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Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey 09 May 2017, clouding the bureau’s investigation of Trump campaign ties to Russia. The following day, Trump met with Vladimir Putin’s top diplomat at the White House, marking the highest level, face-to-face contact with Russia of the American leader’s presidency. The meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signalled that the two countries have improved ties. One of the reporters asked whether today's talks will be overshadowed by the dismissal of the FBI director. "He's fired?! Are you kidding me?" Lavrov reacted sarcastically.

The FBI and three congressional committees had been investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible Trump connections. As head of the FBI, Comey had been leading the complex counterintelligence investigation that had dogged Trump since Inauguration Day. In remarks 31 October 2016, Trump, who had previously criticized Comey for not bringing charges against Clinton, praised Comey's "guts" for renewing an investigation into Clinton.

Comey’s firing was the latest and most significant White House-driven distraction from the Russia investigations. Trump has ridiculed the probes, calling them a “hoax,” and he has denied that his campaign was involved in Russia’s election meddling. In his brief letter to Comey, Trump thanked him for telling him three times “that I am not under investigation.” Congressman Justin Amash, a Republican member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, termed “bizarre” Trump’s reference in the termination letter to Comey noting the FBI director had assured the president repeatedly he was not under investigation.

The decision to fire Comey, “raises profound questions about whether the White House is brazenly interfering in a criminal matter,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in a statement. Schiff is the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, which is also investigating. It is not clear why Trump took the action concerning events that occurred months before he won last November’s presidential election. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asked “Why now? .. Are people going to suspect coverup? Absolutely.”

One day after firing Comey, Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office. In his meeting with Lavrov, Trump appeared to be boasting about his knowledge about the threat, saying “I have people brief me on great intel every day”. Trump revealed highly classified information about a planned Islamic State operation to Russia’s foreign minister. The intelligence was shared at the meeting in the White House between Trump and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. The information was supplied by a US ally through an intelligence-sharing arrangement and was tightly restricted even within the U.S. government. Bob Corker, the Republican head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said of the White House, “Obviously, they’re in a downward spiral right now and they’ve got to come to grips with all that’s happening".

On 11 May 2017 Trump directly contradicted his own spokespeople, telling NBC News that he would have fired Comey "regardless" of what the Justice Department said. Trump added that he was considering "this Russia thing" when he ousted the FBI director. " I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story…."

Trump met the Russians on May 10th, the day after he fired Comey. The New York Times reported 19 May 2017 that Trump called ousted FBI director James Comey “crazy” and “a real nut job”. It said the president then told Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador that he “faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off”.

An unverified 35-page report first reported by CNN and then published by BuzzFeed on 11 January 2017 alleged that Russia gathered intelligence on Trump and contained unverified charges, including details about Trump's sexual and financial activities in Russia, as well as claims that Trump officials met with Russians during his presidential campaign. The most appalling part of the dossier was the claim that Donald Trump has “personal obsessions and sexual perversion,” including graphic sex acts, and a report that the president-elect once had Russian prostitutes urinate on each other in a hotel bed that the Obamas previously shared.

Trump took to Twitter to deny the claims. He branded the reports "fake news" and likened them to what happened in "Nazi Germany." "Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public," Trump wrote in a series of tweets. Trump called BuzzFeed a 'failing pile of garbage' over the report that Moscow had been blackmailing him over past sex adventures in Russia. He also refused to answer a question from CNN, another outlet that published the report. “Be quiet. I’m not going to give you a question. You are fake news,” Trump told CNN reporter Jim Acosta.

Moscow said documents alleging that Russia has compromising information on Donald Trump are a fabrication and a “total bluff.” Russia has never gathered information of this kind on either the US president-elect, or his former rival, Hillary Clinton. “The Kremlin has no compromising information on Trump. This report does not correspond to reality and is nothing but an absolute fiction,” the deputy head of the Russian presidential administration, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters.

"We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump. We have high confidence in these judgments..."

We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him. All three agencies agree with this judgment. CIA and FBI have high confidence in this judgment; NSA has moderate confidence.

Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or “trolls.”

“Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections” 6 January 2017

TRUMP: ... from everything I see, has no respect for this person.

CLINTON: Well, that's because he'd rather have a puppet as president of the United States.

TRUMP: No puppet. No puppet.

CLINTON: And it's pretty clear...

TRUMP: You're the puppet!

CLINTON: It's pretty clear you won't admit...

TRUMP: No, you're the puppet.

CLINTON: ... that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do, and that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race. So I think that this is such an unprecedented situation. We've never had a foreign government trying to interfere in our election. We have 17 -- 17 intelligence agencies, civilian and military, who have all concluded that these espionage attacks, these cyberattacks, come from the highest levels of the Kremlin and they are designed to influence our election. I find that deeply disturbing....

TRUMP: I never met Putin. This is not my best friend. But if the United States got along with Russia, wouldn't be so bad. Let me tell you, Putin has outsmarted her and Obama at every single step of the way. Whether it's Syria, you name it. Missiles. Take a look at the "start up" that they signed. The Russians have said, according to many, many reports, I can't believe they allowed us to do this. They create warheads, and we can't. The Russians can't believe it. She has been outsmarted by Putin.

final Trump-Clinton debate - 19 October 2016

Donald Trump - The Manchurian Candidate?

A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) - one of his closest allies in Congress — told fellow GOP leaders: “There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump”. This was according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation. Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. Then McCarthy quickly added: “Swear to God.” Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “No leaks. ... This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

Maxine Waters, Member of the House of Representatives from the Democratic Party, believes that the US missile attack on Syria was aimed at diverting attention from US President Donald Trump's plans to lift sanctions against Russia. During a rally in Washington, she claimed that the situation in Syria is just a "phony tension between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, all being hyped up by the White House, still trying to distract us," the politician said 15 April 2017. According to Waters, the escalation of the tension between Moscow and Washington due to the situation in Syria is just a spectacle. From her point of view, Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin are "tied at the hip" and the ultimate goal of fueling the "tension" is the withdrawal of sanctions against Russia.

Trump feuded with the U.S. intelligence community since it concluded that Russian meddled in the U.S. election in an effort to help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. He appeared concerned that the finding would call into question the legitimacy of his unexpected victory over the former secretary of state.

US Representative John Lewis said 15 January 2017 "I don't see this president-elect as a legitimate president... I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected." House Democrat Jared Huffman of California said Trump is “so thin-skinned and classless, and so utterly incapable of growing up. As our President, he is going to bring disgrace, chaos, controversy and conflict unlike anything we’ve ever seen.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the outgoing US administration of attempting to undercut President-elect Donald Trump by spreading erroneous information. At a Moscow news conference 17 January 2017, Putin said last week's release of an unverified dossier containing salacious allegations about Trump was part of an effort by US President Barack Obama's administration to "undermine the legitimacy of the president-elect" in spite of Trump's "convincing" presidential win.

Putin said "... concerning the allegation that Trump arrived in Moscow and the first thing he did was meet with Moscow prostitutes. First, he is an adult and, second, he has for many years sponsored beauty contests and had the chance to meet the world's most beautiful women. Why would he run to a hotel to meet up with our girls of limited social responsibility? Although they are, of course, the best in the world. But I doubt that Trump fell for it."

Donald Trump said the information published by Wikileaks had “absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election.” ThinkProgress calculated Trump talked about Wikileaks and the content of the emails it released at least 164 times in last month of the campaign. Trump, who once called for the “death penalty or something” for Assange, had suddenly embraced the WikiLeaks founder as a trusted source. During the campaign Trump had suggested that the hacks could have been the work of “someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 lbs.”

In a Twitter post, the president-elected compared the intelligence community to Nazi Germany. Central Intelligence Director John Brennan described the comparison to the Nazi's as "repugnant" and said Trump's criticism of the intelligence community's credibility was unwarranted. "Tell the families of those 117 CIA officers who are forever memorialized on our wall of honor that their loved ones who gave their lives were akin to Nazi's," Brennan said.

General James Mattis, defense secretary nominee, testified Russian President Vladimir Putin was trying to divide Nato nations. “I think right now the most important thing is that we recognise the reality of what we deal with with Mr Putin,” he told the Armed Services Committee.... And we recognise that he is trying to break the North Atlantic Alliance and that we take the steps… to defend ourselves where we must."

A May 2016 survey from the Nieman Lab said 44 percent of Americans get their news from Facebook. Facebook, in particular, came under fire, having surpassed Google as the biggest driver of audience on all social media platforms. According to an analysis by Buzzfeed News, fake election stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than top election articles from 19 major news outlets in the final three months of the 2016 election campaign. Facebook has launched a tool it says will help flag so-called fake news. The tool adds a “disputed news” flag on stories that have been deemed fake by what Facebook says are third parties, including Snopes, Politifact and Facebook announced the disputed news flag in December 2016.

The conflation of what information can accurately be described as fake or misleading or maybe only partially true, coupled with the warp speed of digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter, have created a perfect storm of confusion, said University of Connecticut philosophy professor and author Michael Lynch. “Confusion and deception is happening…. and mass confusion about the importance of things like truth follow in the wake of that deception," said Lynch, who wrote a column in The New York Times this week about impact of "fake news" on the health of America’s political system. “And that is absolutely corrosive to democracy.”

The election was ultimately decided by just 100,000 votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania combined, while Hillary Clinton won a majority of the vote nation-wide by nearly 3,000,000 votes.

The CIA said it had "high confidence" that Russia sought to help Trump win. US intelligence agencies have concluded Russia interfered in the final stretch of the presidential campaign to help Trump win the presidency, and not simply meddle in the US electoral process. Senatro John McCain said “Vladimir Putin is a thug, a bully and a murderer, and anybody else who describes him as anything else is lying.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on 12 November 2016 endorsed a bipartisan probe of Russian interference in the election by the Senate Intelligence Committee. "The Russians are not our friends," McConnell said. He added that the investigation should be undertaken with the idea that "the Russians do not wish us well." McCain, along with Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrats Jack Reed and Chuck Schumer said the United States needs to stop "the grave threats that cyberattacks conducted by foreign governments pose to our national security."

Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee and Trump's pick for White House chief of staff, told ABC News the party was not hacked. "The entire report is based on unnamed sources who are perhaps doing something they shouldn't be doing by speaking to reporters or someone talking out of line about something that is absolutely not true," Priebus said.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008, according to an account posted on the website of eTurboNews, a trade publication. “We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Donald Trump's son denied 08 May 2017 that he told a sportswriter that the family's real estate business got money from Russia to fund golf courses. Eric Trump said the account from writer James Dodson was "completely fabricated." According to Dodson, Eric Trump told him in 2014 that the family was receiving "all the funding we need out of Russia" and wasn't relying on American banks for money to build golf courses. Dodson, who recounted the alleged exchange 05 May 2017 in an interview with Boston radio station WBUR, said Eric Trump also said Russians are "really invested in our programs" and "we just go there all the time." Eric Trump continued to deny the comments. "This story is ridiculous," he said. "We own all of assets free and clear, buy the properties in cash, etc. This really is the worst of the media."

Leading analyst of Russian affairs Stephen Blank wrote: "Laundering criminally obtained sums in luxurious foreign real estate is a hallmark of Russian intelligence operations whose purpose beyond the actual money laundering is to corrupt all those involved and thus the targeted country’s economic-political institutions. The large sums invested by Russians in Trump’s real estate projects fall squarely into that category since no one can move that kind of money out of Russia without Putin and the security organs approving it. These investments make Trump’s fortune hostage to Russian money."

Franklin Foer wrote : wrote "This investment wasn’t incidental to Trump: It was essential. After his 2004 bankruptcy, the big banks wouldn’t touch him. Who would? He had a record of litigiousness and going belly up. But Russian investors helped prop up Trump’s megabuilding projects, which were crucial to his image as a man who makes things, not just a reality television star. There would be no Trump SoHo, for instance, without capital from Russia. As one lawsuit alleges, the money arrived at Trump projects through an Icelandic investment fund “in favor” with Putin’s elite and through mysterious infusions of cash from Russia and Kazakhstan into the accounts of his partners."

At Clinton's rally in Reno, Nevada, on 25 August 2016, she accused Trump of having ties with Russia and President Vladimir Putin, who she referred to as the “grand godfather of this global brand of extreme nationalism.... Trump himself heaps praise on Putin and embrace pro-Russian policies”. She also took the opportunity to attack Nigel Farage – the man behind Britain's Brexit campaign – who recently endorsed Trump. “Farage has appeared regularly on Russian propaganda programs. Now he's standing on the same stage as the Republican nominee,” she said.

Democratic US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's campaign manager said Republican rival Donald Trump should explain "the extent to which the Kremlin is at the core" of his campaign, her team's latest suggestion of Russian meddling in the November 8 election. “Donald Trump is refusing to disclose deep financial ties that potentially reach into the Kremlin, which could influence his foreign policy decisions,” Mook said. “None of this is being disclosed.”

The August 21 comments to ABC News by Robby Mook came just days after the resignation of Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, amid reports about his lobbying work for a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian political party and failure to register as a foreign agent. "Paul Manafort has been pushed out, but that doesn't mean that the Russians have been pushed out of this campaign," Mook said. He added that there are "real questions being raised about whether Donald Trump himself is just a puppet for the Kremlin in this race."

“I would also point out that Paul Manafort has been pushed out, but that doesn’t mean that the Russians have been pushed out of this campaign,” Mook added, pointing to Trump’s criticisms of NATO. “We now need Donald Trump to explain to us the extent to which the hand of the Kremlin is at the core of his own campaign.”

The bombastic billionaire turned Republican nominee took to the hardline conservative talk radio show "Savage Nation" on 17 August 2016 to discuss his foreign policy stance. The real estate tycoon and former reality television star argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin, "doesn't want ISIS any more than we do" calling Moscow "a natural ally" against the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism that threatens safety and security in the West.

As early as 1990, Trump criticized Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev for not having a “firm enough hand.” In September 2015, Donald Trump said he would "get along" with Putin and deal with Moscow with respect, which in turn would bring an end to the current difficulties plaguing US-Russia relations.

The Russian president welcomed Trump’s call for better US-Russia relations during the annual press conference, which was held on 18 Dcember 2015. "He is a very bright person, talented without any doubt. It is not our business to assess his worthiness, but he is the absolute leader of the presidential race. He says he wants to move to a different level of relations — a fuller, deeper [level] — with Russia, how can we not welcome this? Of course we welcome this," Putin said.

Trump said he was honored to receive praise from Russian President Vladimir Putin on 18 Dcember 2015. "It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond," Trump said at a Thursday rally in Columbus, Ohio, as quoted by the DC-based political newspaper The Hill.

After Putin called Trump a "bright and talented" and the "absolute leader of the presidential race," Trump returned the compliments, hailing Putin as a "leader" and pointing to his high favorability numbers in Russia. "He's running his country and at least he's a leader, unlike what we have in this country," Trump said when asked by "Morning Joe" Republican host Joe Scarborough about Putin's alleged killing of journalists and political opponents. "I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There's a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing, a lot of stupidity," he said. Trump noted that Putin had called him smart, which Trump said is "always good, especially when the person heads up Russia."

Russian President Vladimir Putin had not been convicted in regard to the former Russian FSB secret service agent Alexander Litvinenko murder case, and hence should be presumed innocent, US presidential hopeful Donald Trump said on 26 January 2016. "The fact is, he [Putin] has not been convicted of anything. Many people say it was not him, so who knows who did it," Trump stated in an interview with Fox Business News. "I don't know that he did it."

Trump told a rally 03 February 2016 that the United States should welcome Russia as a full partner in the struggle to destroy the Islamic State. "Wouldn't it be nice if we got along with Russia so we could knock out ISIS [the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, which is outlawed in Russia] with them?" Trump stated on Tuesday evening. "Let them beat the s**t out of ISIS also. We'll beat the s**t out of them."

Trump and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush sparred 14 February 2016 over whether Russia could be a US ally in the Syrian conflict settlement. Bush argued that Trump had brought up the idea of wanting to "accommodate" Russia, saying that "it is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that Russia could be a positive partner" in Syria.

On 27 February 2016, Reuters said that Trump's advisor on Russia was retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, who was President Barack Obama's Defense Intelligence Agency [DIA] chief from 2012, shown the door as head of DIA in August 2014. Flynn, who supported closer cooperation between Moscow and Washington, was the former commander of special forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. Flynn also has said that the Iraq war was a mistake that helped create IS, among a number of statements that defied Republican orthodoxy.

Flynn said February 13, 2016 Hillary Clinton should pull out of the presidential race while the FBI investigate her use of a private email server for official government communication while secretary of state.

Since leaving office, Flynn had been fiercely critical of the Obama administration's approach to the Middle East and has told Tapper that the President's advisors are more concerned with appearances than hard realities. Flynn said he had made himself available for advice to any presidential campaign that has asked, Democrat or Republican, and five campaigns have taken advantage of the offer, including Trump's.

Flynn raised eyebrows in 2015 when he sat with Putin at a banquet in Moscow celebrating Russia Today, the Russian state English-language network aligned with the Kremlin that broadcasts into the U.S. and other Western countries. Flynn told Russia Today in a December 2015 interview that the United States and Russia should work together to resolve the Syrian civil war and defeat IS, rather than work at cross purposes.

In the opinion of President of the Institute of Strategic Evaluations Alexander Konovalov, "American society is tired of the succession of familiar politicians.... This means bad news for Clinton, who is a member of a famous political 'clan.' American citizens are not thrilled about the fact that the presidential throne is constantly and alternately occupied by successors of the Republican Bush family and the Democratic Clinton family."

Gloria Borger, Pamela Brown, Jim Sciutto, Marshall Cohen and Eric Lichtblau at CNN reported 21 May 2017 that Russian officials bragged in conversations picked up by US intelligence during the presidential campaign that they had cultivated a strong relationship with former Trump adviser retired Gen. Michael Flynn and believed they could use him to influence Donald Trump and his team. "This was a five-alarm fire from early on," one former Obama administration official said, "the way the Russians were talking about him."

In an 04 March 2016 op-ed for The Washington Post, Neoconservative pundit Anne Applebaum, an Polish-American journalist known for her hawkish, stridently anti-Russian attitudes, laid out a worst-case scenario. "... next January we could have, in the White House, a man who is totally uninterested in what presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton, Reagan – as well as Johnson, Nixon and Truman – would all have called 'our shared values.' ...

"[Trump] brags that he 'would not care much' whether Ukraine was admitted to NATO; he has no interest in NATO and its security guarantees. Of Europe, he has written that 'their conflicts are not worth American lives. Pulling back from Europe would save this country millions of dollars annually'. In any case, he prefers the company of dictators to that of other democrats. 'You can make deals with those people,' he has said of Russia. 'I would have a great relationship with [Vladimir] Putin.' ...

" ... not only is Trump uninterested in America's alliances, he would be incapable of sustaining them. In practice, both military and economic unions require not the skills of a shady property magnate who 'makes deals' but boring negotiations, unsatisfying compromises and, sometimes, the sacrifice of one's own national preferences for the greater good."

In Donald Trump’s meeting with The Washington Post editorial board 21 March 2016 he said : "Ukraine is a country that affects us far less than it affects other countries in NATO, and yet we are doing all of the lifting, they’re not doing anything. And I say, why is it that Germany is not dealing with NATO on Ukraine? Why is it that other countries that are in the vicinity of the Ukraine not dealing with — why are we always the one that’s leading, potentially the third world war, okay, with Russia? Why are we always the ones that are doing it? And I think the concept of NATO is good, but I do think the United States has to have some help. We are not helped. I’ll give you a better example than that. I mean, we pay billions– hundreds of billions of dollars to supporting other countries that are in theory wealthier than we are......

"NATO was set up at a different time. NATO was set up when we were a richer country. We’re not a rich country. We’re borrowing, we’re borrowing all of this money. We’re borrowing money from China, which is a sort of an amazing situation. But things are a much different thing. NATO is costing us a fortune and yes, we’re protecting Europe but we’re spending a lot of money. Number 1, I think the distribution of costs has to be changed..... we are not in the position that we used to be. I think we were a very powerful, very wealthy country. And we’re a poor country now."

On 29 March 2016 Donald J. Trump, girding for a long battle over presidential delegates and a potential floor fight at the Cleveland convention, enlisted the veteran Republican strategist Paul J. Manafort to lead his delegate-corralling efforts. Manafort had drawn attention in recent years chiefly for his work as an international political consultant, most notably as a senior adviser to former President Viktor F. Yanukovych of Ukraine, who was driven from power in 2014.

Michael Caputo, who helped Trump win the New York primary, worked in 2000 to help state-owned conglomerate Gazprom Media improve Putin's image in the United States, according to the Washington Post. The Post cited a Caputo interview in which he said that, at the time, "Putin wasn't such a bad guy."

Trump's foreign policy advisor Carter Page also has "deep and continuing financial and employment ties" to Gazprom, according to journalist Josh Marshall writing on news site TPM. "It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin's policies," Marshall writes.

Foreign affairs analyst Vladimir Mikheev monitored the election campaign in the US with apprehension and cautious optimism. Among those in the running, he saw Donald Trump as a true alternative to the mainstream candidates, and one whose attitudes toward Russia and NATO make him an attractive proposition for Russia. He wrote April 1, 2016 "Trump’s treatment of NATO as a costly enterprise with little benefit to the U.S. (“We certainly can’t afford to do this anymore”) is a welcome change of tune. .... Trump’s reassessment of the value of the trans-Atlantic military alliance is one step closer to what many in Russia would like to hear: admittance that NATO is a Cold War relic."

Trump told a campaign rally in Racine, Wisconsin 02 April 2016 that allies in NATO "are not paying their fair share" and called the 28-nation alliance "obsolete." Trump said "We are protecting them and they are getting all sorts of military protection and other things and they're ripping off the United States and they're ripping you off. I don't care. I don't want to do that. Either they pay up including for past deficiencies or they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO it breaks up NATO". Speaking at an event in Eau Claire, Trump said "I know about NATO. I'm not an expert on NATO, but I have a lot of common sense."

Clifford G. Gaddy, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote: " ... nothing in the Panama Papers reveals anything new about Putin. It is in fact far less of a story than has been alleged for a long time.... The cui bono principle connects profits with motives, asking who stands to gain from a certain action. If it’s the Russians who win, isn’t it possible that they are somehow behind at least part of this story? ... it is most likely that such an operation would be run out of an agency called the Russian Financial Monitoring Service (RFM). RFM is Putin’s personal financial intelligence unit—he created it and it answers only to him. It is completely legitimate and is widely recognized as the most powerful such agency in the world, with a monopoly on information about money laundering, offshore centers, and related issues...

"... it’s curious that the Panama Papers mention no Americans.... it is a weapon for blackmail. For information to be effective as a blackmail weapon, it must be kept secret.... the Panama Papers operation ... is a message directed at the Americans and other Western political leaders who could be mentioned but are not. ... the individuals mentioned in the documents are not the targets. The ones who are not mentioned are the targets .... blackmailing the real targets in the United States and elsewhere (individuals not in the current leak), the Russian puppet masters get “kontrol” and influence."

President Putin spoke for hours at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) on 17 June 2016. When asked about his opinion of the candidates for US president, Putin explained his attitude towards “probably the only superpower,” as the president called it. “America is a great state... We accept it, and we want to and are ready to work with the United States,” he said, adding that no matter who is elected as America’s next leader, Russia will work with him or her. Yet, the Russian President hinted that Donald Trump’s foreign agenda might be more preferable to Moscow, “Mr. Trump has stated that he is ready to restore full format Russia-US relations... We all welcome it.”

Trump’s campaign rhetoric is the “biggest dream of everyone in the Kremlin,” Tina Khidasheli, defense minister of Georgia, a U.S. ally, told The Washington Post in June 2016. “It’s scary, it’s dangerous, and it’s irresponsible. ... It is a big problem if you have a candidate for president of the United States talking like this.” David J. Kramer, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state dealing with Russia during the George W. Bush administration, said he was “appalled” by Trump’s approach to the Russian leader. “Why would anyone welcome an endorsement from [Putin]?” Kramer asked. “Putin exploits weakness and an accommodationist approach. I shudder to think what would happen if he finds that in the next American president.”

In one of his latest articles for the Washington Post, on 18 July 2016 American journalist Josh Rogin called attention to the fact that the Trump team has changed the Republican security platform's stance on Ukraine, to the astonishment of delegates. "The Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won't call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces, contradicting the view of almost all Republican foreign policy leaders in Washington," Rogin wrote.

Franklin Foer noted "Trump has a long history of sucking up to Russian political leaders to advance his business interests in that country. His praise of Putin has correlated with large infusions of Russian cash into his real estate projects. Furthermore, his campaign is staffed by aides with financial ties to the Russian state. .. Ukrainians use the term “political technologist” as a favored synonym for electoral consultant.... Manafort had a special gift for changing how dictators are beheld by American eyes.... he remade Ukrainian politics and helped shift the country into Vladimir Putin’s sphere of influence.... Manafort didn’t just represent oligarchs tight with the Kremlin. He became business partners with them."

Paul Krugman suggested that "Trump would, in office, actually follow a pro-Putin foreign policy, at the expense of America’s allies and her own self-interest.... some of this is Mr. Trump’s deep ignorance of policy, his apparent inability to understand that you can’t run the U.S. government the way he has run his ramshackle business empire.... he has substantial if murky involvement with wealthy Russians and Russian businesses. You might say that these are private actors, not the government — but in Mr. Putin’s crony-capitalist paradise, this is a meaningless distinction. "

David E. Sanger and Nicole Perlroth reported 25 July 2016 that the release "... of some 20,000 stolen emails from the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers, many of them embarrassing to Democratic leaders, has intensified discussion of the role of Russian intelligence agencies in disrupting the 2016 campaign.... the theft from the national committee would be among the most important state-sponsored hacks yet of an American organization... "

Clinton's campaign manager, Robby Mook, said on Transcript via ABC’s This Week: 24 July 2016 "... what’s disturbing about this entire situation is that experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke into the DNC, took all these emails and now are leaking them out through these Web sites. ... And it’s troubling that some experts are now telling us that this was done by — by the Russians for the purpose of helping Donald Trump. ... It was concerning last week that Donald Trump changed the Republican platform to become what some experts would regard as — as pro-Russian."

"It is the ugly little secret that the Trump campaign doesn’t want to discuss. When Donald Trump Jr. was asked about support of his dad by the Russian government, he blew a gasket on CNN. Trump can ramble on about emails all he wants, but the reality is that there is only one candidate who is being backed by a government that the Republican Party considers an enemy to America."

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, head of the Democratic National Committee, quit as head of the US Democratic Party on 24 July 2016 amid a furor over leaked emails that show party leaders mocked and criticized the upstart campaign of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, while he was waging an unexpectedly tough challenge to Clinton for the nomination. Wasserman Schultz, a US representative from Florida, was expected to officially step down at the end of this week's convention in Philadelphia. Sanders had demanded that Wasserman Schultz resign after WikiLeaks disclosed nearly 20,000 emails from Democratic Party leaders over the last year and a-half.

The theft and leak of embarrassing Democratic National Committee emails ahead of the party's convention are similar to other disruptive political operations believed to be tied to the Russian government, cybersecurity experts told the Wall Street Journal on July 25. "Multiple Democrats alleged the Russian government stole the emails and provided them to WikiLeaks for publication in an effort to help Republican nominee Donald Trump win the November election."

On Wednesday, The New York Times published an editorial stating that Trump had spoken admiringly of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The editorial noted that Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort had extensive connections in Russia and Ukraine. Moreover, the editorial reiterated speculations that Russia may be behind the recent Democratic National Convention email hack. Trump ridiculed The New York Times over its support for the Democratic Party’s allegations that his presidential campaign is benefiting from Russian support.

After Donald Trump’s comments at his press conference 26 July 2016, Hillary for America Senior Policy Advisor Jake Sullivan released the following statement: “This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent. That’s not hyperbole, those are just the facts. This has gone from being a matter of curiosity, and a matter of politics, to being a national security issue.”

Trump said that, if elected, he would consider recognizing Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. "I'm going to take a look at it," Trump said in an interview broadcast 31 July 2016 on the U.S. television program This Week. "But you know, the people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also." The move would be a reversal of the Obama administration's policy of refusing to recognize Russia's occupation and illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014.

He also suggested that Russian President Vladimir Putin had no designs on Ukraine. "Just so you understand. [Putin is] not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down and you can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want," before admitting, after prodding by the program's host, that, "OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet," an apparent reference to the U.S. presidency.

Writing on Facebook, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov called Trump's remarks "shameful," adding that "a marginal who support Putin’s dictatorship cannot be a guarantor of democratic freedoms in the U.S. and the world." Trump’s campaign manager, political strategist Paul Manafort, previously had been a lobbyist for Ukraine’s ousted pro-Russian former President Viktor Yanukovych.

Paul Manafort had been the subject of extensive news coverage over his work for former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich that allegedly involved overseeing millions of dollars in secret payments. Manafort denied that he received any off-the-books cash payments. FBI and Justice Department prosecutors were investigating whether US companies were used to aid alleged corruption by the party of Yanukovich. Manafort and a business partner had been consultants for the pro-Russian governing party of Ukraine in 2012, and helped two major DC lobbying firms obtain lobbying contracts to work on behalf of the foreign party.

The two firms, the Podesta Group Inc. and Mercury LLC, were paid approximately $2.2 million to advocate for Ukrainian interests in the United States. The Podesta Group said the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine pledged in writing that none of its activities were controlled or financed by a foreign government or political party. The Podesta Group lobbied lawmakers in Washington for positions favored by the pro-Russian group. The Podesta Group is run by Tony Podesta, brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) found that "Many of the activities one might assume are covered under a law called the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) are, in fact, not addressed. Although the law is meant to provide transparency on the activities of US lobbyists working on behalf of foreign clients, POGO’s investigation examined thousands of lobbying filings and found a pattern of lax enforcement by the Justice Department, and loopholes in the law and regulations that make it difficult, if not impossible, for the government to police compliance or discipline those who fail to comply."

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, once the lead Republican lawyer on the Senate committee investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Whitewater scandal, told Eli Lake at Bloomberg 03 October 2016 that “Trump’s sense of loyalties are misplaced,” he said. “Some of our NATO allies sent troops overseas, at the same time he is defending Russia and trying to dismiss what is widely acknowledged to be Russian intrusions into the databases of our political parties and political figures.” Chertoff said this amounted to “making enemies of your friends and cozying up to your adversaries.”

WashPost's Dana Priest, Ellen Nakashima and Tom Hamburger reported 04 September 2016 that : "U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies are probing what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in U.S. political institutions, intelligence and congressional officials said. The aim is to understand the scope and intent of the Russian campaign, which incorporates cyber-tools to hack systems used in the political process, enhancing Russia's ability to spread disinformation...."

Donald Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin 07 September 2016, saying he has been more of a leader than U.S. President Barack Obama. During an NBC News forum in which he was interviewed separately from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump said he thinks as president he would have a "very good relationship with Putin." He also said Russia and the U.S. have a joint interest in defeating Islamic State. "Russia wants to defeat ISIS as badly as we do," he said. "If we had a relationship with Russia wouldn't it be wonderful if we could work on it together and knock the hell out of ISIS?"

Obama responded to Trump's criticism during a news conference, saying the Republican candidate is not qualified to be president and has "either uninformed or contradictory or outright wacky ideas. ... This is serious business, and you have to actually know what you're talking about". Hillary Clinton reflected on the Commander-in-Chief Forum. Clinton said Trump has taken “the astonishing step of suggesting he prefers the Russian president to our American president.” Clinton said, "That is not just unpatriotic and insulting to the people of our country as well as our commander in chief,” said Clinton. “It is scary because it suggests he will let Putin do whatever Putin wants to do and then make excuses for him," she said. “I was just thinking about all of the presidents that would just be looking at one another in total astonishment. What would Ronald Reagan say about a Republican nominee who attacks American’s generals and heaps praise on Russia’s president?"

In an election of such import, the margin was tiny. With the future of a world superpower in the balance, it was clear that such an upset victory, flying in the face of conventional politics, media predictions, and the expectations of international leaders, not to mention many Americans, was due to an outside influence.

Russian government officials were in contact with members of Donald Trump's campaign prior to Tuesday's election, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said 10 November 2016. "Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage," Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency. "Those people have always been in the limelight in the United States and have occupied high-ranking positions. I cannot say that all of them but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives." Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks denied the claim, consistent with Trump's denial throughout the campaign that he had any contact with the Russian government.

On 30 December 2016 the Kremlin responded to US sanctions by declaring that they “will not resort to irresponsible ‘kitchen diplomacy,’” and reiterated their hopes to work toward a better relationship with the US when President-elect Donald Trump takes office.

John McAfee, co-founder of the eponymous computer protection software firm, in an interview on RT with Larry King stated he did not believe it was the Russians based on his experience. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange himself has disclosed the leaks did not come from Russia. And a former UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, in an interview with the Guardian, asserted categorically he had met the leaker, who was not Russian but an insider.

President-elect Donald Trump, in a statement released 29 December 2016, called on the country to "move on", adding that he would meet with members of the intelligence community to discuss the issue. "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things," the statement read. "Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation."

"Happy New Year to all," Trump wrote 31 December 2016, "including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love!"

The Sun reported 28 January 2017 — “A FORMER KGB spy chief suspected of helping Brit spook Christopher Steele compile the Trump ‘dirty dossier’ has been found dead in mysterious circumstances. Oleg Erovinkin, described as a key source behind the widely discredited document, was found dead in the back of his car in Moscow on Boxing Day.... ”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Fox News that Russians did not provide hacked political documents from John Podesta, former chairman of the Hillary Clinton campaign, and other Democratic Party operatives that he published. President-elect Donald Trump, one of the chief critics of the administration's Russia allegations, reiterated Mr. Assange's claim in a tweet: "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!"

Donald Trump launched new attacks 15 February 2017 against media reports of alleged links between him and Russia, blaming the country's intelligence community for what he said were "illegal" leaks to news outlets. "The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by 'intelligence' like candy. Very un-American!" Trump said. In a string of Twitter comments, Trump suggested news articles detailing links between him, his campaign aides and ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn and Russian officials were aimed at undermining his victory in the November election.

"This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign.... The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred. @MSNBC & @CNN are unwatchable. @foxandfriends is great! ... Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia."

On 16 February 2017 the administration asked the founder of a New York-based private equity firm to lead a review of the intelligence community as Trump vowed to crack down on what he describes as "illegal leaks" of classified information. Stephen Feinberg of Cerberus Capital Management had been asked to head the review of the various intelligence agencies and make recommendations on improvements to efficiency and coordination between the various intelligence agencies.

According to Rolling Stone, in a 2007 speech to shareholders, Feinberg said, “If anyone at Cerberus has his picture in the paper and a picture of his apartment, we will do more than fire that person. We will kill him. The jail sentence will be worth it.” Feinberg served as a Trump adviser during the presidential election. Feinberg has no intelligence experience whatsoever. Dan Coats, Trump’s nominee for Director of National Intelligence, was reportedly angered that the administration was sidelining him by giving the intelligence review assignment to Feinberg.

"Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!" the Trump wrote 26 February 2017 on Twitter.

US intelligence services concluded Russia intervened in the US election by hacking into Democratic National Committee emails and leaking them, as well as pushing fake reports aimed at hurting the reputation of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

MeemaSue reported on 05 January 2017 on Daily Kos that "On Thursday November 3, 2016 Donald Trump held a rally in Concord NC. On the same day Russian Billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev made a brief stop in Concord NC as well. He arrived in Concord around 9:20 AM and departed to Charlotte at 12:10 PM. "

But Trump held a rally at the Jacksonville Equestrian Center at 12:00 Noon that day, and held a rally at the Cabarrus Arena in Concord NC at 4:00 PM. There was no overlap with Trump himself, but the whereabouts of Trump associates are not accounted for.

Rybolovlev is a Russian billionaire. He controlled Uralkali, one of the world's largest producers of potash fertilizers. In 2010 Rybolovlev sold his shares in Uralkali for USD 6.5 billion to Suleiman Kerimov. In December 2011, Rybolovlev acquired two thirds of the French-side football club AS Monaco. Dmitry Evgenevich Rybolovlev is also the owner of a large yacht named Anna, after his daughter.

On 23 February 2017, Katya Kazakina and Hugo Miller reported for Bloomberg that " ... the Russian fertilizer magnate is unloading works he acquired at often record prices. He has already sold three for a loss totaling an estimated $100 million, and is offering five more at Christie’s auctions in London starting next week, some for a fraction of their purchase prices.... Rybolovlev—whose fortune totals about $9.8 billion according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index—invested about $2 billion in 38 works, from Leonardo da Vinci to Pablo Picasso. They were procured privately by Swiss art dealer Yves Bouvier, better known for creating a network of tax-free art storage warehouses in Singapore and Luxembourg."

Rachel Maddow noted on February 28, 2017: “At the time this magical deal emerged out of nowhere that put tens of millions of dollars in Donald Trump’s pocket, at that time Donald Trump was financially having a very difficult time. It is a matter of public record that he was fighting very hard among other things to avoid paying off a very big loan that he had with Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank needs the money that means Trump needs the money, that means Trump needs to get the money, so… This mysterious infusion of cash from the Russian guy came at just the right time for now President Trump.”

Added Maddow: “Every investigative reporter in the country right now is trying to figure out whether there is some reason our president appears to feel so beholden to Russia, and to Vladimir Putin. Well this part here, this is not like a loose thread, this is like a rope ladder hanging down from the ceiling begging people to crawl up this and look around.”

On 07 March 2017, Katya Kazakina and Hugo Miller reported for Bloomberg that "Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev sold a painting by Mark Rothko for 10.7 million pounds ($13.1 million) on Tuesday, the final artwork in a batch of five he consigned to Christie’s that lost about $150 million. Rothko’s “No. 1,” painted in 1949, sold at auction in London within the estimated range of $10 million to $15 million, and below the 24 million euros ($36 million) that Rybolovlev paid for it in 2008. Last week, Rybolovlev sold three paintings at Christie’s, each at a loss. A sculpture by Auguste Rodin failed to sell.... Rybolovlev’s decision to offload so many artworks by top 20th-century artists has left many experts puzzled. "

On The Rachel Maddow Show, March 14, 2017 Maddow said for example "... a home that Donald Trump purchased for just over $40 million in 2004. Less than four years later, a Russian oligarch [Dmitry Rybolovlev] paid him almost $100 million for that same house.... why somebody would suddenly want to pay Donald Trump more than double what he paid for that property after only a few years, at a time when housing prices were dropping and not rising?... really does look like a bizarre dump of tens of millions of dollars of Russian money into Donald Trump`s coffers? Right at a time when Donald Trump owed tens of millions of dollars to Deutsche Bank and Deutsche Bank was breathing down his neck to get it?

"That Russian oligarch who spent that money on that property and never moved into it and ultimately tore it down, he`s also a large shareholder in a bank called the Bank of Cyprus, which has been implicated in Russian money laundering. The chairman of the Bank of Cyprus is the former CEO of Deutsche Bank, to which Donald Trump owed all that money at the time he conveniently got this very large influx of cash from a Russian guy. The vice chairman of that bank until recently was our new secretary of commerce, long time Trump friend, Wilbur Ross.

At least once, his [Rybolovlev's] private plane was spotted on the tarmac right alongside Donald Trump`s private plane while Donald Trump was doing a campaign even. Rybolovlev insists to us that that is a coincidence. But tonight, the “Palm Beach Post” reports that this weekend, Rybolovlev`s yacht was parked alongside the yacht that`s owned by Robert Mercer, who is the single largest financial backer of the Trump for president effort, the single largest financial backer of Breitbart and the person who basically installed both Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon at the top of the Trump campaign after Paul Manafort was fired for his ties to Russia and Ukraine. "

Wilbur Ross, a billionaire investor, was nominated to lead the Commerce Department. Ross served as vice-chairman of the Bank of Cyprus since 2014. Ross, a private equity investor who said he would step down from the bank after his confirmation, had also been asked to provide more details about his own relationship with previous and current Russian investors in the bank, including Viktor Vekselberg, a longtime ally of the Russian president, and Vladimir Strzhalkovsky, the former vice-chairman of Bank of Cyprus who is also a former KGB agent with a close relationship to Putin. Ross recruited a high-profile banker with close ties to Russia, former Deutsche Bank chief executive Josef Ackermann, to serve as chairman of the bank.

Deutsche Bank is the Trump Organization’s largest creditor. Ross’s investment followed a controversial 2013 bailout of the bank at the height of the European debt crisis that was agreed by the EU, IMF and European Central Bank. At the time, the deal was scrutinised by German politicians who expressed concern that taxpayer funds were being used to bail out a money laundering haven used by Russian oligarchs.

Deutsche Bank loaned more than a billion dollars to Donald Trump and his business partners over the past few years, at a time when most other banks viewed him as too big a risk. Deutsche Bank was busted for laundering Russian money for clients in places like New York.

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