Right from the beginning of the Trump-Russia story, there were two big questions to be answered: If it was true that the Trump campaign and Russians got together,what were the goals of the two sides? And if they engaged in “collusion,” as it came to be called, how did it work?
We have had the answer to the first question almost from the day of Trump’s inauguration, when Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn was fired for lying about his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The Russians wanted sanctions lifted that had been imposed by the Obama administration after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Crimea. The Trump campaign sought help from the Russians getting their man elected.
As to the second question, for a long time, all we knew about were a bunch of fairly high-level contacts between Trump’s people and Kislyak. But if you’re going to conspire with a foreign power to steal an election, you don’t do it through their ambassador. We are now seeing the outlines of how the conspiracy worked below the surface of the campaign.
That’s why the sentencing yesterday of Alex van der Zwaan to 30 days in jail and a $20,000 fine is a much bigger deal than it seems. While the sentence for lying to investigators from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller may seem like a slap on the wrist, van der Zwaan points us in the direction of contacts in 2016 between the Trump campaign and agents of the GRU, the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Russian Armed Forces.
According to the indictment brought by Mueller, Van der Zwaan, a London-based lawyer for the New York City-based international law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, was charged with lying about when he was in contact with Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates and “Person A,” who has been identified as Konstantin V. Kilimnik, a former agent of the GRU.
Van der Zwaan eventually admitted to Muller’s agents that Gates told him Kilimnik was a former GRU agent, and he produced an email from Kilimnik which revealed that Kilimnik had told him “the official contract was only part of the iceberg” that could get him, Gates, and Manafort in a lot of trouble.
Van der Zwaan at first appeared to be another one of these marginal figures like George Papadopoulos who have repeatedly popped up in the Trump-Russia investigation. But in order to understand where he fits into what is now beginning to be recognized as a conspiracy by the Russian state to aid the campaign of Donald Trump, it’s necessary to go back to the summer of 2016 and have a look at the intensity of what was going on.
The Russians were very busy. Guccifer 2.0, was already releasing emails from the Democratic National Committee that had been hacked by Russian intelligence. We know now that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian intelligence agent. As the Daily Beast recently reported, the Guccifer 2.0 had failed to mask his location before logging on one day, and “working off the IP address, U.S. investigators identified Guccifer 2.0 as a particular GRU officer working out of the agency’s headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow.”
Despite the fact that a Russian hacker working for the GRU was already releasing Democratic party emails, the Trump campaign jumped at the chance to cooperate with Russians connected to the GRU. In early June, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner took control of all of the campaign’s digital operations and hired Cambridge Analytica to help with their efforts. Cambridge Analytica immediately sent a team of its experts to San Antonio, Texas, to help the Trump digital operation. Alexander Nix, the CEO of Cambridge Analytica, sent an email to Julian Assange offering his help in organizing the release of emails from the Democratic National Committee. Julian Assange had received the hacked Democratic emails from the GRU.
On June 9, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met in Trump Tower with three Russians, including the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who had contacts with Russian intelligence. The meeting was to discuss “information that would incriminate Hillary Clinton” that the Russians were bringing from the Crown Prosecutor of Russia.
In early July, Manafort sent an email using his campaign email account to Konstantin V. Kilimnik, the Russian national who was known to him as a former GRU agent. Manafort offered, through Kilimnik, to brief Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska on what the Trump campaign was doing. “If he needs private briefings, we can accommodate,” Manafort said. Deripaska, known to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, had had business dealings with Manafort for more than a decade. When Donald Trump hired Paul Manafort as his campaign chairman, he was opening a direct conduit to the Kremlin and the GRU.
Also in early July, Trump campaign adviser Carter Page traveled to Moscow where he met with the deputy prime minister of Russia and a major figure from Roseneft, the Russian state-owned oil company. All deals between American oil companies such as Exxon and Russian oil companies were and still are under sanction, putting on hold more than half a trillion dollars in deals. The Russians had a goal of seeing the sanctions lifted because they were causing so much damage to the Russian economy.
On July 14, with the Republican National Convention only days away, the Trump campaign succeeded in changing the so-called “Russia plank” in the party platform from being critical of Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian territory and Crimea to being pro-Russian. Kilimnik would later brag that he was involved in the alteration of the platform to be pro-Russian.
Only July 18, Campaign adviser Jeff Sessions met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention. Also meeting with Kislyak were Carter Page and J.D. Gordon, a Trump campaign national security adviser.
On July 22, WikiLeaks released 20,000 Democratic party emails, giving the campaign of Hillary Clinton a huge headache in advance of its national convention.
On July 24, Paul Manafort — who had already met with Russians and was in regular contact with Konstantin Kilimnik — went on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and denied there were any contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians.
On July 27, candidate Donald Trump, in a campaign rally press conference, came right out and invited Russia to hack the emails of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you are able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said. The mention of the nation of Russia by candidate Trump was very strange at that time, since there was no public knowledge that Russian intelligence was behind the hacked Democratic emails released by Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks, and the Trump campaign was denying across the board any contacts with Russians. In fact, this may have been the only mention of the word “Russia” by Trump during the entire campaign, except to deny that there were any contacts with Russians or Russia.
On August 2, back in New York, Paul Manafort had a meeting at Trump Tower with Konstantin Kilimnik. Earlier on the same day, a private jet owned by Oleg Deripaska landed at Newark Airport in New Jersey. The jet spent less than 24 hours on the ground and departed for Moscow. It is not known whether Kilimnik traveled on the Deripaska jet. CNN reported that on August 4, Roger Stone appeared with Alex Jones on his “InfoWars” show and predicted that “devastating” material on Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation would soon be published by WikiLeaks. According to the Wall Street Journal, on that date he also emailed his friend Sam Nunberg, telling him he had had dinner with Julian Assange in London (Special Prosecutor Mueller is reportedly looking into both claims by Stone, according to the Journal).
On August 5, Roger Stone wrote an article for Breitbart claiming that Guccifer 2.0 had nothing to do with Russia. Stone gave a speech on August 8, claiming that he was “in touch” with Julian Assange.
On August 12, Stone announced that WikiLeaks would release more damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Also on August 12, a large batch of Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) emails and documents were released by Stone’s correspondent, Guccifer 2.0, the agent working for the GRU in Moscow.
On August 15, Guccifer 2.0 released more DCCC documents. Also on that date, Guccifer 2.0 communicated with Stone through his Twitter account. The next day, Stone sent a message back to Guccifer 2.0.
On August 19, after a report in the Washington Post exposed millions of dollars in payments from a Ukrainian political party to Paul Manafort, he resigned as campaign chairman of the Trump campaign.
But the Russian agents of the GRU were not finished. They continued to leak Democratic Party documents and emails to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks continued to release them to the press. Guccifer 2.0 released more documents on August 21. On August 22, the GRU agent sent dozens of documents to a Republican party operative in Florida about the Democrat’s plans to get out the vote in that state. On August 26, Roger Stone told Breitbart Radio that WikiLeaks would be releasing even more Democratic party emails. Also on that date, according to the Wall Street Journal, Republican Party mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, who was one of the original investors in Cambridge Analytica, sent an email to CEO Alexander Nix suggesting that the Trump campaign could help WikiLeaks index the Clinton emails and make them “more searchable.” Nix later admitted that he contacted Julian Assange with the offer, but claimed that he was rejected.
On August 31, Guccifer 2.0 released emails hacked from Nancy Pelosi’s personal computer.
In early September, deputy Trump campaign manager Rick Gates contacted Alex van der Zwaan and told him to contact Konstantin Kilimnik. This is the conversation Van der Zwaan would later lie about and for which he was sentenced to prison.
On September 8, Jeff Sessions met again with Sergey Kislyak, this time in his Senate Office. Sessions would later lie to the United States Senate about this and other meetings with Kislyak, denying that he or anyone else on the Trump campaign had contact with Russians.
On September 9, Guccifer 2.0 sent Roger Stone a link to a blog with information about Democratic party plans for voter turnout. Stone replied to Guccifer with the assessment, “pretty standard.”
On September 15, Guccifer 2.0 released more DCCC emails.
On September 20 and 21, WikiLeaks contacted Donald Trump Jr. privately on Twitter with information about an anti-Trump organization that was being established called “putintrump.org.” WikiLeaks sends him a private password to the site. Within a few hours, private information about the people behind putintrump.org was posted on social media, including names, phone numbers, and home addresses.
On September 23, Guccifer 2.0 released more DCCC emails.
On October 2, five days ahead of the release of the emails of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta, Roger Stone predicted that WikiLeaks would soon release more Democratic party emails. “Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done,” Stone tweeted.
On October 4, Guccifer 2.0 released documents hacked from the Clinton Foundation.
Throughout the month of October, WikiLeaks continued to communicate with Donald Trump Jr. through private messages on Twitter. One message stated: “Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications. Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us.” The message ended with “Btw we just released Podesta emails part 4.”
On October 12, Roger Stone bragged to NBC News “I have a back channel with WikiLeaks.”
As of today, Paul Manafort is under multiple indictments by Special Counsel Mueller, including charges of bank fraud and money laundering dating to the time he was in business with Konstantin Kilimnik in Kiev, Ukraine. Deputy campaign manager Rick Gates was also indicted for the same crimes. He pled guilty to lesser charges and is cooperating with the Special Counsel. Alex van der Zwaan pled guilty to perjury and was sentenced yesterday for lying about contacts with both Gates and Kilimnik. George Papadopoulos pled guilty to lying to the Special Counsel and is cooperating. Mueller’s investigators are looking into Roger Stone’s contacts with Guccifer 2.0 and Julian Assange.
Mueller’s team indicted 13 Russian citizens and three Russian companies for defrauding the United States and subverting the election of 2016. The office of the Special Counsel is known to be investigating Guccifer 2.0 and the Russian intelligence agents of the GRU behind the hacking of the DNC, DCCC, and Podesta emails and their release through WikiLeaks.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo, recently named Secretary of State by President Trump, last year called WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange “a fraud and a coward,” in a speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is, a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia,” Pompeo said in the speech.
“[Pompeo] said Russia’s GRU military intelligence service used Wikileaks to distribute material hacked from Democratic National Committee computers during the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” Reuters reported.
On October 10, 2016, at a Pennsylvania campaign rally, then candidate Donald Trump joyfully announced, “I love WikiLeaks!” He would go on to talk about how much he loved WikiLeaks more than 130 times between October 10 and election day on November 7. Now that Special Counsel Mueller has confirmed that the President of the United States is and has been a “subject” of the investigation, Trump is going to regret how much he loved WikiLeaks, as the investigation closes in on the connections of his campaign to what we now know were agents of the Russian military intelligence service, the GRU. The days until Trump moves on to the next step and becomes a “target” of Mueller are growing shorter and shorter.