The Russian ambassador. A deputy prime minister. A pop star, a weightlifter, a lawyer, a Soviet army veteran with alleged intelligence ties.
Again and again and again, over the course of Donald Trump’s 18-month campaign for the presidency, Russian citizens made contact with his closest family members and friends, as well as figures on the periphery of his orbit.
Some offered to help his campaign and his real estate business. Some offered dirt on his Democratic opponent. Repeatedly, Russian nationals suggested Trump should hold a peacemaking sit-down with Vladimir Putin — and offered to broker such a summit.
In all, Russians interacted with at least 14 Trump associates during the campaign and presidential transition, public records and interviews show.
“It is extremely unusual,” said Michael McFaul, who served as ambassador to Russia under President Barack Obama. “Both the number of contacts and the nature of the contacts are extraordinary.”
As special counsel Robert S. Mueller III slowly unveils the evidence that he has gathered since his appointment in May 2017, he has not yet shown that any of the dozens of interactions between people in Trump’s orbit and Russians resulted in any specific coordination between his presidential campaign and Russia.
But the mounting number of communications that have been revealed occurred against the backdrop of “sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election,” as Mueller’s prosecutors wrote in a court filing last week.
The special counsel’s filings have also revealed moments when Russia appeared to be taking cues from Trump. In July 2016, the then-GOP candidate said at a news conference, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” referring to messages Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton had deleted from a private account. That day, the Russians made their first effort to break into servers used by Clinton’s personal office, according to court documents.
As Americans began to grip the reality that a hostile foreign power took active steps to shape the outcome of the race, Trump and his advisers asserted they had no contact with Russia.
Two days after Trump was elected president, a top Kremlin official caused a stir by asserting that Trump’s associates were in contact with the Russian government before the election.
“I don’t say that all of them, but a whole array of them supported contacts with Russian representatives,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency on Nov. 10, 2016.
The claim was met with a hail of denials. Hope Hicks, then Trump’s top spokeswoman, responded, “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”
After Trump took office, in February 2017, he reiterated the denial. “No. Nobody that I know of,” the president told reporters when asked whether anyone who advised his campaign had contact with Russia. “I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.”
It is now clear that wasn’t true.
Trump’s oldest children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, interacted withRussians who were offering to help the candidate.
Ivanka’s husband, top campaign adviser Jared Kushner, as well as Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his personal lawyer Michael Cohen and his longest-serving political adviser, Roger Stone, also had contact with Russian nationals.
Veterans of past White House bids said that so much interplay with representatives of a foreign adversary is highly unusual.
“This is different in kind than anything I have ever heard of before,” said Trevor Potter, who served as general counsel to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign in 2008. McCain, he noted, traveled the globe as a member of the Senate, but his contacts with foreign government officials generally occurred in consultation with the State Department and involved questions of policy — not personal business or his own electoral concerns.
The number of known interactions has grown since last year, when The Washington Post tallied that at least nine Trump associates had contacts with Russians during the campaign or presidential transition.
At the time, then-White House lawyer Ty Cobb said, “I think the American public can fully appreciate that those are isolated, obviously disconnected events, quite small in number for a presidential campaign.”
Trump attorney Jay Sekulow declined to comment on Sunday.
The president has repeatedly denied that people close to him coordinated with Russia, tweeting frequently, “NO COLLUSION!”
New court documents filed by Mueller’s prosecutors in the past two weeks revealed the Russian outreach was more extensive than previously known.
In November 2015, Cohen spoke with a Russian national who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation offering the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level,” according to a memo filed by the special counsel Friday.
The Russian national repeatedly proposed a meeting between Trump and Putin, prosecutors wrote, saying that a sit-down between the two men could have a “phenomenal” impact because there is “no bigger warranty in any project” than Putin’s backing.
The details of the episode match descriptions of an interaction Cohen had at the time with Dmitry Klokov, a well-connected Russian athlete, which was first reported by BuzzFeed News.
An Olympic weightlifter turned entrepreneur, Klokov sells training equipment, clothing and fitness programs worldwide from his base…. Continue reading: Russians interacted with at least 14 Trump associates during the campaign and transition