I recently published a timeline called, “Russian Provocations and Dangerous Acts since January 20, 2017,” Below is a new timeline of publicly reported events of Donald J. Trump’s acts of accommodation toward Russia since the U.S. presidential election. Some readers may view several of these steps as acts of rapprochement to try to develop a more cooperative relationship with Russia, for example, to fight common enemies and avoid dangerous escalation. Other readers may view several of these steps as incriminating evidence of quid pro quo or a dangerous appeasement to an adversary who attacked and will likely attack again the U.S. democratic system.
Am I missing anything? If so, tell us over at Just Security’s or my Twitter account.
November 8-May 9: May 9 marks the final day that FBI Director James Comey serves in office. In his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey is later asked (by Senator Joe Manchin) whether President Trump showed “any concern or interest or curiosity about what the Russians were doing.” Comey responds that he does not recall any conversations with Trump about Russian election interference during the former FBI Director’s time in office. Comey is also asked (by Senator Martin Heinrich): “Did the President in any of those interactions that you’ve shared with us today ask you what you should be doing or what our government should be doing or the intelligence community to protect America against Russian interference in our election system?” Comey says he does not recall any conversation like that–“never.” (Politico – full transcript of testimony)
November 14: In their first official phone call, President-Elect Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin agree on the “absolutely unsatisfactory state of bilateral relations” between Russia and the U.S., and the two leaders agree to meet at some point in the future. (New York Times)
November 18: President-Elect Trump names retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor, stirring controversy in part because of Flynn’s ties to Russia. (Washington Post) In 2015, Flynn accepted payment from RT – a Russian propaganda channel – to attend the station’s gala event in Moscow. President Putin also attended the gala, and RT later publishes photos of the two dining next to each other.
Early-December: Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak meets with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and Trump Senior Advisor Jared Kushner in Trump Tower. The meeting is not disclosed to the public until March 2017. According to the White House in March, its purpose was to “establish a line of communication.” (New York Times). It is later revealed that in the meeting, Kushner suggested setting up a secure channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin, to be hosted at the Russian embassy or consulate. (Washington Post)
December 12: President-Elect Trump officially nominates Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, drawing some controversy around Tillerson’s close relationship with Russia, having previously engaged in joint ventures with Rosneft, a state-backed Russian oil company, while CEO of Exxon-Mobil, and having received the Order of Friendship from Russia in 2013. (New York Times)
Mid-December (possibly the 13th or 14th, according to flight data reviewed by the Washington Post): Senior Trump Advisor Jared Kushner meets with Sergey Gorkov, chairman of Russia’s government-owned Vnesheconombank (VEB) and a close ally of President Putin, at Russian Ambassador Kislyak’s request. The bank was placed on the sanctions list following Russia’s annexation of Crimea. (New York Times)
December 29: Shortly after the White House notifies Russia of sanctions that the Obama administration will impose for election interference, Michael Flynn speaks with Russian Ambassador Kislyak. During the phone call, Flynn discusses the sanctions. According to several current and former officials who read transcripts of the call, Flynn told Kislyak that Russia should not overreact to impending sanctions for election interference because the Trump administration would be in a position to revisit the sanctions and change policy toward Russia. (Washington Post)
December 29: Within four hours of the Obama White House’s announced sanctions against Russia for election interference, President-Elect Trump issues a written statement saying “it’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things.” (Fox News Politics)
December 30: Following Russia’s surprise turnaround decision not to respond to the U.S. sanctions in kind, President-Elect Trump tweets: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” (Twitter) Putin’s decision came as a surprise in part because Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had earlier said in televised remarks, “Of course, we cannot leave these sanctions unanswered … Reciprocity is the law of diplomacy and international relations.” (ABC News).
January 11: The United Arab Emirates helps set up a secret meeting in the Seychelles between Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and a Trump supporter (and brother of Betsy DeVos), and a Russian official close to President Putin whose identity is not disclosed. The apparent purpose of the meeting is reportedly to test Russia’s commitment to Iran and to set up a communication channel between President-Elect Trump and Moscow. Both the White House and Blackwater later deny that the meeting had a diplomatic purpose. (Washington Post)
January 11: At a news conference, President-Elect Trump says he “think[s] it was Russia” that hacked the 2016 U.S. election but diminishes its significance, adding “but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people,” drawing comparisons to other incidents of hacking that have drawn less news coverage, and suggests that the DNC left itself open to hacking and deserves some blame. (CNBC)
Post-January 20: In the “early weeks” of the administration, “top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as they took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions,” until their efforts were blocked by State Department officials and members of Congress (Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff reporting with source on-the-record)
January 20-early February: National Security Advisor Michael Flynn advocates for closer military communication with Russia to fight ISIS. According to several current and former Pentagon sources, Flynn suggested that a military communications channel established to prevent in-air collisions be expanded for other purposes. Both the Pentagon and CentCom oppose Flynn’s idea. (Daily Beast)
January 26-February 13: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates meets personally with White House Counsel Don McGahn about National Security Advisor Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Kislyak in December. Yates warns the White House Counsel that Flynn’s saying that he did not discuss sanctions with the Russian Ambassador is untrue and that in her view Flynn is accordingly vulnerable to being blackmailed by Russia. Yates is fired on January 30th for refusing to enforce the immigration ban. (ABC News). It is not until February 13 that Flynn is asked to resign following a Washington Post story revealing the meeting with Yates and the White House Counsel. (New York Times)(Washington Post)
February 14:The New York Times reports that Russia has deployed a cruise missile in violation of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force (INF) treaty between the two countries. In congressional testimony, Gen. Paul Selva, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff states, “we believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility.” The administration does not issue a public statement rebuking Russia. When President Trump is asked about the violation in a February 24 interview with Reuters, he says, “To me, it’s a big deal” and that he “would bring it up” with President Putin “if and when we meet.” (New York Times; Reuters)
March 17: German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the White House for a meeting with President Trump. At the meeting, following a reporter’s request that they shake hands, Merkel asked Trump if he wanted to oblige the reporter for a handshake, but he ignores her. (BBC) Trump later tweets that it was a “GREAT” meeting, but reiterates that Germany has to invest more in NATO. (Twitter)
March 21:The State Department announces that Secretary Rex Tillerson will not attend his first NATO meeting in Brussels on April 5-6, and will instead stay in the U.S. to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Trump at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. During the same announcement, the State Department notes that Tillerson will travel to Russia in April, drawing criticism that the administration is prioritizing Russia over historical allies and the NATO alliance. (Reuters) Subsequently, the State Department offers new dates to reschedule the NATO meeting so that Tillerson can attend. (Reuters)
March 31: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets with NATO leaders in Brussels. In his remarks, Tillerson says: “As President Trump has made clear, it is no longer sustainable for the U.S. to maintain a disproportionate share of NATO’s defense expenditures. Allies must increase defense spending.” (Washington Post)
April 2-27 Response to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley
- April 2: In an interview, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley says: “Certainly I think Russia was involved in the U.S. election.” (Bloomberg)
- April 5: UN Ambassador Nikki Haley criticizes Russia for obstructing UN action on Syria and for supporting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. She says Russia made an “unconscionable choice” by opposing a resolution condemning the use of chemical weapons, and rhetorically asks “how many more children have to die before Russia cares?” (Fox News Politics)
- April 24: During a working lunch with UN Security Council ambassadors including UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, President Trump jests, “Now, does everybody like Nikki? Because if you don’t … Otherwise, she can easily be replaced.” (Washington Post)
- April 27: Secretary of State Tillerson sends UN Ambassador Haley an email instructing her that from then on her comments should be “re-cleared with Washington if they are substantively different from the building blocks, or if they are on a high-profile issue.” (New York Times)
April 23: In an Associated Press interview, President Trump expresses strong support for far right candidate Marine Le Pen in upcoming French elections; Le Pen is supported by President Putin and promises to remove France from the EU, a long-term goal for Putin. Le Pen had also visited Trump Tower in January. [AP; Politico]
May 10: Secretary of State Tillerson meets with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak and says the US would no longer require Russia to unfreeze the construction of an American consulate in St. Petersburg before it considered handing back seized Russian diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York as part of the Obama sanctions for election interference – a reversal of the position staked out two days prior by Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon. (Washington Post)
On May 10: during the Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak, President Trump:
- tells the Russian officials that he had fired the “nut job” FBI director (James Comey) who was investigating Russian election interference. Trump also says he had faced “great pressure” because of Russia, which had now been relieved. (New York Times)
- discloses highly classified information to the Russian officials. The intelligence was provided by Israel which had not authorized the U.S. to share it. (Washington Post) It is later revealed that the intelligence centered on Syrian extremist bomb-making plans, which was obtained in part through highly classified cyberoperations, the disclosure of which “infuriated” Israeli officials (New York Times) Israel subsequently changes its intelligence sharing protocols with the United States (New York Times; Voice of America)
- does not allow any US press into the Oval Office, but does allow TASS, the Russian state-owned news agency (Washington Post)
- does not disclose to press that Kislyak attends the meeting until TASS publishes photographs showing him in the room (NBC News); the White House release following the meeting only mentions Lavrov
- apparently avoids the issue of Russian election interference (in an interview afterwards, National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster refuses to confirm that Russian interference was discussed, even when asked directly about it) (ABC News).
May 10: Following the meeting with President Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov tells TASS: “At present, our dialogue is not as politicized as it used to be during Obama’s presidency. The Trump administration, including the President himself and the Secretary of State, are people of action who are willing to negotiate.” (TASS)
May 25-26: Arriving in Europe with President Trump, White House economic advisor Gary Cohn tells reporters the U.S. is “looking at” the future of sanctions on Russia. When pressed on what the U.S. position currently is, he says: “Right now we don’t have a position.” (ABC News) The following day, Cohn counters that position, saying the U.S. will not lower sanctions on Russia and, “if anything, we would probably look to get tougher.” (Politico) Continue Reading »