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Trump’s changing explanations for the campaign’s Trump-Russia contacts

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Trump Russia 4x3
President Donald Trump and his surrogates have changed
their stories on his campaign’s numerous contacts with Russia
over time.

Business
Insider


  • In addition to investigating Russia’s interference in
    the 2016 election, the special counsel Robert Mueller is
    scrutinizing dozens of contacts between President Donald
    Trump’s campaign and Russia.
  • Trump and his surrogates have offered multiple, at
    times contradictory, explanations for those contacts.
  • Over time, they have claimed the campaign never
    communicated with Russia, that the contacts did not amount to
    collusion, and that even if they did, collusion is not a
    crime.

The special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s
interference in the 2016 election has so far produced 32
indictments, five cooperating witnesses, one conviction, and the
seizure of $46 million in assets.

Last week, Paul Manafort, the former
chairman of President Donald Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty and
began cooperating with the Russia probe. Trump’s former personal
lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen has reportedly sat for hours of interviews with
Mueller’s team
.

Since last May, Mueller has been investigating not only Russia’s
election meddling, but also whether the Trump campaign colluded
with Moscow to tilt the race in Trump’s favor.

The central thread in the probe focuses on the complex linkage of
contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian individuals and
entities.

Over time, Trump and his surrogates have had multiple, often
contradictory, explanations for those contacts.

1. There was no contact with Russians


Vladimir Putin
President Vladimir Putin
directed the interference, US intelligence agencies have
concluded.

Thomas Kronsteiner / Getty
Images


In the days immediately following the election, Russian president
Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov and a top Russian
diplomat told the Associated Press the Russian government maintained
“normal” contacts
on matters of foreign affairs with both the
Trump and Clinton campaigns.

Hope Hicks, then a campaign spokeswoman, categorically denied at
the time that any such contacts had taken place.

“It never happened,” she told the AP. “There was no communication
between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”

But subsequent reporting has now revealed at least 87 known points of contact
between Trump campaign aides and Russia-linked individuals or
entities.

Those include communications with Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s former
ambassador to the US; multiple powerful oligarchs closely aligned
with Putin; and Russian intelligence officers who were involved
in hacking then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign and
the Democratic National Committee. The officers disseminated the
stolen emails via WikiLeaks to influence the election, Mueller
has charged.

2. There was contact, but no ‘collusion’

The Trump camp’s explanations for its Russia contacts saw a
significant shift in the summer of 2017, when a bombshell New
York Times story revealed that three top campaign officials,
including Manafort, son Donald Trump Jr., and senior adviser
Jared Kushner met with two Russian lobbyists at Trump Tower.

After The Times reported on the meeting, Trump Jr. put out an
initial statement claiming the meeting had nothing to do with
Clinton or campaign business.

But the president’s eldest son had to revise his statement
several times after it emerged that he agreed to the meeting
after he was offered “dirt” on Clinton. The offer, according to
one email Trump Jr. received from the British music publicist Rob
Goldstone, was “part of Russia and its government’s support” for
Trump’s candidacy.


Donald Trump Donald Trump Jr.
Then-President-elect
Donald Trump speaks with his son Donald Trump Jr. during a news
conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan on January
11, 2017.

REUTERS/Lucas
Jackson


In response, Trump Jr. said, “I love it.”

The full picture surrounding the meeting is still somewhat murky.

But it was reported last year that one of the Russian lobbyists,
the Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, did not
arrive with the promised dirt on Clinton, and instead wanted to
discuss a potential repeal of the Magnitsky Act, which sanctions
high-level Russians suspected of human-rights abuses.

Trump and his lawyers initially claimed that the president did
not know about the meeting until The Times broke the story about
it.

But the Washington Post later reported that Trump “dictated” the
initially misleading statement his son put out after he was
contacted about the story.

Trump later acknowledged that although the meeting took place in
order to get compromising information on Clinton, it did not
count as collusion because the campaign did not get anything from
Veselnitskaya.

“This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally
legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I
did not know about it!” Trump tweeted in August.

3. Even if there was collusion, it doesn’t matter because
collusion isn’t a crime

After Trump’s early August tweet admitting he knew the meeting
was to get damaging information on Clinton, his lawyers fell back
on another strategy: arguing that collusion is not a
crime.

“I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to
find collusion as a crime,” Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lead defense
attorney, told Fox News in July.
“Collusion is not a crime.”

Trump echoed Giuliani in a series of tweets. “Where’s the
collusion? They made up a phony crime called Collusion, and when
there was no Collusion they say there was Obstruction (of a phony
crime that never existed),” he wrote.

“I don’t even know if that’s a crime — colluding with Russians.
Hacking is the crime. The president didn’t hack. He didn’t pay
for the hacking,” Giuliani also told CNN.


Rudy Giuliani
Rudy
Giuliani is Trump’s

Leah
Millis/Reuters


Legal experts told Business Insider at the time that Giuliani’s claim was a “red
herring.”
While it is true that the word “collusion” is not a
specific crime denoted in the federal code, they said that the
focus is likely on whether the campaign was involved in a
conspiracy to defraud the US.

“Mueller isn’t investigating ‘collusion.’ He is investigating
possible coordination between the campaign and the Russians,
particularly any actual crimes committed in the context of that
coordination,” Bradley P. Moss, a lawyer specializing in national
security issues, told Business Insider.

“Russian companies and individuals have been charged with
conspiracy to defraud the United States as a result of their
alleged acts of election interference and hacking and
distribution of emails,” Harvard Law School professor and former
federal prosecutor Alex Whiting said.

“If American citizens knowingly assisted these efforts, which
could be described as ‘collusion,’ they could also be charged
with conspiracy to defraud the United States,” he added.

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