The Case for Collusion Is Deepening

There have been some significant developments in the Trump/Russia investigation over the last few days, demonstrating both the breadth and depth of connections between Trump’s associates and the Russians. I thought it might be helpful to summarize them.

First of all, Carter Page has now admitted that he met with Russian government officials during his trip to Moscow in July 2016 and informed the campaign about what he’d learned.

Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump presidential campaign, met Russian government officials during a July 2016 trip he took to Moscow, according to testimony he gave on Thursday to the House Intelligence Committee.

Shortly after the trip, Mr. Page sent an email to at least one Trump campaign aide describing insights he had after conversations with government officials, legislators and business executives during his time in Moscow, according to one person familiar with the contents of the message.

The fact that this meeting happened was initially reported by Michael Isikoff back in September 2016, which prompted Page to resign from his position as a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign. But up until last week, Page had denied that it occurred, which tells us two things. First of all, he has been lying, which raises the question of why he would do so if, as he suggests, the meetings were so inconsequential and unrelated to the campaign. Secondly, it provides additional confirmation of another item in the Steele dossier, which reported on this meeting in July—a full two months before Isikoff wrote about it.

Page also testified that he informed Jeff Sessions, then-chair of Trump’s national security team, about his upcoming trip to Russia. That presents yet another problem for the attorney general, who testified under oath at his confirmation hearing that he was not aware of any contact between the campaign and Russia.

We now know of at least nine people involved with the Trump campaign that had contact with Russians during the campaign or transition. The Washington Post has a helpful graphic and timeline documenting each occurrence.

Today Bloomberg is reporting that Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort in June 2016, has provided some details of their discussions. It is important to take this one with a grain of salt because she has lied repeatedly about this meeting.

Veselnitskaya said she went to New York to show Trump campaign officials that major Democratic donors had evaded U.S. taxes and to lobby against the so-called Magnitsky law that punishes Russian officials for the murder of a Russian tax accountant who accused the Kremlin of corruption.

“Looking ahead, if we come to power, we can return to this issue and think what to do about it,’’ Trump Jr. said of the 2012 law, she recalled. “I understand our side may have messed up, but it’ll take a long time to get to the bottom of it,” he added, according to her.

Veselnitskaya also said Trump Jr. requested financial documents showing that money that allegedly evaded U.S. taxes had gone to Clinton’s campaign. She didn’t have any and described the 20-minute meeting as a failure.

If this account is true, Trump, Jr. was willing to promise that as president, his father would look into the Russian sanctions imposed by the Magnitsky law if Veselnitskaya could produce some dirt on the Clinton campaign. What is important to note is that when Don Jr.’s lawyer, Alan Futerfas, was presented with this account of the meeting, he had no comment.

Finally, there was a lot of buzz over the weekend about the release of a trove of documents called the “paradise papers.” Much of that has focused on the news that Trump’s Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross, has maintained business ties with Putin’s son-in-law through a shipping venture in Russia. This isn’t the first time his name has come up regarding some questionable ties to Russia. Last March I wrote about his involvement with the Bank of Cyprus, which has been used by Russian oligarchs to launder money. It is also one of the banks that is being investigated for money laundering by Paul Manafort.

But the Guardian is reporting another story coming out of the paradise papers that is more directly involved with the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Two Russian state institutions with close ties to Vladimir Putin funded substantial investments in Twitter and Facebook through a business associate of Jared Kushner, leaked documents reveal.

The investments were made through a Russian technology magnate, Yuri Milner, who also holds a stake in a company co-owned by Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser.

The discovery is likely to stir concerns over Russian influence in US politics and the role played by social media in last year’s presidential election. It may also raise new questions for the social media companies and for Kushner.

This story is pretty complicated, but the big picture is that Jared Kushner’s major role in the campaign was to manage messaging on social media via data-mining and micro-targeting. All of those efforts are now under investigation by the Mueller team, especially the involvement of Cambridge Analytica. This latest report shows that a business partner of Kushner’s, Yuri Milner, played a role in Russian investment in Twitter and Facebook, the social media giants that Russia used so effectively to spread divisions during the campaign.

If your eyes have glazed over by now with all of this, that is understandable. It’s a lot to absorb and untangle. But even the most cursory look at these stories tells us that there are deep connections between Russia and almost everyone associated with Donald Trump. It is impossible to imagine that it is all simply a coincidence.

The other take-away from all of this is that the Mueller team has their hands full when it comes to avenues to explore in this investigation. Some of these connections might turn out to be totally legitimate and/or unrelated to the question of collusion during the campaign. But the fact that so many of Trump’s associates have deep financial and business ties to an adversary whose economy has been faltering for over a decade is a statement in and of itself.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.