Tracking the Trump Team’s Conflicting or False Statements on Russia (Chart)

 

This is an effort to catalog instances when the Trump team’s assertions about their connections to Russia contradict what they’ve said in the past and the facts as they’ve been reported by multiple news organizations and the US intelligence community. 

 

The Trump team’s position … But …
Trump “stayed away” from Russia

At his Jan. 11 press conference, Trump said about his business and Russia, “I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away. And I have no loans with Russia.”

That same day, Trump tweeted, “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!”

 

While it might be true that Trump has no current deals in Russia, it’s not for lack of trying. As The New York Times reported, Trump has been unsuccessfully chasing real estate deals in Russia for three decades.

According to the Times report, from 2006 to 2008, Trump’s company also “applied for several trademarks in Russia, including Trump, Trump Tower, Trump International Hotel and Tower, and Trump Home.”

In a 2007 deposition, when asked about a project for a Trump Tower in Moscow,Trump stated: “It would be a nonexclusive deal, so it would not have precluded me from doing other deals in Moscow, which was very important to me.”

In 2008, Donald Trump Jr., Trump’s eldest son, said at a real estate conference in New York, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets … We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.” According to USA Today, “During his 2008 Moscow visit, Trump Jr. said he traveled to Russia a half-dozen times in 18 months looking for deals.”

In July, Trump acknowledged in a press conference that he’d sold a mansion in Palm Beach, Fl., to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, for $100 million in 2008, which Trump had purchased for $40 million. After purchasing the mansion, Rybolovlev never lived in it.

In 2013, Trump brought the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow, tweeting that it was “a big deal that will bring our countries together!”

In November, 2013, Trump tweeted that he’d had a fantastic trip to Moscow, and “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.”

Following the trip, he also said, “I am currently in talks with several Russian companies to build a skyscraper on the model of Trump Tower in New York.” That plan eventually fizzled out as it had after similar previous attempts.

Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov, who helped finance the Miss Universe pageant in  Moscow, told the Washington Post, that the Trump Tower Moscow project “is on hold while Trump runs for president.”

As for having no current financial ties to Russia (loans or deals), Trump’s tax returns, which he refuses to release, would confirm or disprove that.

“Never been to Prague in my life”

One of the allegations in the unsubstantiated Steele dossier about Trump’s collusion with Russia is that Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen had a secret meeting with representatives from the Kremlin in Prague, Czech Republic, in August or September, 2016.

On the night Buzzfeed published the document, Cohen tweeted a photo of his U.S. passport with the caption: “I have never been to Prague in my life. #fakenews” Trump retweeted Cohen’s tweet.

That same night, he told The Atlantic, “I’ve never been to Czech [Republic].”

At Trump’s Jan. 11 press conference, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer repeated, “Mr. Cohen has never been in Prague.”

Spicer also said the Trump team asked Cohen to provide his U.S. passport to prove he hadn’t been to Prague when the dossier claimed he’d been there.  Cohen “did not leave or enter the United States during this time,” Spicer said.

To further prove his whereabouts, Cohen said his daughter posted a photo on Instagram this summer showing the two of them in Los Angeles. He included the hashtag #NotPrague

 

In an interview conducted the week before the dossier was made public, Cohen told the Wall Street Journal that he traveled to Prague in 2001.

Cohen did travel to Europe this past summer. He told The Atlantic, he took a vacation to Italy in July.

Trump doesn’t know Carter Page

The unsubstantiated Steele dossier also claims that Carter Page, who was a foreign affairs adviser to Trump, held secret meetings in Moscow over the summer with Igor Sechin, the chairman of Rosneft, Russia’s state oil company, and a loyal ally of Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned Sechin, along with other Russian officials and businessmen, in August 2014, over Russia’s “illegitimate and unlawful actions in the Ukraine.”

At the Jan. 11 press conference, in prepared remarks, Spicer said, “Carter Page is an individual who the president-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign.”

 

In a March interview with the Washington Post, Trump personally listed Page as a member of his initial foreign policy team, which at the time included five people.

(For background on Page, he worked for Merrill Lynch in Moscow from 2004 to 2007, and has said he’s invested in Gazprom, Russia’s state-controlled energy company. But many Russian insiders and experts had never heard of Page before Trump announced him on his team in March, reported Politico.)

In a speech in June, Page, “hailed Putin as stronger and more reliable than President Obama,” according the Washington Post. A month later, he traveled to Moscow to give a speech in which he criticized U.S. Russia policy.

By August, Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said Page was an “informal foreign policy adviser” who “does not speak for Mr. Trump or the campaign,” according the Post.

By September, according to Politico, the Trump campaign was saying they didn’t know who he was.

That same month, news broke that U.S. intelligence officials were investigating Page’s contacts with Russia. U.S. officials were looking into intelligence reports that Page had met with Sechin and Igor Diveykin, a former Russian security official, according to Yahoo News.

Days later, Page told the Washington Post that he was taking a leave of absence from the campaign, and described the allegations against him as “complete garbage.”

In December, Page was back in Moscow, saying he was meeting with “business leaders and thought leaders.”

At a public lecture in Moscow on December 12, 2016 and in an answer to a question from Sputnik News about his relationship to Trump, Page said (video here) “I made a commitment not to talk about the internal work that I did at the campaign. I have certainly been in a number of meetings with him.”

Why, when and how many times did Flynn talk to the Russian ambassador?

The Washington Post’s David Ignatius  reported Jan. 12 that retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security adviser, “phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29.” The reported calls happened on the same day the Obama administration announced new sanctions against Russia and kicked out 35 Russian officials in response to Russian hacking.

In a Jan. 13 update to his column, Ignatius wrote that a Trump official told him the calls happened before the sanctions were announced.

The Trump official also told Ignatius that the “initial call was to express condolences to Kislyak after the terrorist killing of the Russian ambassador to Ankara Dec. 19.”

Ignatius reported that the Trump official said, Flynn “made a second call Dec. 28 to express condolences for the shoot-down of a Russian plane carrying a choir to Syria. In that second call, Flynn also discussed plans for a Trump-Putin conversation sometime after the inauguration. In addition, a second Trump official said the Dec. 28 call included an invitation from Kislyak for a Trump administration official to visit Kazakhstan for a conference in late January.”

On Jan. 13, NBC News reported that Spicer said Flynn first texted Kislyak on Dec. 25 to wish him a merry Christmas. On Dec. 28, Kislyak sent Flynn a text message asking if they could speak by phone, which they did the following day — Dec. 29.

According to NBC News, “Spicer said there was nothing unusual about the call, but White House officials told NBC News it was not coordinated with them.”

On January 15, Vice-President-elect Pence said, “I talked to General Flynn yesterday, and the conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to new U.S. sanctions against Russia and the expulsion of diplomats.”

 

Reuters also reported on the Dec. 29 calls, noting that Flynn and Kislyak held five calls that day, according to “three sources familiar with the matter.” The calls took place “between the time the Russian embassy was told about U.S. sanctions and the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he had decided against reprisals.”

One transition team official acknowledged Flynn had a call on Dec. 29 with Kislyak but said, the conversation was about logistics for a later call between Putin and Trump.

Did the IC brief Trump on the Steele dossier?

In the initial Jan. 10 CNN report that broke the news about the existence of the Steele dossier, it says the allegations were presented to Trump Jan. 6 “in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.”

CNN reported it had “confirmed that the synopsis was included in the documents that were presented to Mr. Trump but cannot confirm if it was discussed in his meeting with the intelligence chiefs.”

After the news broke, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told NBC’s Seth Meyers on Jan. 10 that the CNN report said intelligence officials never briefed Trump or President Obama. Meyers rebutted that Trump had been briefed, to which Conway replied Trump “has said that he’s not aware of that.”

Then, NBC News reported Jan. 11 that “a senior intelligence official with knowledge of preparations for the briefing” said Trump had not been told about the damaging allegations during the intelligence briefing on Russian hacking.

On Jan. 11, Conway said to CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “why do they not tell the president-elect about it? Because your own reporting says that there’s no confirmation that they briefed him orally. … why did they not brief him?”

When asked at his Jan. 11 press briefing whether he’d been briefed on the dossier, Trump said, “These readings as you know are confidential, classified, so, I’m not allowed to talk about what went on in a meeting,” Trump said. “We had many witnesses in that meeting, many of them with us. And I will say, again, I think it’s a disgrace that information would be let out. I saw the information; I read the information outside of that meeting.”

 

On Jan. 12, NBC News changed their initial story and confirmed what other news outlets, including CNN and  ABC News, were also reporting: “It was FBI Director James Comey himself who pulled Trump aside after the briefing and spoke with him one-on-one about the so-called ‘dossier.’”

CNN also reported, “All four intelligence chiefs had decided that Comey would be the one who would handle the sensitive discussion with the President-elect.”

Vice President Biden confirmed that he and President Obama were briefed at the time. Biden’s office also said the intelligence community felt obligated to tell Obama because they were planning to inform Trump.

Was there any contact between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin?

Trump did not answer this direct question during the press conference. The reporter who asked, attached to it a question about Russian hacking, which Trump focused on in his lengthy response, allowing him to avoid the first part of the question about contacts with Russia leading up to the election. The press conference was then adjourned. When CNN’s Jim Acosta tried to ask the question earlier, Trump yelled at him, “Your organization is terrible…You are fake news,” and refused to take a question from him. After the press conference, reporters followed Trump to the elevators in Trump Tower, and Trump told them: No, no one on his team had any contact with the Russians (see also here).

When asked the question on Face the Nation on Jan. 15, Vice President-elect Mike Pence said, “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.”

Fox News’ Chris Wallace asked Pence that same day, “Was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had?”

Pence’s answer: “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 followed up, “if there were any contacts, sir, I’m just trying to get an answer.”

Pence: “Of course not.  Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?”

On Oct. 31, The New York Times reported that “Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.” The story also says that F.B.I. and intelligence officials believe that hacking into Democratic emails “was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump,” a statement that no longer holds true since the intelligence community released its declassified report on Russian hacking, and made clear it believed Russia’s goal in the end was to get Trump elected.

 

The BBC and McClatchy have both reported that the FBI “obtained a warrant on Oct. 15 from the highly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing investigators access to bank records and other documents about potential payments and money transfers related to Russia” as part of a larger investigation into “how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win.”Federal investigators would have been able to obtain such a warrant only after proving to the court that they already had probable cause.

The BBC reported that “a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign” was passed “to the US by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States.”

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told The Associated Press in a November interview “that Russian experts had contacts with people in both the Trump and Clinton campaigns. He said such contacts are ‘quite natural, quite normal.’”

Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, said the Russian government maintained contacts with members of Trump’s “immediate entourage” during the U.S. presidential campaign, reported the New York Times.  

“Mr. Ryabkov said officials in the Russian Foreign Ministry were familiar with many of the people he described as Mr. Trump’s entourage. ‘I cannot say that all, but a number of them maintained contacts with Russian representatives,’ Mr. Ryabkov said.”

Is Russia responsible for hacking the DNC?

Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and shared its emails with Wikileaks.

As far back as July, when cybersecurity firms were already pointing the finger at Russia, Trump said, “It’s probably not Russia,” suggesting it could have been China or “somebody sitting in his bed.”

In December, he tweeted, “Unless you catch ‘hackers’ in the act, it is very hard to determine who was doing the hacking. Why wasn’t this brought up before election?”

Earlier this month, he tweeted, “’Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

He also tweeted, “Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ – why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!”

 

The intelligence community’s unclassified report stated that it has “high confidence” that Russia hacked the DNC, gave the information to Wikileaks, and also published the information through the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com.

Following the public release of the unclassified intelligence report, Trump admitted at his Jan. 11 press conference, “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia.” However, he later added in answer to another question at the event, “It could have been others also.”

Trump was not asked about whether he accepts the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia passed the DNC information to Wikileaks, or used Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release the DNC information.

From Rep. Mike Pompeo, Trump’s pick to lead the CIA, to his Defense Secretary nominee, retired Gen. James Mattis, Trump’s cabinet picks have testified on Capitol Hill that they see no reason to doubt the intelligence community’s assessments.

Manafort denies Trump campaign changed RNC platform

In July, while he was still chairman of the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort toldMeet the Press” that neither he nor the Trump campaign had anything to do with last-minute changes to the Republican Party’s views on providing weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian-backed forces.

The platform had originally called for “providing lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine but that was replaced with the vaguer pledge of “appropriate assistance.”

Manafort told Meet the Press, “It absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign.”

Manafort’s ties to Russia, and particularly his lobbying work on behalf of ousted Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Putin, came under fire this summer, leading to his eventual resignation from the Trump campaign. He was replaced by Breitbart News Executive Steve Bannon.

Manafort has reportedly returned to the Trump orbit, but not in any official capacity and his role has been downplayed by Trump’s spokespeople. He owns a condo on the 43rd floor of Trump Tower in New York.

 

Those present for the negotiations for the platform’s final language told the Washington Post they worked directly with people from the Trump campaign.

In addition to the Republican delegates at the convention that said the Trump campaign was responsible for changing the Party’s views on Ukraine, Donald Trump himself didn’t deny it.

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked Trump, “Why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?”

Trump responded,” I wasn’t involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved.”

Stephanopoulos: “Your people were.”

Trump: “Yes, I was not involved in that. I’d like to — I’d have to take a look at it. But I was not involved in that.”

Stephanopoulos: “Do you know what they did?”

Trump: “They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved.”

Has Trump met Putin?

Over the last year, Trump has said he’s never met Putin.

He told Stephanopoulos in July, “I don’t think I’ve ever met him. I never met him. I don’t think I’ve ever met him… I mean if he’s in the same room or something. But I don’t think so…I don’t know what it means by having a relationship. I mean he was saying very good things about me, but I don’t have a relationship with him. I didn’t meet him. I haven’t spent time with him. I didn’t have dinner with him. I didn’t go hiking with him. I don’t know — and I wouldn’t know him from Adam except I see his picture and I would know what he looks like.”

In July 2016, Trump also said he has never spoken to Putin. “I have nothing to do with Putin,” Trump told reporters. “I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t know anything about him other than he will respect me.”

 

Speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. in 2014, Trump said, “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.”

He also told a conservative radio host Michael Savage in October 2015 that he met Putin “one time … a long time ago” and that he “got along with him great.”

In a GOP debate in November 2015, Trump said of Putin, “I got to know him very well” referencing the time he and Putin appeared on (different segments during) the same 60 Minutes episode.

 

Image: Mark Wilson / Getty

 

About the Author(s)

Kate Brannen

Editorial Director of Just Security; nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council; previously senior reporter covering the Pentagon for Foreign Policy Follow her on Twitter (@K8brannen).