On Wednesday, reports appeared indicating that Vladmir Putin personally directed the Russian assault on U.S. elections.
Two senior officials with direct access to the information say new intelligence shows that Putin personally directed how hacked material from Democrats was leaked and otherwise used. The intelligence came from diplomatic sources and spies working for U.S. allies, the officials said.
Putin selected which material to leak and when, creating a narrative that caused a disruption within the Democratic Party—which the press eagerly followed and elaborated, on release by release. But Putin may have had help in that planning.
Donald Trump denied Russian involvement despite being briefed on the evidence multiple times. Now the White House indicates that Trump may have already known Russia was involved, and that his request for Putin to hack Hillary Clinton’s email was far from a joke.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest contended Wednesday that it’s entirely feasible that Trump was well aware of Russia’s interference well before the intelligence community confirmed as much in October, a month before the election.
“There’s ample evidence that was known long before the election and in most cases long before October about the Trump campaign and Russia — everything from the Republican nominee himself calling on Russia to hack his opponent,” Earnest told reporters. “It might be an indication that he was obviously aware and concluded, based on whatever facts or sources he had available to him, that Russia was involved and their involvement was having a negative impact on his opponent’s campaign.”
What did Trump know—and when did he know it?
Trump directly, publicly asked for Russia’s intervention, promising that the press would play along.
“That’s why he was encouraging them to keep doing it,” Earnest continued, referring to the then-GOP presidential candidate’s invitation during a late-July news conference for Russia to find Clinton’s missing emails. At the time, Trump added that Russia would “probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
And sure enough, the press did their part.
The New York Times this week reported that “every major publication … published multiple stories citing the D.N.C. and Podesta emails posted by WikiLeaks, becoming a de facto instrument of Russian intelligence.”
So did Donald Trump, who helpfully pointed out the parts of the emails that best fit the emerging narrative.
None of that stopped Trump from reading aloud what he considered to be some of the most damaging revelations from WikiLeaks hacks of Podesta’s personal account at his massive campaign rallies and encouraging supporters to view the hacked emails themselves because, he said, the media weren't reporting on it, although they were.
Trump invited Russian participation, heartily engaged with the information they provided, and worked to increase coverage. Even so, Trump’s open invitation for Russia’s involvement was treated as a “joke”—as just another wild statement from a candidate prone to wild statements.
Trump has stated that if his team made claims about Russia involvement, it would be treated as a “conspiracy theory,” but Trump’s connection to Russia has been treated over and over again as nothing but a lark. A coincidence. Nothing to see here. Even when a connection has been drawn, the assumption has often been that it was a matter of underlings crossing paths. Carter Page gave a speech to Putin’s associates. No big deal. Michael Flynn dines with Putin himself. No big deal. Paul Manafort works for Putin for years, helping to stir turmoil in a democratically-elected government and install Russia’s puppet while tearing down relationships to NATO. Well … No. No big deal.
But there are other connections. Connections directly between Trump and Putin.
Why wait so long? Because before the president of the United States makes the extraordinary claim that his successor had inside knowledge of a much-bigger-than-Watergate break-in to the headquarters of the opposing party, then worked with the leader of a foreign government to use the fruits of that break-in as part of a plan to disrupt an American election in his favor and to harm America’s standing in the world … that takes the accumulation of evidence. That kind of allegation requires the most careful analysis.
Given the political environment, Earnest said, it would have been “inappropriate” for any administration officials to pressure the intelligence community to release its conclusion sooner. Earnest explained that such logic is why it was the intelligence community, not the president himself, that made the formal announcement.
But the information is getting released. And the dots it’s connecting didn’t suddenly appear after the election.
Trump defends Putin for assassinating journalists
Trump had been singing the praises of the Russian leader since at least 2013, but by 2015, even Republicans were stunned at what their candidate was saying. Responding to a complement from Putin, Trump praised him in multiple interviews, and bragged about Putin’s high approval ratings.
“He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader. You know, unlike what we have in this country,” Trump responded.
“But again, he kills journalists that don’t agree with him,” returned Scarborough.
“Well, I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe,” Trump said.
Asked to elaborate, Trump did not back away.
Trump changes his story on meeting Putin
Previously, Trump has claimed a “relationship” with Putin. However, in a May interview about the Miss Universe pageant, Trump reversed himself.
“I know Russia well. I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago, Miss Universe contest, which was a big, big, incredible event. An incredible success,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News Channel's Bret Baier Thursday night.
Asked about meeting directly with Putin, Trump reversed earlier claims. However, even in this statement, Trump followed up with the call for a closer relationship to Russia that would become his standard statement every time he was asked about Putin.
“No, I got to meet a lot of people. And you know what? They want to be friendly with the United States,” Trump said. “ Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along with somebody?”
Trump’s 2016 claims to not know Putin contradict his previous statements.
"I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he's very interested in what we're doing here today. He's probably very interested in what you and I am saying today, and I'm sure he's going to be seeing it in some form." -- interview, November, 2013
"I was in Russia, I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success." -- address at the National Press Club, May 2014
Trump had the Republican platform changed then denied it
Before the Republican Convention, the Trump campaign pushed for changes to the Republican platform that softened the position against the invasion of Ukraine, then denied involvement even though it happened in front of the entire platform committee of the Republican Party. Who directed this change? According to the people involved, it was Trump.
The two Trump staffers claimed to a delegate that they had to call and talk to “Mr. Trump”—perhaps name-dropping as obnoxious staffers, or perhaps Trump really was involved at the highest level with this particular amendment. The Trump staffers told the delegate that they had discussed Ukraine policy directly with Trump.
That same month, Trump again denied his relationship with Putin.
Trump: "I have no relationship to -- with him. I have no relationship with him."
Paul Manafort leaves the Trump campaign
Paul Manafort was hired by Russia to go into Ukraine, create a campaign that made their pro-Russian candidate seem acceptable to Ukrainian voters, and put him at the top of a government that had secret ties to Moscow. Then Manafort worked to create unrest, including faux protests against NATO. In one of those protests, bricks and abuse were hurled at U.S. Marines, forcing a delay of planned military exercises. Those protests were then used as an excuse by Putin for the invasion of Crimea.
That’s the known, open part of Manafort’s record. And yet, everyone seemed to accept the idea that Manafort’s next assignment could be running the presidential campaign of of Donald Trump—as if his previous activities were electing the mayor of Peoria.
But in August, it looked as if Manafort might actually get some slight scrutiny when it turned out that some of the money he was receiving under the table from Russia was illegally routed to a pair of Washington lobbying firms without revealing the source of the cash, and without Manafort registering as a foreign agent. It also became clear that Manafort himself had been hiding millions in under the table payments, some of which Manafort may have received while working on the campaign.
Manafort stepped away from his position at the Trump campaign, and the press hounded him to … No. Sorry. That last sentence is a lie. The truth is that the press immediately forgot that Manafort existed, and the light coverage that he had received to that point completely disappeared.
Donald Trump probably said something about women. Or veterans. Or chanted “lock ‘er up.” Despite the fact that Manafort might have still been on Russia’s payroll while working for Trump.
- Donald Trump claimed for years to have met directly with Putin and to have a relationship with the Russian leader.
- During the campaign, Trump adviser Carter Page twice went to Moscow to deliver anti-Obama, pro-Putin speeches and meet with Russian oil and gas oligarchs
- Also during the campaign, Trump’s candidate for national security adviser, Michael Flynn, traveled to Moscow and met directly with Putin.
- Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, worked for Putin over a period of years for the explicit purposes of putting a pro-Russia candidate at the head of the Ukraine government, then worked to provide an excuse for Russia to invade Crimea.
- Manafort also used payments from Moscow to stage anti-NATO rallies, as well as illegally funneling money to lobbying organizations in the United States.
- Trump representatives at the Republican Convention made just one change to the platform—they weakened language on protecting Ukraine—and they did so on direct instructions from Donald Trump.
- Following the election Russian officials admitted that the Trump campaign had been in contact with Russia all along saying “Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage.”
That the press has scurried from one wild statement to another throughout the campaign while this story has been there all along is astounding.
If Watergate happened today, the press wouldn’t give a damn about the break-in. They’d be clamoring for the first shot at the documents the burglars recovered.