It Seems Everybody Around Trump Was Talking to the Russians

Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Jeff Sessions… Everybody in Donald Trump’s inner circle has some Russia connection.

Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions, the vice president and attorney general of the United States, appear at an event in Phoenix, Arizona, August 31, 2016
Mike Pence and Jeff Sessions, the vice president and attorney general of the United States, appear at an event in Phoenix, Arizona, August 31, 2016 (Gage Skidmore)

Was there anyone on Donald Trump’s campaign not talking to the Russians?

The latest news is that Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, spoke with the Russian ambassador to the United States in September, when he was serving as foreign-policy advisor on the presidential campaign.

We don’t know what the two discussed, but we do know that Sessions lied about the conversation taking place.

During his confirmation hearings, he was explicitly asked by senators if he had been in contact with Russians — any Russians — during the campaign. Sessions said “no”.

Michael Flynn all over again

This is exactly what happened with Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security advisor.

He, too, spoke with the Russian ambassador in Washington — in his case during the transition period between the election and inauguration — and at first denied it.

It is not that unusual for members of an incoming administration to speak with foreign officials, provided they do not conduct diplomacy before the new president is sworn in. So why lie about it?

It’s the lies that forced Trump to fire Flynn. If he applies the same standard to Sessions (and so far he isn’t), it would mean dismissing him as well.

Collusion

There is more to this story. Much more.

The New York Times, citing three anonymous intelligence sources, reports that the British and Dutch alerted American security services to contacts in Europe between associates of Trump and Russians close to Vladimir Putin.

We don’t know more about those contacts, but the Times reports that there was suspicion in the Obama White House that Trump’s campaign might have been colluding with Russia to influence the outcome of the election.

No “smoking gun” has turned up so far, but Vox reports that there is quite a bit of circumstantial evidence, from Trump confidant Roger Stone tweeting about hacked Democratic Party emails before Russia released them through Wikileaks to Russia’s deputy foreign minister stating that Trump’s “entourage” was in touch with Moscow throughout the campaign.

Paul Manafort

Then there was Paul Manafort, Trump’s second campaign manager. He stepped down after it emerged that he had received millions of dollars from Russia’s political allies in Ukraine.

Manafort maintains that he never “knowingly” spoke to Russian intelligence officers. The New Yorker cites an official saying, “Whether he knew it or not, Manafort was around Russian intelligence all the time.”

Michael Cohen

Then there is Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who admitted being involved in delivering a “peace plan” for the War in Donbas to Trump before denying he had done anything of the sort.

Cohen also appears to have business interests in Ukraine. John Marshall has been piecing this together at Talking Points Memo.

Again, the denials of something that might otherwise have been an amateur attempt at diplomacy suggest there is something sinister going on.

Doves

Then there are Carter Page and Rex Tillerson. Trump wasn’t acquainted with either men before naming them foreign-policy advisor and secretary of state, respectively. What they have in common is that they both worked in the oil industry and both have dovish views on Russia. Page has even been described as a Russian stooge.

Which brings us back to where we started: Is there anyone in Trump’s inner circle who doesn’t have ties to Russia?

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