with Cambridge Analytica-sponsored focus groups concerning Vladimir Putin and Russian expansionism as part of work on a “predictive response model.” Wylie said that Bannon and Konstantin Kilimnik—the Ukrainian political operative who pops up again and again in the committee’s report with established ties to a Russian intelligence service and a protracted working relationship with Paul Manafort—were two of three individuals likely responsible for this idea. In the 200 “predictive response models” that Cambridge Analytica was developing in the United States, Vladimir Putin was the only world leader addressed and Russian expansionism was the only foreign topic contemplated.
The report raises a number of Russia-connected figures that seem to create smoke, but not fire, when it comes to Russian interference by means of Cambridge Analytica.
The report notes that Samuel Patten, a U.S.-based foreign political consultant who in 2018 pleaded guilty in connection with helping steer foreign money to Trump’s inauguration, worked for Cambridge Analytica and SCL in at least five countries, including the United States. Patten also once ran a business with Kilimnik. The report also describes another Cambridge Analytica employee, Aleksandr Kogan, an American data scientist who began working at Cambridge University in 2012 as a research associate and university lecturer. Wylie described Kogan’s work as consisting of “research projects undertaken in Russia.” According to Wylie, the Russian government sponsored some of Kogan’s research, and Kogan traveled to Russia in this context to deliver presentations on the work he was doing at Cambridge Analytica—unbeknownst to his colleagues at Cambridge Analytica.
Bannon told the committee that he had no personal knowledge of Patten’s work as an employee or contractor of Cambridge Analytica or SCL, nor did he have any awareness of work Kogan performed for the Russian government.
The report also outlines Cambridge Analytica’s connections to Lukoil, a Russian multinational corporation headquartered in Moscow and the second largest company in Russia. According to Wylie, from spring 2014 through 2015, Cambridge Analytica representatives met with representatives of Lukoil. “The publicly stated reason for the meetings was the potential design of a Lukoil customer loyalty card to be used in Turkey,” but Wylie told the committee that Nix’s presentations entailed “discussion of rumor and disinformation campaigns and undermining confidence in institutions.” In May 2018 testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Wylie stated that “Lukoil has formal information sharing agreements with the Russian Federal Security Service (‘FSB’) and is known to conduct intelligence gathering on behalf of the FSB.” The report has this to say about Lukoil:
Although the scope and nature of the work Cambridge Analytica attempted to pursue with Lukoil is unclear, the Committee did not independently corroborate allegations that Lukoil intended to use Cambridge Analytica to impact elections. However, the Committee is concerned about the role Lukoil may play in effecting Russia’s efforts to interfere in foreign elections generally.
According to Wylie, Cambridge Analytica “aspired to use data-driven models for social change by identifying the subsets of a given population susceptible to particular messaging.” Its work was predicated on changing the minds of the five percent of the population on the fringes of an issue on the rationale that five percent can be determinative of most voting outcomes. (Again, it’s worth recalling that the committee did not weigh in on whether Cambridge Analytica’s work actually changed any minds.)
Wylie outlined for the Committee the active, hands-on role Bannon and Robert Mercer played in co-founding the company in order to compete for political clients in the United States. Wylie suggested that Bannon engaged SCL Group and became Vice President of Cambridge Analytica in order to “build an arsenal of informational weapons [that] he could deploy on the American population.”
According to Kaiser, almost every client meeting she had during her time at
Cambridge Analytica that involved a political figure “was preceded by an introduction by
Bannon, Rebekah Mercer, or Kellyanne Conway,” who was “an advisor to the Mercers at the time.” Conway was “very involved” in negotiating Cambridge Analytica’s transition from working for the Cruz campaign to supporting the Trump campaign. Rick Gates said the campaign made a decision to use Cambridge Analytica shortly after the Republican National Convention. Jared Kushner told the committee that the Mercers aggressively advocated for the Trump campaign’s use of Cambridge Analytica, and the campaign engaged with Cambridge Analytica in order to secure the Mercers’ support for then-candidate Trump. Brad Parscale told the committee that Cambridge Analytica performed work in support of the Trump campaign’s data efforts but that he declined Cambridge Analytica’s offer to use the company’s “psychographic profiling” services.
But then there’s this: Throughout the committee’s investigation, the report states:
[T]estifying witnesses associated with the Trump Campaign consistently minimized the role that Cambridge Analytica played in the execution of the campaign. Nevertheless, the testimony of witnesses not attached to the Trump Campaign and materials produced to the Committee suggest that Cambridge Analytica’s data scientists and messaging specialists were intimately tied to the Trump Campaign effort.
The committee states that it obtained documents that suggest “Cambridge Analytica’s data may have been used in support of the Trump Campaign, and the Campaign may have leveraged Cambridge Analytica’s ‘psychographic analysis’ capabilities.”
The report concludes its analysis of Cambridge Analytica on an odd note—whether its operations live on in some form. The company went bankrupt in May 2018, a few months after it and Facebook were “publicly embroiled in a data-harvesting scandal that compromised the personal information of up to 87 million people.” But Jennifer and Rebekah Mercer are on the board of the successor entity, “Emerdata,” which characterizes its business as “[d]ata processing, hosting, and related activities.” But, the report states, “little is known about the actual activities of the company.”
The report briefly addresses two other entities that pitched their services to the Trump campaign.
Psy-Group, which also was in bankruptcy proceedings in Israel as of December 2018, was an intelligence company specializing in social media manipulation and online reputation and perception management. Psy-Group representatives “engaged with Trump Campaign senior officials in 2016 for a contract to perform work on behalf of the Campaign,” but “these engagements, which included multiple proposals and presentations, purportedly never materialized into any Campaign work.”
The report describes the scope and capabilities of Psy-Group as well as three “projects of note.” One was to improve the online reputation of Erik Prince. Prince exercised his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in electing not to appear before the committee. He did submit a personal statement and documents on Nov. 22, 2017, but, the report states, “Prince’s statement contains conspicuous omissions and partially contradicted claims.” Another was to obtain derogatory information on an Austrian company on behalf of Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who had a dispute with the company. (This portion of the report contains numerous redactions.) The third was an “intelligence project” in 2016 for Dmitry Rybolovlev—another Russian oligarch—relating to a dispute with an art dealer in which Psy-Group was contracted to find derogatory information.
In the spring of 2016, the report states, Psy-Group pitched an influence and intelligence project to the Trump campaign through Rick Gates and an American international political consultant, George Birnbaum. Among other things, Gates asked Psy-Group about using technology to identify and influence Republican delegates as “pro-Trump, anti-Trump, or ‘on the fence,’” and about using publicly available information to conduct opposition research against Hillary Clinton and those close to her.
Although the report documents lots of back-and-forth about the proposal, named “Project Rome,” it did not result in a contract with the Trump campaign. Birnbaum recalled that “this just kind of disappeared and died, and nothing came of it.”
But a few months later, one of the founders of Psy-Group, named Joel Zamel (an Australian living in Israel), approached the Trump campaign with a somewhat similar project. This time, Zamel engaged the Trump campaign “with George Nader, an advisor to the United Arab Emirates, who had raised the possibility of his (Nader’s) financing a social media effort by Zamel targeting the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” Zamel and Nader met several times, including in St. Petersburg in June 2016. Zamel told the committee that, several days later, Nader sent him a picture of Nader with Putin, which Zamel understood was meant to demonstrate Nader’s access.
The project Zamel pitched, however, was different. Although the two-page summary document was titled “Project Rome” and dated May 2016, its content was described in the report as follows:
The document outlined a suite of services Psy Group would make available to a client, including “generat[ing] influence through various online and offline platforms, assets and techniques,” and the creation and promotion of “tailored third-party messaging directed toward optimizing impact and acceptance within the target audience(s).” The proposal overview noted that Psy Group’s services “focus on select voter groups/segments that may not be susceptible to campaign messaging originating from the candidate or organizations known to be affiliated with the candidate.” The proposal also identified minority communities, suburban female voters, and undecided voters as being among the prospective targeted voter segments.
Shortly thereafter, in early August 2016, Zamel, Prince, and Nader met with Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower in New York. According to Zamel, Prince led the meeting. Prince and Trump Jr. discussed issues pertaining to the campaign, and Nader raised issues pertinent to the Middle East. Stephen Miller joined halfway through. Near the end of the meeting, Zamel explained “very briefly” the work of his private intelligence firms and asked Trump Jr. whether Psy-Group’s conducting a social media campaign—paid for by Nader—would present a conflict for the Trump campaign. According to Zamel, Trump Jr. indicated it would not, and that a Psy-Group social media campaign would not conflict with the Trump campaign’s own efforts. (Trump Jr. told the committee the conversation was about “combatting fake news.”) Thereafter:
Zamel indicated that in the weeks after the August meeting with Donald Trump Jr., Nader “circumvented” Zamel and began to communicate directly with Trump Jr., leaving Zamel “cut out.” Asked whether Erik Prince ever encouraged Nader to pay Psy Group to undertake the project Zamel and Nader were considering, Zamel responded affirmatively and indicated that Prince made a statement along the lines of “[y]ou should pay him.” Zamel quoted a price of “five to ten [million dollars]” to Nader for the work and in response Nader indicated he would be willing to pay five million dollars to begin the work. The Committee did not find or receive information probative of the source of the five million dollars referenced by Nader.
It is significant that it is unknown where Nader’s funds for the project came from. Nader is currently facing charges of helping to funnel illegal foreign contributions to both the Hillary Clinton campaign and Donald Trump’s inaugural fund. (He has already pleaded guilty to transportation of a minor boy for purposes of illegal conduct and possession of child pornography.)
Following an intriguingly titled but completely redacted subsection, “Additional International Activity,” and another subsection describing Zamel’s contact with Michael Flynn, the report traces the voluminous efforts of Colt Ventures and VizSense, a Dallas-based social media and “micro-influencer” company to get a data-related contract with the Trump campaign, including something related to overseas voters. Thereafter, a subsection on overseas voters is totally redacted. Because of these redactions, the import of the detailed discussions of Colt Ventures and VizSense is unclear.
In any event, the final subsection describes machinations in which Michael Flynn, among other things, provided Steve Bannon a summary of results from what appears to be a social media messaging operation conducted on October 8-10, 2016, by VizSense. The central narratives of the messaging campaign were denigrating Hillary and former President Bill Clinton, and depicting the latter as “a rapist.” It describes various other messaging operations as well. Eventually, the report indicates, Colt Ventures was paid $200,000 by the Trump campaign for “data management services,” a portion of which was remitted to VizSense for work it performed as part of the agreement between Colt Ventures and the Trump campaign.
Contacts between Russian officials and cutouts did not stop with Trump’s electoral victory, so the report also examines contacts between the Trump transition team and Russian government officials and oligarchs. It asserts that these contacts are “notable in light of the U.S. Government’s determination that Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election and its late-December decision to impose sanctions.”
Because the Russian government “had engaged in a months-long active measures campaign targeting the election, which Trump had just won,” the committee decided to examine these contacts in order to understand the Russian government’s purposes and any potential counterintelligence vulnerabilities on the part of the transition team they implied. The report states:
(U) Russia and other countries took advantage of the Transition Team’s inexperience, transparent opposition to Obama Administration policies, and Trump’s desire to deepen ties with Russia, to pursue unofficial channels through which Russia could conduct diplomacy. The lack of vetting of foreign interactions by Transition officials left the Transition open to influence and manipulation by foreign intelligence services, government leaders, and co-opted business Executives.
Across these interactions, the Trump transition team “appeared disorganized and unprepared,” creating “notable counterintelligence vulnerabilities.” Specifically,
(U) Transition officials had little awareness of their counterparts within foreign governments and did not appear to take sufficient security precautions in light of known foreign intelligence efforts against the election.
(U) Russian officials, intelligence services, and others acting on the Kremlin’s behalf were capable of exploiting the Transition’s shortcomings for Russia’s advantage. Based on the available information, it is possible—and even likely—that they did so.
Direct, overt outreach to the transition started immediately after Trump won. On Nov. 9, 2016, Hope Hicks received a phone call from Sergey Kuznetsov, who said he was a political officer at the Russian Embassy. She later received an email from Kuznetsov in which he asked Hicks to convey to Trump a formal message of congratulations from President Putin, which states that he looked forward to working with Trump “on leading Russian-American relations out of crisis.”
Unsure if the email was legitimate, Hicks forwarded the email to Jared Kushner, who she understood was serving as “the conduit for foreign representatives throughout the campaign.” She wrote: “Can you look into this? Don’t want to get duped but don’t want to blow off Putin!”
Kushner reached out to Dimitri Simes, the president and CEO of the Center for the National Interest, who recommended Kushner reach out to the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. According to Hicks, Kushner was never able to confirm Kuznetsov’s identity.
Hicks gave Trump the congratulatory letter from Putin, to which he responded, “Hmm; that’s nice,” which she did not find unusual from his reaction to congratulatory messages from other world leaders.
Trump asked Hicks to arrange a phone call with Putin. She scheduled the call and informed the transition team, and on Nov. 14, 2016, Trump and Putin spoke by phone. While Hicks was present, she had not been present for the briefing before the call, could hear only Trump’s side of the phone call and did not recall the topics discussed—despite taking notes of the call for a later read-out and press release. She remembered that various transition team members were also present during the call. She assumed Trump was making these sorts of calls on a secure line installed after the election but did not know whether this was true.
The outreach continued. On Nov. 16, Ambassador Kislyak sought meetings with both Kushner and Flynn, and on Nov. 30, the three met in Trump Tower. It was during this meeting that Kushner said he proposed what became one of the more infamous ideas of the period: using secure communications at the Russian Embassy for a call between the transition team and Russian military officials regarding Syria. The Russians rejected the idea:
The Russian military ... had a perspective on Syria that they wanted to share with us, and so he [Kislyak] wanted to know how to transmit that information. He basically said: Look, I could have them come in, but it seems like that wouldn’t be convenient for them; may we set up a call? Do you have a secure line? We said we didn’t have a secure line in the transition that we knew of. So I said: Well, why don’t we use your secure line at your embassy? They said: Let’s not do that. ... [T]hey wanted to convey information to General Flynn. It was their information. How they conveyed that information was up to them. So I assumed that there was a secure way that people communicated and he wanted to have that information communicated in that way.
During the meeting, Kushner asked Kislyak for a point of contact who had a direct line to Putin. (Amid redactions, the report notes that Kushner did not recall taking any electronic surveillance precautions during these meetings but said that at some point he became aware of “technological vulnerabilities” and started taking “different precautions.”) A few days later, Kislyak’s aide provided the name of Sergei Gorkov, a Russian official with direct access to Putin.
Who is Sergei Gorkov? According to the report, he graduated from the FSB Academy in Moscow, where Russian intelligence officers are trained and, in 2016, Putin appointed him as chairman of Vnesheconombank (VEB), a Russian state-owned bank. VEB was sanctioned in July 2014 in response to Russia’s destabilization of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea.
Gorkov met with Kushner on Dec. 13, 2016, at Colony Capital, the investment firm of longtime Trump friend and billionaire Tom Barrack (who, among other things, helped facilitate Paul Manafort’s connections to the Trump campaign.) Gorkov presented Kushner with gifts, including “a bag of soil from Kushner’s grandparents’ hometown of Novogrudok, Belarus.” According to Kushner, Gorkov expressed excitement about the potential for a new relationship with the United States and indicated that Putin was frustrated by his relationship with America. He discussed the prospect of peace and more trade.
Notably, however, Kushner denied that any personal business was discussed. VEB, by contrast, released a press statement afterward indicating the meeting was business related:
During 2016, when preparing the new Vnesheconombank’s strategy, the Bank’s CEOs repeatedly met with representatives of the world’s leading financial institutions in Europe, Asia and America. In the course of negotiations the parties discussed the business practices applied by foreign development banks, as well as most promising business lines and sectors. The roadshow meetings devoted to Vnesheconombank’s Strategy 2021 were held with representatives of major US banks and business circles, including the CEO of Kushner Companies Mr. Jared Kushner.
Kushner stated that he was unaware that VEB was under U.S. sanctions before the meeting and that they did not discuss the issue. Substantial portions of this subsection are redacted, so it is difficult to understand its full import.
One witness told the committee that Gorkov would likely have briefed Putin on his meeting with Kushner. And indeed, the plane Gorkov took to the United States traveled to Japan on Dec. 14, where Putin was visiting, and “reports indicated that Gorkov would join Putin there.”
Several days later, an aide to Gorkov communicated to Kushner’s assistant, Avi Berkowitz, that “the information about the meeting got a very positive response!” and sought a second meeting in early February. Berkowitz never responded to the aide’s request.
In short, Kushner sought a direct line to President Putin—and he got one. And that person, Sergei Gorkov, was not only a trained FSB officer but also the head of Russia’s state-owned investment bank. The accounts of what, exactly, the two discussed in their private meetings conflict.
In addition to outreach through its officials, the report states, the Russian government also “leveraged business leaders with Western ties to advance its foreign policy goals with the incoming administration.”
Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Russia’s state-owned, sovereign wealth fund that was subject to U.S. sanctions, was tasked by Putin to try and make inroads with Trump transition team officials.
Beginning the morning following the election, Dmitriev made the first of multiple attempts to reach out to members of Trump’s inner circle. He sought the assistance of George Nader, a senior adviser to United Arab Emirates (UAE) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, known as MBZ. Dmitriev knew Nader because RDIF had co-invested in multiple projects with UAE sovereign wealth funds.
Nader will be a familiar name to those who have followed these events closely. The report states that he “had spent much of 2016 attempting to nurture contacts with both presidential campaigns, and keeping Dmitriev informed of his progress.” For example, he participated in a meeting in August 2016 attended by Donald Trump Jr., Stephen Miller, Erik Prince and Joel Zamel in which Nader discussed foreign policy matters and a potential social media campaign. Dmitriev asked Nader to assist him in making contact with incoming Trump administration officials. In particular, he asked Nader to help convey the message to incoming officials that “we [Russia] want to start rebuilding the relationship in whatever is a comfortable pace for them. We understand all of the sensitivities and are not in a rush.” Nader understood that Dmitriev and the Russian government had preferred that Trump win the presidency.
Dmitriev also sought to meet directly with Trump insiders, particularly Kushner and Donald Trump Jr., through Rick Gerson, a New York hedge fund manager. Although Gerson and Dmitriev had never met, Gerson had a relationship with the UAE’s ruler, MBZ, and was a personal friend of Kushner. Gerson told the committee that Tahnoon bin Zayed (MBZ’s son and his national security adviser) made the introduction in order to make a business connection between the two men. Gerson, in addition to being Kushner’s friend, was assisting the transition by arranging meetings for transition officials with foreign officials.
Dmitriev called Gerson on Dec. 1, 2016, and they also communicated using WhatsApp—though it is not entirely clear what they communicated about. Gerson told the committee that he “routinely” deleted his WhatsApp communications and could not produce them. Although the purpose of the Dec. 1 call was ostensibly business, including potential investments by RDIF, Gerson said that during the call, Dmitriev also discussed a desire to have “better relations with the U.S.” Dmitriev made references to his “boss,” meaning Putin, and told Gerson that Putin had tasked him with developing a “reconciliation plan” for United States-Russia relations. Dmitriev worked up such a plan—which is reproduced in full in the report. It is largely policy oriented, covering issues such as joint counterterrorism efforts, joint U.S.-Russia business opportunities, and resolving the Ukraine crisis.
It’s not a particularly scandalous document, and if that’s all there was to this outreach, it would represent attempted communication through unconventional channels but not much more than that. Gerson gave two copies to Kushner, who gave one copy to Steve Bannon and one to Rex Tillerson. According to Kushner, that was “kind of the last of it.” Dmitriev also sent Nader a copy of the document, and it may have been part of materials provided to the transition team in anticipation of a Jan. 28, 2017, call between Trump and Putin.
What makes this line of communication more interesting is that Dmitriev also pursued other routes to influence the incoming Trump administration, including the now-famous Jan. 11, 2017, meeting with Erik Prince in the Seychelles. And people—namely Prince himself—apparently felt compelled to lie about that meeting. The report notes that “[s]everal aspects of Prince’s activities in this time period align closely with the Dmitriev outreach through Gerson,” including contacts between Bannon, Nader, and Dmitriev with Gerson and Prince around the same time. The report also states that “[t]he Committee’s ability to investigate these events, however, was significantly hampered by a lack of cooperation from Prince.”
Prince provided only one response to the committee’s requests, and his description of the Seychelles meeting was, according to the report “brief and deceptive”:
On or around Jan 11, 2017 I traveled to the Seychelles to meet with some potential customers from the UAE for the logistics business of which I’m Chairman. After the meeting they mentioned a guy I should meet who was also in town to see them, a Kirill Dmitriev from Russia who ran some sort of hedge fund. I met him in the hotel bar and we chatted on topics ranging from oil and commodity prices to how much his country wished for resumption of a normal trade relationship with the USA. I remember telling him that if Franklin Roosevelt could work with Joseph Stalin to defeat Nazi Fascism then certainly Donald Trump could work with Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamic Fascism. The meeting ended after a maximum of 30 minutes. I’ve had no communication or dealings with him or any of his colleagues before or after that encounter last January.
In reality, the meeting was not a chance encounter at all. Nader met with Prince several times in order to persuade Prince to meet with Dmitriev. Nader told Prince that Dmitriev had specifically asked Nader to introduce him to incoming Trump administration officials. Prince said he would think about it and speak to Trump transition team members, which the report implies he did, on Jan. 4. Nader sent Dmitriev’s two-page biography, which Prince opened on a computer while talking with Trump transition officials in Trump Tower and waiting for a meeting with Bannon. The report notes, “Although Prince spent three hours at Trump Tower that day, he said that he could not remember whether he actually met with Bannon.”
On Jan. 7, Prince booked a flight to the Seychelles. The next day, Nader told Dmitriev he had a “pleasant surprise” for him—a meeting with a “special guest” from the “New Team,” referring to Prince. Nader assured Dmitriev that Prince had influence with the incoming administration: “This guy [Prince] is designated by Steve [Bannon] to meet you! I know him and he is very very well connected and trusted by the New Team. His sister is now [Secretary] of Education.” According to Nader, Prince led him to believe Bannon was aware of the Seychelles meeting and that information would be passed on to the Trump transition team. Bannon, however, denied knowledge of the meeting.
The report found that Prince met with Dmitriev twice in the Seychelles: first on Jan. 11 in Nader’s villa at the Four Seasons Resort and then at the restaurant of the Four Seasons. In the first meeting, among other things, Prince told Dmitriev that Bannon was very effective in his role. Prince told Dmitriev about Prince’s own role in providing policy papers to Bannon and that he would report the details of the meeting to Bannon. Upon returning to his hotel room, Prince heard that Russia was sending an aircraft carrier to Libya. He called Nader to ask for another meeting with Dmitriev, telling Nader “he had checked with associates in the United States, and needed to get a message to Dmitriev that Libya was ‘off the table.’” Nader reached out to Dmitriev telling him Prince had “received an urgent message that he needs to convey to you immediately” and then arranged the second meeting:
(U) At this second meeting, Prince conveyed to Dmitriev that the United States could not accept any Russian involvement in Libya because it would make the situation there worse. Despite having claimed to have spoken with associates in the United States and claiming to speak on behalf of the United States’ position on Russia’s involvement in Libya, Prince told the SCO [Special Counsel’s Office] that he was only making the comments as a former naval officer, and not in an official Capacity.
(U) Hours later, Prince sent two text messages to Bannon. However, neither Bannon nor Prince had any messages on their phones prior to March 2017, despite records indicating that they had exchanged multiple messages.
The report recounts that Prince told the Special Counsel’s Office that he reported to Bannon the details of his meeting with Dmitriev, including the message that Russia sought better relations with the incoming administration. Prince met Bannon at Bannon’s home after returning to the United States in mid-January 2017. Prince also believed he shared Dmitriev’s contact information with Bannon. According to Prince, Bannon directed him not to follow up, which Prince interpreted as a lack of interest on Bannon’s part.
Bannon, however, denied any discussion with Prince about these meetings. Bannon, the report says, said he never had a conversation with Prince regarding Dmitriev, RDIF, or any meetings with Russians associated with Putin.
So why did the Trump-connected individuals involved in this story want to keep it a secret? The report doesn’t say. Lacking meaningful testimony from Prince, this subsection leaves the reader with the impression that parts of this particular story remain untold.
The report next devotes 18 pages to a less prominent name: Robert Foresman. Ultimately, Foresman comes off as just another vector through which Russian-government-connected individuals may have sought to influence the transition team, but with a twist: Foresman sought a high-level post in the Trump administration.
This story, too, seems unfinished because members of the Trump transition team gave differing accounts of their interactions with Foresman.
Foresman is an American banking executive with experience in Russia and long-standing ties to well-connected business executives inside Russia, including some individuals with direct ties to Putin. Foresman began reaching out to the Trump campaign in approximately March 2016. Among other attempts to gain access to Trump’s inner circle, Foresman leveraged his relationship with Mark Burnett, the producer of “The Apprentice.” Foresman told the committee that he understood Burnett had spoken “directly” with Trump and suggested to Trump that Foresman would be “a useful person to meet with.”
But Foresman’s various attempts never seemed to work until after the election, when he eventually landed meetings with various members of the transition team after some heavy lobbying by Burnett. On Dec. 6, 2016, Burnett texted Bannon to introduce him to Foresman. Burnett described Foresman as “connected at every level in Russian Government, Church and Business,” adding, “He is ready to serve you. He will leave [his current job] to serve you.” Bannon and Foresman met and, on Dec. 8, Burnett texted Bannon saying, “Glad you met with Bob Foresman. He is a patriot. An evangelical and a genius.” Bannon replied, “He is pretty amazing.”
What was discussed at that meeting is unclear. According to Bannon, it was short and focused primarily on “Christianity in Russia and Eastern Europe, the re-evangelization of Europe.” When it became clear that Foresman was looking for an opportunity to join the administration, Bannon said he “turned him over to [National Security Adviser-designee Michael] Flynn and the guys.” According to Foresman, the meeting was longer and more substantive. He recalled that they talked about foreign affairs, Russia and Ukraine, and Bannon asked Foresman to send him a memo by that evening. Bannon, for his part, denied having tasked Foresman with writing a memo, saying, “No. I’m sure this is Flynn.”
Foresman did, however, submit a memo to Bannon in which he said Russian relations had shifted from “alarming to hopeful” following Trump’s election and that the National Security Council (NSC) should be structured so that Russia was a main focus. Thereafter, he met with Flynn and K.T. McFarland, Flynn’s eventual deputy on the NSC.
Here again, exactly what they discussed is not entirely clear. McFarland said that Foresman spoke primarily about his interest in being ambassador to Russia, but Foresman denied that issue even came up. Although McFarland said she did not remember Flynn being present for most of the meeting, Foresman recalled talking primarily to Flynn. Foresman gave Flynn and McFarland his memo on Russia and possibly also a document related to a Ukrainian peace proposal Foresman had previously worked on in 2016. At the end of the meeting, Foresman mentioned to Flynn that he was headed to Moscow and would be meeting with “some influential people” who were close to Putin. Asked if Flynn had a message to convey from the incoming administration, Flynn apparently replied, “[Y]ou can convey that on behalf of the President-elect and myself, we genuinely hope for improved relations between our two countries.”
Foresman returned to Moscow and met with VEB CEO Sergey Gorkov and Nikolai Tsekhomsky, the first deputy chairman of VEB, on Dec. 12. During the meeting, Foresman “conveyed to Sergey that General Flynn had asked me to convey a message to President Putin.” Gorkov told Foresman that he would pass the message along to Putin.
Foresman also met with several other Kremlin-connected individuals in Moscow regarding his connections to the Trump team. On Dec. 14, he met with American Allen Vine, who led an investment firm owned by Russian oligarch Suleiman Kerimov. (Kerimov is a member of the Russian Federation Council who was sanctioned in April 2018 for engaging in money laundering activity and tax fraud.) Vine was interested in Foresman’s connection with Flynn, and Vine gave him a memo about U.S.-Russia relations that Vine wanted Foresman to pass along to the incoming administration. The memo is reproduced in the report. It was later delivered to Flynn through his assistant.
The report provides much detail about an apparent disagreement about who should be Michael Flynn’s interlocutor in the Russian government, though it is not entirely clear why that is important. The Vine memo indicated that Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign policy aide, should be Flynn’s primary interlocutor in the Russian government.
The same day, Dec. 14, Foresman had dinner with Nord Stream CEO Matthias Warnig, with whom he had worked years earlier. Warnig was “very close to President Putin” and insistent that Ushakov should be Flynn’s interlocutor. Foresman assumed that Warnig’s information about Ushakov came from Putin. Foresman passed along Flynn’s message to Putin—that the incoming administration hoped to have improved relations with Russia. Foresman told the committee that Warnig later indicated that he had indeed passed the message along to Putin.
Also on that same day, an aide to Flynn reached out to Foresman—seemingly out of the blue—to arrange a call between the two men the following Friday. Foresman responded, suggesting that the two of them conduct their call over WhatsApp for security reasons, telling the aide, “I, too, was going to request a call with General Flynn as I have an important message to convey to him.” The phone call eventually took place on Dec. 16, but according to Foresman, Flynn had little to say other than to ask that the two stay in touch. According to Foresman, “it was strange, I have to say. It was strange.”
On Jan. 5, 2017, Foresman reached out to Flynn’s assistant to request a meeting with Flynn. In the email, Foresman wrote that he was:
[R]equesting a 15 min[ute] in person meeting ... to brief him on what I was asked to convey by the highest level in Moscow. General Flynn called me when I was in Moscow, as you recall, and we agreed that I should brief him in person . ... I assure you that these will be 15 min[utes] well spent. These are not mundane issues. I am not a foreign policy analyst seeking to share my worldview with the General; I am operating on the ground and have been asked to convey something directly to him, after I conveyed to the relevant party what the General asked me to convey.
In his interview with the committee, Foresman said that the information he was referencing was the information shared with him about Ushakov being the best point of contact for Flynn in the Russian government. He also intended to give Flynn and McFarland a copy of the memo he had adapted from Vine’s. Later that day, Foresman and Flynn met for approximately 45 minutes. Foresman recalls Flynn doing most of the talking, describing his views on strategic global affairs, but Foresman did present his memo to Flynn and made a point to verbally highlight the fact that Flynn should deal with Ushakov if he wanted to have a direct channel to Putin.
Here again, one has the impression that there could be more to this story. While it is possible Foresman was engaging in puffery to inflate his chance at a high-level post, parts of this story don’t hang together well. The report summarizes the committee’s conclusions about Foresman as follows:
(U) While Foresman’s efforts to serve in the Trump administration seemed sincere, it is also clear that his Russian contacts, including some with direct links to Putin, considered him a potential conduit to the Trump Transition and possibly the administration, if he were to secure a position. However, the Committee lacked sufficient information to determine whether the Russian government specifically directed these contacts to use Foresman as such a channel.
The final portion of this section addresses MIchael Flynn’s connections to Russia. The committee notes that it sought an in-person interview with Flynn but that he asserted his Fifth Amendment rights. As such, one comes away with the sense that the authors of the report sought to memorialize Flynn’s connections to Russia but, without Flynn’s testimony, they were not able to do much more than that.
It recounts Flynn’s June 2013 visit to Moscow when he was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to meet with then-Major General Igor Sergun, Russia’s chief of military intelligence, or GRU. Then, in August 2015, Flynn met Trump and the two talked for 90 minutes. Thereafter, in an interview with the German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel, Flynn called for the United States to cooperate with Russia in the Middle East. And on Oct. 5, 2015, Flynn appeared on RT—the Russian propaganda news network—and repeatedly criticized the United States’s approach to dealing with the Islamic States and suggested that Russia and the United States work together to confront the group.
That interview led to the now-infamous dinner in Moscow with Putin and other high-powered Russian figures, as well as Jill Stein, in December 2015. After several pages of redacted text, the report describes the dinner, specifically noting that Flynn sat with 10 people at the head table, which included President Putin and two Russians who were under U.S. sanctions at the time for their role in Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Flynn was paid $45,386 for speaking at the event, in addition to being given business class travel and accommodations for Flynn and his son at the luxury Metropol hotel.
After several more pages of redacted text, the report turns to other lobbying efforts by Flynn that, among other things, raised questions about his compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. One was an Aug. 9, 2016, contract for $600,000 with a Dutch company “allegedly to run an influence campaign aimed at discrediting Fethullah Gulen.” (Gulen is a Turkish Islamic leader and the head of the Gulen movement, which has been outlawed in Turkey and labeled an “armed terrorist group.” Gulen lives in the United States.) The Flynn Intel Group, Flynn’s lobbying and consulting firm with his son, would earn $530,000 from the contract. Later reports linked the Dutch company to Dmitri “David” Zaikin, a Soviet-born former executive in Russian energy and mining companies.
The report briefly turns to Flynn’s activities during the transition. This portion is heavily redacted, so it is difficult to understand the full picture. What we can discern is that on Dec. 2, 2016, Russian Embassy officer Sergey Kuznetsov emailed Flynn to thank him for responding to a Russian Embassy meeting request and for seeing Ambassador Kislyak in New York. Kuznetsov and Flynn then exchanged emails and Flynn talked to Kislyak on the phone on Dec. 20.
Next, the report addresses another event those following foreign policy at the time will recall vividly—the transition team’s attempt to persuade various foreign governments not to support a U.N. Security Council resolution criticizing Israel’s construction of settlements in Palestinian territories. The report states, “Trump and his Transition Team engaged in a coordinated effort to try and stop the measure, including extensive outreach to the Russian Government. The effort was unsuccessful, but caused confusion among Security Council member nations because they did not know with whom they should be dealing with regard to American diplomacy; a lame-duck administration, or the incoming one.” The report outlines Jared Kushner’s and others’ involvement. Amid redactions, it makes clear that Flynn reached out to Kislyak and spoke multiple times during this period. Ultimately, Fynn was informed by Kislyak that Russia would support the resolution. It passed 14-0 that day, with the United States abstaining. After passage of the resolution, Trump expressed his disapproval, and signaled that his administration would take a different approach to the United Nations.
Finally, the report addresses what members of the transition team did after President Obama signed an executive order, on Dec. 28, 2016, imposing sanctions on nine Russian individuals and entities as a result of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Once news outlets began reporting the sanctions on Dec. 28, Kislyak tried to reach Flynn by text and by calling, but Flynn was on vacation in the Dominican Republic and said he did not receive the messages until 24 hours later. When Flynn and McFarland spoke by phone on Dec. 28, Flynn said that he planned to call Kislyak.
The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement denying Russian involvement in the 2016 election, spreading misinformation about the hacking of election infrastructure, and indicating that Russia planned to respond in-kind to Obama’s actions.
The transition team discussed the sanctions among themselves, with Steve Bannon assessing that the sanctions would prevent the Trump administration from improving relations with Russia. Flynn was not physically present but indicated to McFarland by text that he would speak with Kislyak. McFarland indicated she told both Bannon and Reince Priebus that Flynn was scheduled to talk with Kislyak that night, and that Bannon indicated he was aware that Flynn planned to call Kislyak. But in testimony to the committee, Bannon said he did not recall knowing about Flynn’s plans to call Kislyak:
McFarland had notified several Transition Team members about Flynn’s planned call with Kislyak. She first emailed several Transition Team officials to inform them that “Gen Flynn is talking to [the] Russian ambassador this evening.” She later briefed Trump, along with multiple senior Transition Team officials, including Bannon, Priebus, and Sean Spicer. During the meeting, Trump asked whether Russia interfered with the 2016 election, and McFarland said that it had. In discussing the sanctions, McFarland informed Trump that Russia’s response to the sanctions would be an indicator of the type of relationship Russia wanted to have with the incoming administration. McFarland also recalled that at the end of the meeting, it might have been mentioned that Flynn was going to speak to Kislyak that evening.
Flynn spoke with Kislyak on Dec. 29 and asked that Russia not escalate the situation and instead respond in a reciprocal manner to avoid a “tit for tat.” After the call and after Trump’s briefing had taken place, Flynn called McFarland to tell her that he had talked to the Russian ambassador, informing McFarland that “I think we are going to be ok.”
Early the next morning, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, released a statement indicating Russia would retaliate against Obama’s move. But two hours later, Putin released a statement reversing Lavrov’s statement. Putin’s statement made clear that Russia would not take steps against U.S. interests and that Russia planned to wait until the incoming Trump administration took office to try and restore relations with the United States. Later that day, of course, Trump tweeted his approval of Putin’s decision: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin)-I always knew he was very smart!”
On Dec. 31, Kislyak called Flynn to credit Flynn with avoiding a reciprocal response from Russia. Kislyak said that Flynn’s request that Russia not respond in kind had been passed to senior Russian officials, and they had decided not to take action.
The remainder of the section concerns itself largely with things that have been publicly known for a long time—that Flynn’s “lack of candor” in addressing questions about his communications with Russian officials led to his short tenure as national security adviser as well as his eventual guilty plea in December 2017 to making false statements to the FBI. One detail, for which the report provides additional color, is that former FBI Director James Corney told the committee that there had been a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn that Comey had been close to closing until information about the phone calls to Kislyak came to light:
We had a case open on Mike Flynn starting in the summertime , a counterintelligence case. I was about to close it in late December because we had found nothing, after extensively looking, about any contacts between Flynn and the Russians, except the ones you’ve seen in the media. He went and gave a speech for RT and when he was director of DIA he went and did a meeting at the GRU. Our folks had looked hard and had found nothing. I was about to close the Flynn case when these calls were brought to our attention. This obviously gave us a reason to try to understand, is there something about him that we’re missing.
The rest is well known. On May 17, 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued an order appointing a special counsel to investigate issues related to Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and on Aug. 17, Rosenstein sent the special counsel a memo clarifying the scope of the investigation. Rosenstein noted that Mueller had the authority to investigate Flynn. And on Dec. 1, 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to providing false statements to the FBI and to providing false information and omissions on his registration with the Justice Department as an agent of a foreign government.
The final section of the report describes four other incidents and persons of interest: Peter W. Smith, the Alfa Bank server story, changes to the RNC’s platform and Russia’s efforts to support third-party candidates.
Peter W. Smith, whom the report describes as “a now-deceased businessman and Republican operative,” is profiled in the report for his efforts to access and expose emails belonging to Hillary Clinton. The committee notes that it “encountered information” on several other individuals who had sought to obtain Clinton’s emails prior to the 2016 election, including Republican Senate staffer Barbara Ledeen and the son of Michael Flynn, but these individuals are not treated in depth in the report.
In trying to understand Smith’s initiative, ties to the Trump campaign, and potential involvement with Russian election interference, the committee writes that it “was hampered in these efforts by its inability to interview Smith, who committed suicide on May 14, 2017, and Flynn, who was in touch with Smith but asserted his Fifth Amendment rights.”
The report details that in the months leading up to the 2016 election, Smith “told associates that his effort involved meetings with Russian hackers who claimed to have access to the emails.” In addition, the committee “found that Smith’s activities were known to some Campaign officials” and were “connected to the Campaign’s focus on obtaining Clinton’s ‘missing’ emails.” But after a forensic review of Smith’s hard drive, the committee was unable to corroborate Smith’s claims regarding communication with Russian operatives and found no evidence that he had access to any Clinton emails before they were publicly released.
But while the committee was unable to verify Smith’s success, it did establish clearly his efforts to obtain information that would damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy—at times, using attempted coordination with Russian hackers. And it established as well that members of the Trump campaign knew about and supported his initiative. The Peter Smith story is, in short, a clear story of attempted collusion.
In July 2016, Trump began pushing his team, along with “Russia,” to find Clinton’s emails:
Trump repeatedly asked individuals affiliated with the Campaign, including Flynn, to find the emails. Flynn said he could “use his intelligence sources” to obtain them, and Flynn reached out to multiple people based on that directive, including both Smith and Ledeen. Trump also publicized his interest. On July 27, 2016, in reference to deleted Clinton server emails, Trump proclaimed: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you would be mightily rewarded by our press”; approximately five hours later, GRU hackers began spearphishing private email accounts at Clinton’s personal office for the first time.
Smith began his pursuit of Clinton’s emails about a month later. In late August 2016, he sent two emails related to these efforts. One, whose recipients included Trump campaign adviser Sam Clovis, was sent with the subject line “Sec. Clinton’s unsecured private email server.” This email stated, “It is clear that Clinton’s home-based, unprotected server was hacked with ease by both State-related players, and private mercenaries.” The other email was sent a few days later, and described “KSL 2016, LLC,” a business “entity” with a focus on conducting research on issues that were “positive to the Republican nominee” and “negative to the Democratic nominee.” This email bore the subject heading, “2016 Political Reconnaissance.”
The report describes some overlap between Smith’s email crusade and individuals affiliated with Russia at this point. The committee writes that Smith met four times with people who claimed to be interested in selling information about the emails between Aug. 27 and 28. In an email about the meetings, Smith wrote that the parties had “ties and affiliations to Russia” and were concerned about safety. Further, Smith’s business associate John Szobocsan told the committee Smith had reported having a meeting with “nervous acting students he thought were from Russia.” Szobocsan thought these students were “hackers” but also told the committee he was skeptical of Smith’s updates.
In September, Smith sent out a document titled “Clinton Email Reconnaissance Initiative” that explained his effort, then named “KLS Research, LLC,” and suggested he had obtained two sample Clinton emails. The document provided a list, in the committee’s words, of “individuals or groups purportedly affiliated with the effort, including people employed by or associated with the Trump Campaign.” A screenshot of the record here shows five names: Steve Bannon, the campaign’s CEO; Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager; Sam Clovis, campaign co-chairman; Michael Flynn, campaign adviser; and Lisa Nelson, campaign affiliate. In a later email, Smith also claimed that “The Kushner Group is behind the initiative.”
The committee interviewed Matt Tait, a cybersecurity researcher and Lawfare contributor whom Smith had contacted for help with his initiative. Tait, who first described his role in this episode in a Lawfare post, told the committee that while trying to recruit Tait’s professional assistance, Smith “dropped this bombshell”:
[H]e was in contact with someone who was a dark web specialist, who was in contact with someone who had these emails; that these emails had been hacked from Hillary Clinton. There was this person on the dark web who wanted to expose them, but just wanted money in exchange for doing them. He didn’t want to give them up for free.
The report then states that “Tait made it clear that his view was that if the hackers were likely Russians, they would be acting in the best interests of Russia, and warned: ‘this is a fire, you will get burnt.’”
According to the committee, Smith turned his attention to WikiLeaks releases of Podesta emails in October 2016 and “tried to leverage the WikiLeaks documents for his initiative.” The report explains that Smith “kept Flynn and Clovis in the loop” and maintained correspondence about his efforts with other Trump affiliates:
Some recipients of Smith’s updates appeared to believe Smith had been successful. On October 24, after Smith sent another email about WikiLeaks, he received a response from Charles Johnson threatening that “Steve,” likely a reference to Bannon, would sue him for the documents:
Ultimately, the committee “found no evidence that Smith obtained any of the WikiLeaks materials in advance of their public release or any of the ‘missing’ Clinton emails.” The report nonetheless shows that Smith regularly communicated with Trump campaign officials about his efforts to uncover information that would harm Clinton’s campaign and that he appeared willing to work with “Russian hackers” to achieve this goal.
Next up is the Alpha Bank server story, which is an especially odd one. This section of the report describes “unusual internet activity connecting two servers registered to Alfa Bank, a Russian financial institution, with an email domain associated with the Trump Organization.”
During the 90-day period between June 17, 2016, and September 14, 2016, the committee writes that two servers registered to Alfa Bank conducted 2,817 total Domain Name Service (DNS) lookups of the domain “mail1.trump-email.com.” The report explains:
Generally speaking, a DNS lookup is used by internet-connected devices to translate a human-readable domain into the corresponding Internet Protocol (IP) address that the device uses for communicating. DNS lookups of a particular domain can suggest the existence of corresponding Internet communications to that domain, but they are not conclusive. One possible explanation for this activity was that someone was using the Alfa Bank servers to communicate (or try to communicate) with the Trump Organization.
Researchers have speculated that this activity could reflect correspondence between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization. The report states that this “suggestion was denied by both entities, but their alternative explanations were not consistent.”
The committee notes that after speaking with the Trump Organization and consulting with the FBI, which had investigated the strange activity, it “did not find that the DNS activity reflected the existence of substantive or covert communications between Alfa Bank and Trump Organization personnel.” But the committee “also could not positively determine an intent or purpose that would explain the unusual activity.”
The report then explains the findings of Jae Cho, the Trump Organization’s corporate IT director. Basically, the domain “mail1.trump-email.com” had initially been created by Cendyn Hospitality Marketing and used to send out Trump Hotels mass marketing emails. The report notes that “the domain registration was transferred from Cendyn to the Trump Organization … around the time the press began inquiring, although Cho could not identify any specific date with certainty.” Cho told the committee that the domain had not been used to receive email.
The report summarizes Cho’s account as follows:
Cho did not recall conducting a system-wide review of the Trump Organization network to determine if there were any connections from the Trump Organization side with any of the Alfa Bank servers. Instead, he looked up the public IP addresses for two separate Alfa Bank email servers he had identified, which he then provided to Cendyn to check if Cendyn could identify communications involving those servers. In response, Cendyn found six messages to Alfa Bank recipients from clients using one of its email applications, but stated that these communications were not connected to the Trump Organization. Cendyn identified these as emails sent by existing banking or hotel customers of Cendyn through a meeting management application to an Alfa Bank email add ress. Cho did not locate any substantive communications between the Trump Organization and the two Alfa Bank servers and did not pursue further investigation of the DNS activity.
The committee also received unprompted letters from an attorney representing Alfa Bank conveying findings from the bank’s own internal investigation. As written in one of these letters, Mandiant—a cyber incident response firm Alfa Bank hired to look into the DNS activity—had arrived at a “working hypothesis” that “the activity was caused by a marketing or spam campaign directed at Alfa Bank employees by a marketing server affiliated with the Trump organization.”
This subsection of the report concludes with two entirely redacted paragraphs and leaves the reader with nothing but a final sentence: “The Committee has no reason to dispute those determinations.”
The next subsection addresses questions about the changes to the Republican National Committee (RNC) platform regarding Ukraine—a matter that looked ominous but turned out to be relatively innocuous. In July 2016, questions of Russian interference or influence arose after Trump’s team reworded a policy position on arming Ukraine in the lead-up to the Republican National Convention. Trump campaign staffers had intervened to change the language of an amendment on the RNC’s platform from providing Ukraine with “lethal defensive assistance” to providing “appropriate assistance.” The committee found that the changes “were not the result of Russian interference, nor were they a coordinated attempt by the Trump Campaign to ‘weaken’ the platform on Ukraine.”
The change in language occurred the week prior to the 2016 Republican National Convention. According to the report, Trump campaign officials sought to remove “lethal defensive assistance” from the proposed amendment because it went beyond what Trump had publicly stated about Russia and Ukraine. J.D. Gordon, the campaign’s director of national security, told the committee that “Mr. Trump had stated publicly and privately that he didn’t want World War III over Ukraine and he wanted better relations with Russia. So arming Ukraine is inconsistent with that view.”
The campaign officials basically claimed that candidate Trump had never taken an official position about military or humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, and they were working entirely off of rhetoric from Trump’s speeches. But Diana Denman, the Republican delegate who had initially proposed the amendment, gave a different account:
During the July 11 session, Denman raised her hand to ask about the status of her amendment, at which point there was “some discussion and a suggestion that other wording should be put in.” During that discussion, Denman approached Gordon at the side table, who she recalled being on a cellular phone. Denman told the Committee that Gordon told her he had to clear the language with “New York” but that she didn’t believe him. Denman told the Committee that she pressed Gordon on who he was speaking to and he told her three times that he was speaking to “Mr. Trump.”
The report notes that “Gordon disputes this account, and told the Committee that he was ‘talking to his policy colleagues.’” He also asserted that he never spoke to Paul Manafort or Trump while the RNC platform discussions were occurring.
Following the change in the amendment’s language, the campaign received a great deal of criticism in the media. In an interview for Meet the Press on July 31, 2016, Chuck Todd asked Manafort, “[S]o nobody in the Trump Campaign wanted that change in the platform?” to which Manafort responded, “No one, zero.” The committee states that Manafort’s statement was corroborated with emails establishing that only the officials at the RNC meeting themselves had knowledge of the platform change. The report ends by affirming that “the changes to the Denman Amendment were the result of Gordon deriving a foreign policy position from Trump’s limited public remarks, not the result of any foreign interference or undue influence.”
The final subsection addresses Russia’s efforts to support third-party candidates. Donald Trump wasn’t the only candidate the Kremlin took an interest in during the 2016 presidential election. The committee found that Russia supported Green Party politician Jill Stein as well. “Historically,” the report notes, Russia has created discord and exploited divisions “by supporting third party candidates in an attempt to drive national political conversation to potentially more extreme points of view.”
The committee begins by thanking Stein who, like Michael Flynn, attended the RT anniversary dinner in Moscow, for her cooperation with the committee. A footnote reminds the reader that Flynn “declined to speak with the committee on multiple occasions.”
The report explains that RT is a Russian state-owned media outlet serving as the Kremlin’s principal means of disseminating propaganda internationally. In 2016, the committee found that it served as an instrument to promote Russian interference tactics in the U.S. election:
Part of RT’s efforts to impugn the U.S. democratic process involve its support for third-party candidates and pushing messaging that “the US two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham.’” The content of RT’s coverage of Stein, and other candidates, is consistent with this messaging.
The committee then traces Stein’s relationship with RT, as well as her correspondence with the Russian government. When asked about the coverage she received from RT, Stein stated that she did not question the media requests because she “was happy to get [her] message out through any media source.” Stein also told the committee she doubted there was “formal Russian support for my candidacy.”
According to the report, Stein met numerous Russian officials at RT events, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Further, the committee writes that Stein unsuccessfully sought meetings through RT with top Russian officials, including Lavrov and Putin. In December 2015, Stein flew to Moscow to attend the RT anniversary gala. The report notes that “Stein’s attendance at this dinner has been widely reported by the press, including by publishing a photograph of Stein sitting next to Putin at the dinner.” Flynn sat at the same table.
Following her return to the United States, the committee concludes that “Stein continued to receive media outreach from, and regularly appear on, RT.” It also notes that despite having communicated with Julian Assange to prepare him for Green Party events, Stein “told the committee that she never gained any non-public knowledge about Wikileaks releases during the 2016 election cycle."
One of the clever features of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report is the committee’s apparent decision to draw no conclusions, merely to recount facts. This allowed the entire committee, irrespective of party or fealty to the president, to join in the factual findings. Even Sen. Jim Risch of Idaho, who opposed the committee’s formal adoption of the report, did so not because he objected to any of the findings the committee made but because he objected to its failure to find explicitly that there was “no collusion”: “[T]he Senate Intelligence Committee’s bipartisan Russia investigation found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election,” he claimed. “The facts presented in Volume 5 make this conclusion abundantly clear, however I voted against the report because it fails to explicitly state this critical finding.” The factual findings are, for all intents and purposes, unanimous; the absence of any interpretive conclusions allowed the committee to achieve that substantial accomplishment.
This strategy also, however, allowed each member, or group of members, to draw their own conclusions. The committee leadership during the investigation—Sens. Richard Burr and Mark Warner—both decorously sat out from this jockeying. But a group of Republican senators wrote additional views to emphasize their conclusion that while “the Russian government inappropriately meddled in our 2016 general election in many ways[,] then-Candidate Trump was not complicit. After more than three years of investigation by this Committee, we can now say with no doubt, there was no collusion.” And Democratic members wrote separately to state their conclusion that:
The Committee's bipartisan Report unambiguously shows that members of the Trump Campaign cooperated with Russian efforts to get Trump elected. It recounts efforts by Trump and his team to obtain dirt on their opponent from operatives acting on behalf of the Russian government. It reveals the extraordinary lengths by which Trump and his associates actively sought to enable the Russian interference operation by amplifying its electoral impact and rewarding its perpetrators—even after being warned of its Russian origins. And it presents, for the first time, concerning evidence that the head of the Trump Campaign was directly connected to the Russian meddling through his communications with an individual found to be a Russian intelligence officer.
Our own conclusions are notably closer to those of the Democrats than to those of the Republicans. To read these thousand pages and come away with the conclusion that they amount to evidence of “no collusion” really involves a protestation of faith, not a dispassionate assessment of presented evidence. As we said at the outset, debating what constitutes “collusion” is not worth anyone’s time, given that the word has no agreed-upon meaning in this context and that to say that there was none of it doesn’t answer in any event the more important question of what the facts amount to. Here are the conclusions we believe the Intelligence Committee’s evidence supports:
- The Trump campaign and Donald Trump himself were certainly aware in real time of Russian efforts to intervene in the 2016 presidential election. The campaign had a heads-up that Russia had stolen Democratic emails. And Russian operatives sought and received a meeting with senior Trump campaign officials promising “dirt” on Trump’s opponent. As the campaign wore on, and the Russian efforts were increasingly made public, Trump personally and publicly encouraged them.
- The Trump campaign was run for a time by a man with an ongoing business relationship with a Russian intelligence operative, to whom he gave proprietary internal polling data.
- The Trump campaign did not discourage Russian activity on its behalf. In fact, it sought repeatedly to coordinate its messaging around WikiLeaks releases of information. The campaign, and Trump personally, sought to contact WikiLeaks to receive information in advance about releases and may well have succeeded.
- The campaign sought to obtain disparaging information about Hillary Clinton from actors who either were Russian operatives or it believed were Russian operatives. It did so through a number of means—some of these efforts were direct. Some were indirect.
- The Russian government and affiliated actors clearly regarded the Trump campaign as a prime target for influence and recruitment. Russia targeted a diverse array of people associated with Trump for contact and engagement through an astonishing variety of avenues. Some of these attempts were rebuffed. Many of them were successful. The result was a sustained degree of engagement between the campaign, and later the transition, and Russian officials and cutouts.
- Trump’s personal and business history in Russia provided a significant opportunity for kompromat. Such material was very likely collected. There is less evidence that it was ever deployed, though Trump’s mere awareness of his vulnerability gives rise to substantial counterintelligence concerns.
- Trump’s active pursuit of business deals in Russia while running for president and denying any such deals created significant counterintelligence risk.
- Trump’s campaign, and later transition, were filled with a remarkable number of people who had secret interactions with Russian actors, about which they lied either in real time or in retrospect.
- All of this activity, particularly cumulatively, amounts to a grave set of counterintelligence concerns, in which any number of Trump campaign figures—including the candidate himself—exposed themselves to potential coercive pressure from an adversary foreign actor.
- Trump to this day will not criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin or acknowledge unambiguously Russian intervention in the 2016 election.
We will leave it to others to debate what words best summarize this picture.