This story originally appeared on FactCheck.org.
After the 2016 election, Vice President-elect Mike Pence was asked if there was “any contact in any way between [Donald] Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had.” Pence answered, “Of course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?”
Of course, there were contacts.
Throughout the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, court filings and news organizations revealed numerous instances of campaign contacts with Russians that were not publicly known until after the election. Reports of these contacts fueled the federal probe, even as the president dismissed it as a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.”
A redacted report written by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office and released April 18 by Attorney General William Barr said there were “multiple contacts — ‘links,’ in the words of the Appointment Order — between Trump Campaign officials and individuals with ties to the Russian government.” But “the investigation did not establish such coordination” between the campaign and Russia.
“In sum, the investigation established multiple links between Trump Campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government. Those links included Russia offers of assistance to the Campaign. In some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the Campaign officials shied away,” the Mueller report said. “Ultimately, the investigation did not establish that the Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities.”
Here we look at the contacts that the Trump associates had with the Russians, according to the Mueller report and other government sources that we cite in our timeline. The events, for the most part, follow in chronological order.
Trump Tower Moscow
The Trump Organization actively pursued a real estate project in Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign, but the public didn’t learn about it until the Washington Post broke the story on Aug. 27, 2017 — about seven months into the Trump presidency.
Trump signed a letter of intent with a Moscow-based developer, I.C. Expert Investment Co., on Oct. 28, 2015. Michael Cohen, chief counsel for the Trump Organization, and Felix Sater, a Trump business associate, led the Trump Organization’s negotiations with Russian officials until at least June 2016. During that time, Sater repeatedly sought for Cohen and Trump to visit Russia and discuss plans for a Trump Tower in Moscow.
On Feb. 27, Cohen told the House oversight committee that Trump “knew of and directed the Trump Moscow negotiations throughout the campaign and lied about it.”
Specifically, Cohen claimed that he was encouraged to lie in a statement in 2017, when he told two congressional committees that the company’s pursuit of the Moscow project ended in January 2016 before “the Iowa caucus and … the very first primary.” In fact, as he said in his guilty plea, the Trump Organization continued negotiations into June 2016 — a month before Trump was nominated at the Republican National Convention.
The Mueller report, citing Cohen’s statements to investigators, said Cohen and the president’s personal attorney were in “almost daily” contact during the drafting of the statement to Congress.
“While working on the congressional statement, Cohen had extensive discussions with the President’s personal counsel, who, according to Cohen, said that Cohen should not contradict the President and should keep the statement short and ‘tight,’” the report says. “Cohen recalled that the President’s personal counsel said ‘his client’ appreciated Cohen, that Cohen should stay on message and not contradict the President, that there was no need to muddy the water, and that it was time to move on. Cohen said he agreed because it was what he was expected to do.”
Trump’s opportunities to travel to Russia
Felix Sater, who was working with Cohen on the Moscow project, made numerous attempts to get both Cohen and Trump to visit Moscow and meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In May 2016, Sater emailed Cohen about arranging for Cohen and Trump to visit Russia.
“I had a chat with Moscow. ASSUMING the trip does happen the question is before or after the convention … Obviously the pre-meeting trip (you only) can happen anytime you want but the 2 big guys where [sic] the question. I said I would confirm and revert.” In response, Cohen wrote, “My trip before Cleveland. [Trump] once he becomes the nominee after the convention.” (The existence of this email was disclosed in a criminal information filed against Cohen in federal court on Nov. 29, 2018, as part of Cohen’s plea deal. Trump is identified in the information as Individual 1 and Sater as Individual 2.)
Sater invited Cohen to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, and Cohen at first agreed, but then backed out by June. Neither Trump nor Cohen went to the economic forum.
In addition to Sater, George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, emailed Paul Manafort, then the campaign’s convention manager, on May 21, 2016, to say: “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.” Manafort forwarded the email to another campaign official with a note saying, “We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips,” as documented in the plea agreement between Papadopoulos and the government.
Other Russians attempted to arrange for Trump to visit Russia during the campaign, but they were also rebuffed, according to the Mueller report.
Lana Erchova, on behalf of her then-husband, Dmitry Klokov, emailed lvanka Trump on Nov. 16, 2015, offering to help the Trump campaign. “If you ask anyone who knows Russian to google my husband Dmitry Klokov, you’ll see who he is close to and that he has done Putin’s political campaigns.” The Mueller report says, “Klokov was at that time Director of External Communications for PJSC Federal Grid Company of Unified Energy System, a large Russian electricity transmission company, and had been previously employed as an aide and press secretary to Russia’s energy minister.”
Ivanka Trump forwarded the email to Cohen, who mistakenly thought Klokov was a former Olympic weightlifter. (The Washington Post reported that Ivanka Trump had been in contact during the campaign with an “Olympic weightlifter turned entrepreneur,” as first reported by Buzzfeed in June 2018.) Cohen had at least one telephone call and exchanged “several emails” with Klokov, who offered to arrange an informal meeting between Trump and Putin. Cohen sought Klokov’s help with the Moscow project, but the Mueller report said Klokov told Cohen “his outreach was not done on behalf of any business.” The two men ended their correspondence on Nov. 19, 2015, according to the Mueller report.
In addition to Sater and Klokov, the Mueller report said Mira Duma — who knew Ivanka Trump from the fashion industry — passed along invitations in December 2015 to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum from Sergei Prikhodko, a deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation, for Ivanka and Donald Trump. Trump declined.
On March 17, 2016, Prikhodko sent an email to longtime Trump aide Rhona Graff “again inviting Trump to participate in the 2016 Forum in St. Petersburg.” She again declined, citing the hectic campaign.
At around the same time, Anton Kobyakov, who is described by the Mueller report as “a Russian presidential aide involved with the Roscongress Foundation,” asked Robert Foresman, a New York banker, if Trump could speak at the St. Petersburg forum. “With no response forthcoming, Foresman twice sent reminders to Graff — first on April 26 and again on April 30, 2016,” the report said.
Graff forwarded Foresman’s emails along to then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and policy adviser Stephen Miller, but there was no evidence anyone from the campaign responded.
Papadopoulos meets with Mifsud
On April 26, 2016, Papadopoulos, a campaign foreign policy adviser, met in London with a professor he “understood to have substantial connections to Russian government officials,” according to a plea agreement that Papadopoulos reached with the Justice Department. At the meeting, the professor — later identified as Joseph Mifsud — told Papadopoulos that the Russian government had “dirt” on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” the plea agreement said.
After the London meeting, Papadopoulos “continued to correspond with Campaign officials” and Russian intermediaries “in an effort to arrange a meeting between the Campaign and the Russian government,” according to the plea agreement. Mifsud introduced Papadopoulos to two others: a “Female Russian National,” who Papadopoulos believed had “connections to Russian government officials,” and “an individual in Moscow … who told defendant Papadopoulos he had connections to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” according to the agreement.
“Papadopoulos shared information about Russian ‘dirt’ with people outside of the Campaign, and the [Special Counsel’s] Office investigated whether he also provided it to a Campaign official,” the Mueller report says. “Papadopoulos and the Campaign officials with whom he interacted told the [Special Counsel’s] Office that they did not recall that Papadopoulos passed them the information. Throughout the relevant period of time and for several months thereafter, Papadopoulos worked with Mifsud and two Russian nationals to arrange a meeting between the Campaign and the Russian government. That meeting never came to pass.”
The report includes an image of Papadopoulos’ handwritten notes that show he spoke with Sam Clovis, Trump’s national campaign co-chairman, and Walid Phares, a campaign foreign policy adviser, about the three of them attending “potential September 2016 meetings in London with representatives of the ‘office of Putin.’” The delegation would meet “without the official backing of the Campaign (‘no official letter/no message from Trump’),” according to the notes. The report said the notes were consistent with emails and Papadopoulos’ recollection of events.
The meeting did not happen. In an Aug. 15, 2016, email to Phares and Papadopoulos, Clovis said he could not “travel before the election” but he “would encourage [Papadopoulos] and Walid to make the trips, if it is feasible.” Shortly after, Papadopoulos was dismissed from the campaign “after an interview he gave to the Russian news agency Interfax generated adverse publicity,” the report said.
The Center for National Interest speech
On April 27, 2016, Donald Trump delivered a foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., vowing to improve relations with Russia by finding shared interests, such as combating terrorism. The event was sponsored by the magazine of the Center for National Interest, a right-leaning think tank headed by Dimitri K. Simes.
At the event, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, briefly spoke to Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. Sen. Jeff Sessions, who at the time headed the Trump campaign’s national security team, also attended, and there were media reports claiming that he spoke with Kislyak during the event at a “private meeting.” But Sessions has said he could not recall doing so.
Kislyak was one of four foreign ambassadors at the event, Kushner told congressional investigators in July 2017.
“[W]e shook hands, exchanged brief pleasantries and I thanked them for attending the event and said I hoped they would like candidate Trump’s speech and his ideas for a fresh approach to America’s foreign policy,” Kushner said. “Each exchange lasted less than a minute; some gave me their business cards and invited me to lunch at their embassies. I never took them up on any of these invitations and that was the extent of the interactions.”
Kushner’s account is consistent with the Mueller report, which also said it found no evidence that Sessions spoke with Kislyak. “It appears that, if a conversation occurred at the pre-speech reception, it was a brief one conducted in public view, similar to the exchange between Kushner and Kislyak.”
The Mueller report also says that Trump and Sessions did not meet with Kislyak after the speech. “The Office found no evidence that Kislyak conversed with either Trump or Sessions after the speech, or would have had the opportunity to do so,” the report said.
Trump, Russians at NRA convention
Prior to the National Rifle Association annual convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in May 2016, Paul Erickson, a Republican strategist, emailed Rick Dearborn, a Trump campaign official, with the subject line “Kremlin Connection.” Erickson wrote that “President Putin’s emissary” will be at the NRA convention and would like to meet with Trump and present Mrs. Trump with a gift.
“Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump,” Erickson wrote. “He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election.” (This and other emails about the NRA meeting were disclosed in separate House intelligence reports written by the Republican staff and Democratic staff in March 2018.)
On May 16, 2016, Rick Clay, an advocate for Christian causes, emailed Dearborn with the subject line “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite.” Clay wrote that Russia would like to set up a private meeting at the NRA convention between Trump and Alexander Torshin, who at the time was the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank. (The New York Times would later write about Clay’s email, which also was included in the House intelligence committee reports.)
A day later, Dearborn forwarded Clay’s email to Kushner, Paul Manafort, then the campaign’s convention manager, and Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, calling it an “interesting request.”
Trump spoke at the NRA convention on May 20. Torshin also attended the convention and met with Donald Trump Jr., who later told the House intelligence committee that he spoke to Torshin about “stuff as it related to shooting and hunting,” and the Republican staff report said no other witnesses interviewed by the committee “provided a contrary recollection.”
There was no mention of Trump Jr.’s meeting with Torshin at the NRA convention in the Mueller report.
Trump Tower meeting
On June 3, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. received an email about information that could be damaging to the Clinton campaign that was purportedly “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
The email from music publicist Rob Goldstone said that Russian pop star Emin Agalarov reached out to him on behalf of his father, Aras Agalarov, a Russian real estate developer who has ties to Donald Trump Sr., including his 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
“Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting,” Goldstone wrote. “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.”
Goldstone asks if Donald Trump Jr. would speak to Emin. The younger Trump responds, saying, “[I]f it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
On June 9, the president’s son, son-in-law and Manafort all met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower. Goldstone, Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist, Ike Kaveladze, a vice president of a Russian real estate company, and Anatoli Samochornov, a translator and a former State Department contractor, also attended the meeting. In a statement to congressional investigators on July 24, 2017, Kushner said this about the meeting: “No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign, there was no follow up to the meeting that I am aware of, I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted.”
The president denied knowing anything about the Trump Tower meeting at the time it occurred. “I did NOT know of the meeting with my son, Don jr.,” the president tweeted on July 27, 2018. “Sounds to me like someone is trying to make up stories in order to get himself out of an unrelated jam (Taxi cabs maybe?).” That “someone” was his former lawyer, Cohen, who told federal prosecutors and Congress that he believes that Trump knew about the meeting.
The Mueller report provides no evidence that the president knew about the meeting in advance or at the time.
“In an interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee, however, Trump Jr. stated that he did not inform his father about the emails or upcoming meeting,” the report said. “Similarly, neither Manafort nor Kushner recalled anyone informing candidate Trump of the meeting, including Trump Jr. President Trump has stated to this Office, in written answers to questions, that he has ‘no recollection of learning at the time’ that his son, Manafort, or ‘Kushner was considering participating in a meeting in June 2016 concerning potentially negative information about Hillary Clinton.’”
Manafort offers ‘private briefings’ to Russian oligarch
Two weeks after being elevated to campaign manager on June 20, 2016, Manafort offered to give “private briefings” on the 2016 campaign to Russian aluminum billionaire Oleg Deripaska, as reported by the Washington Post in a Sept. 20, 2017, story.
The Post said there was no evidence that any briefings took place, and Manafort’s spokesman, Jason Maloni, said his client was offering a “routine” status update on the campaign.
“Manafort has alleged to the Office that he was willing to brief Deripaska only on public campaign matters and gave an example: why Trump selected Mike Pence as the Vice-Presidential running mate,” the Mueller report said. “Manafort said he never gave Deripaska a briefing. Manafort noted that if Trump won, Deripaska would want to use Manafort to advance whatever interests Deripaska had in the United States and elsewhere.”
Gates, Manafort’s business partner, told federal investigators that Manafort’s role in the Trump campaign “would be ‘good for business’ and increase the likelihood that Manafort would be paid the approximately $2 million he was owed for previous political consulting work in Ukraine.” The report also said that Gates “believed Manafort sent polling data to Deripaska.”
Page meets with Russians in Moscow
Page would later tell the House intelligence committee that during his visit to Moscow he briefly met with Russian government officials, including Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich. He also confirmed for the committee that on the day of his speech in Moscow he wrote an email to campaign policy aides J.D. Gordon and Tera Dahl about his trip that said: “On a related front, I’ll send you guys a readout soon regarding some incredible insights and outreach I’ve received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.”
But, under questioning, Page said that he gained those “incredible insights” from listening to Dvorkovich’s speech and reading the Moscow newspapers — not from his meetings with Russian government officials.
The Mueller report said this of Page’s July trip to Moscow: “The Office was unable to obtain additional evidence or testimony about who Page may have met or communicated within Moscow; thus, Page’s activities in Russia — as described in his emails with the Campaign — were not fully explained.”
The FBI had received repeated approvals from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, known as the FISA court, to monitor the communications of Page, beginning in October 2016 and extending well into 2017. But the Mueller report stated, “The investigation did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.”
Sessions meets with Kislyak
On July 20, 2016, Sessions delivered a speech during an event at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland that was sponsored by the State Department, Heritage Foundation and others. After his speech, Sessions had what he would later describe as a “brief encounter” with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the U.S. The event was attended by somewhere between 50 ambassadors, according to the Washington Post, and 100 ambassadors, according to Heritage.
Sessions met privately with Kislyak a second time in the senator’s office on Sept. 8, 2016. Sessions, after becoming Trump’s first attorney general, acknowledged when he recused himself from the Russia investigation in March 2017 that he spoke twice with Kislyak, although he failed to disclose those meetings during his confirmation hearings when asked if the Trump campaign communicated with Russia.
The Mueller report, citing Sessions’ statements to investigators, said that Sessions raised concerns about Russia’s behavior, such as its aggression in Ukraine and Moldova. “Kislyak offered explanations on these issues and complained about NATO land forces in former Soviet-bloc countries that border Russia,” the report said.
Pete Landrum, a Sessions aide who attended the meeting, recalled that Kislyak called the U.S. presidential election “an interesting campaign.” The report goes on to say, “Sessions also recalled Kislyak saying that the Russian government was receptive to the overtures Trump had laid out during his campaign.”
There was no evidence that the two men met during the rest of the campaign after the Sept. 8, 2016, meeting, the report said.
Trump asks for Russia’s help
At a press conference on July 27, 2016, Trump said he doubted that Russia was responsible for hacking the Democratic National Committee’s computer network, but he invited Russia to find the 30,000 personal emails that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s staff deleted when she left office.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said.
Trump later said he was being “sarcastic” in inviting Russia to find the emails. But, on or about that same day, Russian military intelligence officers attempted “to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office,” according to the July 13, 2018, indictment filed against 12 Russian military intelligence officers for waging cyberattacks on the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the DNC and the Clinton campaign.
“Throughout 2016, the Trump Campaign expressed interest in Hillary Clinton’s private email server and whether approximately 30,000 emails from that server had in fact been permanently destroyed, as reported by the media,” the Mueller report said. “Several individuals associated with the Campaign were contacted in 2016 about various efforts to obtain the missing Clinton emails and other stolen material in support of the Trump Campaign. Some of these contacts were met with skepticism, and nothing came of them; others were pursued to some degree. The investigation did not find evidence that the Trump Campaign recovered any such Clinton emails, or that these contacts were part of a coordinated effort between Russia and the Trump Campaign.”
Manafort shares polling data with Kilimnik
In January, federal prosecutors accidentally disclosed that Manafort gave internal campaign polling data to a business associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, although it was unclear why or what Kilimnik did with it. A March 27, 2018, court document described Kilimnik as a “former Russian Intelligence Officer” who has ties to the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency. The Russian contact was identified in court papers only as “Person A,” but the New York Times reported he is “Konstantin V. Kilimnik, who for years was Mr. Manafort’s right-hand man in Ukraine.”
Kilimnik oversaw the Kiev office for Davis Manafort Partners Inc.
The Mueller report, citing Gates, said that “Manafort instructed him in April 2016 or early May 2016 to send Kilimnik [Trump] Campaign internal polling data and other updates so that Kilimnik, in turn, could share it with Ukrainian oligarchs.”
“Gates reported to the [Special Counsel’s] Office that he did not know why Manafort wanted him to send polling information, but Gates thought it was a way to showcase Manafort’s work, and Manafort wanted to open doors to jobs after the Trump Campaign ended,” the report said, noting that Gates’ account of the polling data is consistent with emails that Kilimnik sent to U.S. associates.
Again citing Gates, the report said the polling data “included discussion of ‘battleground’ states, which Manafort identified as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.”
But the Mueller report did not draw any conclusion about how the polling data was used or why Manafort shared it.
“The Office could not reliably determine Manafort’s purpose in sharing internal polling data with Kilimnik during the campaign period,” the report said.
Stone’s Connection with WikiLeaks, Guccifer 2.0
On Aug. 2, 2016, Jerome Corsi, a conservative author, told Roger Stone, an informal adviser and friend to Trump, that WikiLeaks plans to release “very damaging” information about Clinton.
“Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps,” Corsi wrote, referring to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. “One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.… Time to let more than [the Clinton Campaign chairman] to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton].” (The contents of Corsi’s email are contained in a statement of offense drafted by the special counsel’s office and released by Corsi on Nov. 27, 2018.)
Six days later, Stone said during a speech to the Southwest Broward Republican Organization that he had “communicated with Assange.” He said, “I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there’s no telling what the October surprise may be.”
In mid-August, Stone also exchanged Twitter messages with Guccifer 2.0, which the U.S. intelligence community later publicly identified as the “persona” used by Russian military intelligence to release hacked emails to media outlets and WikiLeaks.
The exchange of Twitter messages was initiated by Stone after Guccifer 2.0’s Twitter account was reinstated after being suspended. In one message, Guccifer told Stone, “please tell me if I can help u anyhow.”
Stone has been indicted on seven counts, including making false statements, witness tampering and obstruction. The indictment accuses Stone of lying to the House intelligence committee about, among other things, “his possession of documents pertinent to” the committee’s investigation and “his communications with the Trump Campaign” about WikiLeaks’ possession of material that could be damaging to Clinton and her campaign.
The redacted Mueller report made no public reference to Stone’s involvement with WikiLeaks or Guccifer.
Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks
On Sept. 20, 2016, WikiLeaks’ verified Twitter account sent Donald Trump Jr. a private direct message: “A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch. The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?”
A day later, Trump Jr. responds, “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around.” This was the first known contact between WikiLeaks and Trump Jr., who would later release this and other direct messages he exchanged with WikiLeaks on Twitter from Sept. 20, 2016, to July 11, 2017.
On Oct. 3, 2016, WikiLeaks sent another direct message on Twitter to Trump Jr.
“Hiya, it’d be great if you guys could comment on/push this story,” WikiLeaks wrote, referring to a comment that Hillary Clinton allegedly made about Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder. An hour and a half later, Trump Jr. responded, “Already did that earlier today. It’s amazing what she can get away with.” (A day earlier, the conservative website True Pundit wrote that Clinton in 2010 asked whether the U.S. could “just drone” Assange, citing anonymous State Department sources. Clinton said she could not recall making such a comment.)
In yet another direct message on Twitter, WikiLeaks asked Trump Jr., on Oct. 12, 2016, to have his father tweet a link to hacked Democratic emails that can be found on WikiLeaks: “Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications. Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us wlsearch.tk. i.e you guys can get all your followers digging through the content. There’s many great stories there the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows will find it.”
That day, Donald Trump Sr. tweeted, “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!” The tweet does not include a link to WikiLeaks, and it is not clear if the tweet is in response to WikiLeaks’ request.
“Two days later, Trump Jr. publicly tweeted the wlsearch.tk link,” according to the Mueller report, which otherwise said little about Trump Jr.’s communications with WikiLeaks beyond recapping what was already known.
Backdoor channel to Russia
After Trump won the election, Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, and Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a national security adviser to the campaign, met with Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, at Trump Tower on Nov. 30, 2016.
The Trump White House did not acknowledge the meeting occurred until March 2017. The content of the conversation was not disclosed at that time, but in May 2017 the Washington Post reported that Kushner and Kislyak “discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin.”
In a statement to congressional investigators on July 24, 2017, Kushner said Kislyak “wanted to convey information from what he called his ‘generals’” about “U.S. policy in Syria.” Kushner said the exchange of information did not occur during the transition because neither party could arrange a secure line of communication.
“I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn. The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. Nothing else occurred,” according to Kushner’s statement.
The Mueller report said the meeting lasted a half hour and, ultimately, nothing came of it.
“Kislyak floated the idea of having Russian generals brief the Transition Team on the topic using a secure communications line,” the report said. “After Flynn explained that there was no secure line in the Transition Team offices, Kushner asked Kislyak if they could communicate using secure facilities at the Russian Embassy. Kislyak quickly rejected that idea.”
About a week later, the Russian Embassy attempted to set up a second meeting between Kushner and Kislyak, but Kushner rejected it.
“Kushner told the [Special Counsel’s] Office that he did not want to take another meeting because he had already decided Kislyak was not the right channel for him to communicate with Russia, so he arranged to have one of his assistants, Avi Berkowitz, meet with Kislyak in his stead,” the report said.
Kushner’s meeting with Russian bank
On Dec. 13, 2016, Kushner met with Sergey N. Gorkov, the chief of Vnesheconombank — a Russian state-run bank that had been sanctioned by the Obama administration in 2014 after Russia had annexed Crimea. Under the sanctions, U.S. entities are prohibited from conducting any financial deals with Vnesheconombank. Gorkov was appointed to head the bank by Putin.
The meeting was not revealed until March 2017. At that time, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer explained that “throughout the campaign and the transition, Jared served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials until we had State Department officials up.” But in a statement, the bank said Gorkov met with Kushner in his capacity as the then-chief executive officer of Kushner Companies, his family’s real estate conglomerate.
In his July 24, 2017, statement to congressional investigators, Kushner says he spoke to Gorkov for 20 to 25 minutes, and “he told me a little about his bank and made some statements about the Russian economy.” Kushner said, “At no time was there any discussion about my companies, business transactions, real estate projects, loans, banking arrangements or any private business of any kind.”
There was no “substantive follow-up after the meeting,” the Mueller report said.
“The investigation did not resolve the apparent conflict in the accounts of Kushner and Gorkov or determine whether the meeting was diplomatic in nature (as Kushner stated), focused on business (as VEB’s public statement indicated), or whether it involved some combination of those matters or other matters,” the Mueller report said. “Regardless, the investigation did not identify evidence that Kushner and Gorkov engaged in any substantive follow-up after the meeting.”
One of Gorkov’s assistants attempted to set up another meeting, and some text messages were exchanged with Kushner’s assistant, Avi Berkowitz. But Berkowitz told investigators that “he did not respond to the meeting request in light of the press coverage regarding the Russia investigation, and did not tell Kushner about the meeting request,” according to the Mueller report.
Flynn’s calls to Kislyak on sanctions
On Dec. 29, 2016, with less than a month remaining in office, President Barack Obama announced “a number of actions in response to the Russian government’s aggressive harassment of U.S. officials and cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election in 2016.”
In a phone call with Kislyak that day, Flynn asked that Russia refrain from retaliating to the U.S. sanctions. Kislyak agreed that Russia would “moderate its response to those sanctions” as a result of his request, according to charges later filed against Flynn by the special counsel’s office.
Flynn would later plead guilty to giving false statements to FBI agents about two discussions he had with Kislyak, including his Dec. 29 conversation about sanctions.
But Flynn was not acting on his own. The Mueller report said that “Flynn made the call immediately after speaking to a senior Transition Team official (K.T. McFarland) about what to communicate to Kislyak. Flynn then spoke with McFarland again after the Kislyak call to report on the substance of that conversation.” McFarland would later serve under Flynn as the deputy national security adviser.
Trump has said that he did not direct Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russians, but the Mueller report indicates that the president-elect may have been aware that Flynn would talk to Kislyak about the sanctions on the day they were imposed.
The report says that “McFarland met with the President-Elect and senior officials and briefed them on the sanctions and Russia’s possible responses” about one hour after she had talked to Flynn.
“Incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus recalled that McFarland may have mentioned at the meeting that the sanctions situation could be ‘cooled down’ and not escalated. McFarland recalled that at the end of the meeting, someone may have mentioned to the President-Elect that Flynn was speaking to the Russian Ambassador that evening. McFarland did not recall any response by the President-Elect,” the report said. “Priebus recalled that the President-Elect viewed the sanctions as an attempt by the Obama Administration to embarrass him by delegitimizing his election.”