Reminder About Mueller Filings: Trump Officials Repeatedly Denied Contact With Russians
Last week’s release of memos regarding Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Michael Cohen made clear that as the Mueller investigation presses on, prosecutors are finding indisputable evidence of wrongdoing, and extensive contacts with Russia.
Michael Cohen, the president’s personal attorney, tried to orchestrate business deals with Russians well into the 2016 campaign – with the knowledge of the president. Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, was in constant communication with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian business associate who helped to liaise Manafort with oligarchs like Oleg Deripaska. Flynn, who has been cooperating with the Mueller investigation, had a series of personal calls with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in advance of Trump’s inauguration.
The most incriminating aspect of these contacts is not that they took place (though that in itself is cause for concern); What is most concerning about these contacts is the extent to which the administration, Trump-allies, and campaign associates tried to cover them up.
Constantly throughout the campaign and the early months of the administration, Trump-allies repeated, over and over again, that there were no contacts with Russians. In fact, there were at least 16 members of Trump’s inner circle who interacted with Kremlin cut outs.
Paul Manafort on ABC’s This Week
STEPHANOPOULOS: “Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?”
MANAFORT: “No, there are not. That’s absurd. And you know, there’s no basis to it.”
Manafort attended a meeting in June of 2016 with a group of Russians who claimed to have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. He also met and contacted Konstantin Kilimnik, his Russian-Ukrainian one-time business partner who has ties to Russian intelligence. Manafort’ deputy, Rick Gates, also communicated with Kilimnik (especially after Manafort stepped down from the campaign.) Kilimnik has taken credit for an amendment to the Republican political platform that makes its stances on Ukraine more beneficial to Russia.
Donald Trump Jr. on CNN’s State of the Union
TAPPER: “I don’t know if you were hearing earlier, but Robby Mook, the campaign manager for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I asked him about the DNC leak. And he suggested that experts are saying that Russians were behind both the leak — the hacking of the DNC e-mails and their release. He seemed to be suggesting that this is part of a plot to help Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. Your response?”
TRUMP JR: “Well, it just goes to show you their exact moral compass. I mean, they will say anything to be able to win this. I mean, this is time and time again, lie after lie. You notice he won’t say, well, I say this. We hear experts… I can’t think of bigger lies, but that exactly goes to show you what the DNC and what the Clinton camp will do. They will lie and do anything to win.”
According to indictments from the special counsel’s office, Russians were responsible for hacking and releasing the stolen emails, and Vladimir Putin himself confirmed that they wanted Trump to win the election.
Donald Trump on Twitter
TRUMP: “For the record, I have ZERO investments in Russia.”
Though Trump might not have current investments in Russia, Michael Cohen confirmed that he was in contact with Russians regarding business relationships as late as June of 2016 – and that Trump knew.
Donald Trump on CBS Miami:
TRUMP: “I can tell you I think if I came up with that they’d say, ‘Oh, it’s a conspiracy theory, it’s ridiculous.’… I mean I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia.”
Donald Trump at the Second Presidential Debate
CLINTON: “…[Trump] has praised Putin… maybe because he wants to do business in Moscow.”
TRUMP: “So ridiculous… I know nothing about Russia… I don’t deal there. I have no businesses there – I have no loans from Russia.”
President Trump’s own son has said “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”
Donald Trump at a Campaign Rally
TRUMP: “I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, I’ll give you a written statement.”
Trump Spokeswoman Hope Hicks
HICKS: “We are not aware of any campaign representatives that were in touch with any foreign entities before yesterday, when Mr. Trump spoke with many world leaders,” Ms. Hicks, said. “Those discussions were congratulatory and forward looking.”
The earliest known contacts between Trump-insiders and Russians were in September of 2015, who reached out to Russians to gauge interest in a meeting between President Trump and Putin. Though Cohen did not have an official title on the campaign, he used a campaign email and was known as the president’s personal attorney.
Trump Spokeswoman Hope Hicks to the Associated Press
HICKS: “It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.”
According to CNN, there are 16 known Trump-associates who had contacts with Russians during the campaign and the early months of Trump’s transition.
Trump Aide Kellyanne Conway
DICKERSON: “Did anyone involved – in the Trump campaign have any contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election?”
CONWAY: “Absolutely not. I discussed that with the president-elect just last night. Those conversations never happened.”
In late December of 2016, Michael Flynn exchanged calls with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak six times.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions at Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing
FRANKEN: “If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”
SESSIONS: “Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”
Sessions met twice with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak while acting as a campaign surrogate for Donald Trump. Sessions then lied about his contacts at his Senate Judiciary Hearing, and subsequently recused himself from the Russia probe.
Donald Trump on Twitter
TRUMP: “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”
Mike Pence on Fox News Sunday
WALLACE: “So, I’m asking a direct question: was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had?”
PENCE: “I joined this campaign in the summer, and I can tell you that all the contact by the Trump campaign and associates was with the American people. We were fully engaged with taking his message to make America great again all across this country. That’s why he won in a landslide election.”
WALLACE: “…Sir, I’m just trying to get an answer.”
PENCE: “Yes. I — of course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign”
Mike Pence on Face the Nation
DICKERSON: “Just to button up one question, did any advisor or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?”
PENCE: “Of course not. And I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy.”
Donald Trump on Twitter
TRUMP: “I don’t know Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy – yet Obama can make a deal with Iran, #1 in terror, no problem!”
Donald Trump at a News Conference
TRUMP: “Russia is a ruse. I know you have to get up and ask a question. It’s so important. Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn’t. I just have nobody to speak to. I spoke to Putin twice. He called me on the election. I told you this. And he called me on the inauguration, a few days ago.
Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus
PRIEBUS: “The New York Times put out an article with no direct sources that said that the Trump campaign had constant contacts with Russian spies, basically, you know, some treasonous type of accusations. We have now all kinds of people looking into this. I can assure you and I have been approved to say this—that the top levels of the intelligence community have assured me that that story is not only inaccurate, but it’s grossly overstated and it was wrong. And there’s nothing to it.”
White House Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders
SANDERS: “This is a non-story because to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place, so it’s hard to make a comment on something that never happened.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer
SPICER: “He has no interests in Russia. He has no—there’s only so many times he can deny something that doesn’t exist.”
Donald Trump on Twitter
TRUMP: “Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!”
Donald Trump Junior to the New York Times
TRUMP JR: “Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure that I did — But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape, or form.”
Donald Trump Jr. specifically set up a meeting with Russians for the sake of getting “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. lied first about the meeting, and later about its purpose. Present at the meeting were key campaign surrogates like Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner.
Donald Trump to Reuters
TRUMP: “The problem is, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t do anything. This isn’t a question of defense. I didn’t do anything. I had no relationship to Russia. So I said, what can the legal team do?… This Russia story is a hoax made up by the Democrats as an excuse for losing an election that they should have won because it’s almost impossible for a Republican to win the Electoral College. There was zero coordination. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. There’s no coordination, this was a hoax, this was made up by the Democrats.”
Pence Spokesperson Marc Lotter
LOTTER: “The Vice President had no meetings with any individual associated with the Russian government during the campaign or transition.”