Trump and Putin: Dangerous bromance

— Photo by Deborah Quinn Hensel

Just like a stack of nesting Matryoshka dolls, the alleged bromance between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin is a complex, multi-layered, often sordid tale. Peel away the outer shell of one breaking news story about the Trump administration’s connection to Russia and you find another. And another. And another.

We can’t know for sure where it will end, but we have to hope that investigative journalists — here and abroad — will keep digging diligently.

In case you haven’t been keeping up, or if your head is spinning from all the intrigue — which includes allegations of “fake news,” outright lies, leaks, sudden resignations, cover-ups, one spy on the run and another found dead in the back of his car — here’s a chronological breakdown of everything reported to date, and it reads like a John LeCarre novel.

Use it as a crib sheet for future developments because the dominoes are just now starting to fall.

June 2016: Washington-based political research firm FusionGPS hires a former British spy, Christopher Steele, (with impeccable connections in Russia) for the sum of  £130,000 ($158,000) to investigate Donald Trump’s business dealings with Russia on behalf of one of his Republican opponents for president.

Pay attention here, because the MI6 agent’s name is coming up again with regard to the infamous Russian pee party dossier. 

(A Jan. 14, 2017 article in The Daily Mail alleges that a Democratic Party supporter took over payment for the investigation after Trump won the nomination.)

June and July 2016: The Washington Post publishes articles on Donald Trump’s financial ties to Russia and the mutual admiration society he has with Vladimir Putin.

All of this is well worth a read late, if you have time.

July 21, 2016: Trump accepts the Republican Party’s nomination, after having Putin’s blessing since December 2015, when the Russian leader called him “brilliant,” “talented” and “the absolute leader in the presidential race.”

July 27, 2016:  On the campaign trail, Trump “jokingly” asks Russia to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

August 2016: TIME magazine publishes its own article on Trump’s ties to Russia.

Aug. 19, 2016: Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, “resigns” after growing concern (by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and others) about his past business dealings in the Ukraine and allegations of $12.7 million in cash payments from Ukraine’s pro-Russian party.

This was the first domino to fall.

October 2016: An article in the Financial Times of London alleges that the Trump organization, hampered by bankruptcies, benefited by laundering money from the Russian mob through one of its New York City apartment towers, specifically Trump SoHo.

Oct. 7, 2016: The Obama administration officially accused the Russian government of hacking into emails of key officials in the Democratic National Committee and disclosing content through WikiLeaks to “interfere with the U.S. election process.”

Nov. 8, 2016: Trump is elected president of the United States.

Dec. 28, 2016: President Barack Obama imposes sanctions against Russia for interference in the election and orders 35 Russian diplomats to leave the country.

Trump’s National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, has at least two phone conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak which the Trump administration claims were only to express condolences for two incidents (the terroristic killing of the Russian ambassador to Ankara and the loss of a Russian plane carrying a choir to Syria) and to arrange a post-inauguration call between Trump and Putin.

Jan. 6, 2017: FBI Director James Comey has a meeting with President-Elect Trump to brief him on a synopsis of the contents of a dossier about him.

Jan. 10, 2017: Buzzfeed publishes unconfirmed information taken from a dossier compiled by a Russian intelligence agent alleging the Russian government has videotape of Trump in a Moscow hotel watching Russian hookers urinate on each other.

Jan. 11, 2017: Trump blasts the report as “fake news” and part of a partisan witch hunt. Much of his vitriol is directed at CNN, which reported the Buzzfeed story second-hand.

Steele, outed as the author of the dossier, vanishes, leaving behind a £1.5 million mansion and instructions to a neighbor to look after his cat, according to The Daily Mail of London.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) reveals on his website that he had been the one to deliver the 35-page dossier to Comey.

Jan. 20, 2017: Trump is inaugurated.

Jan. 28, 2017: Trump has a phone call with Putin, which may or may not have been recorded. No complete transcript of the call has been released, and Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council, suggested that the White House turned off the recording.

On this same day, Oleg Erovinkin, a former general in Russia’s KGB, alleged to have helped Steele compile the incriminating dossier on Trump, is found dead in the back of his car in Moscow under mysterious circumstances.

Mysterious? I’ll say. And it leads me to question where Steele is hiding, or if he’s even still breathing.

Feb. 1, 2017:  The Senate confirms Trump’s choice for secretary of state, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, whose close business ties to Russia include Putin awarding him the “Order of Friendship.”

Feb. 5, 2017: Trump continues to defend Putin, saying he respects him, even as Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly calls the Russian president a thug and a killer. “What do you think? Our country’s so innocent,” Trump counters.

Feb. 13, 2017: Flynn “resigns” as National Security Adviser under allegations that he lied to both the president and Vice President Mike Pence about the substance of his calls with the Russian ambassador. It becomes clear that Trump knew about the breach of trust for almost three weeks before Flynn’s resignation.

The second domino has fallen.

Feb. 14, 2017: Top Republican senators insist that Congress investigate the circumstances leading to Flynn’s resignation, and grudgingly, Sen. Mitch McConnell said it is “highly likely” that the Senate Intelligence Committee will examine the matter.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) of the House Intelligence Committee said “alleged contacts and any others the Trump campaign may have had with the Kremlin are the subject of the House Intelligence Committee’s ongoing investigation.”

Inexplicably, Trump insists that leaks coming out of Washington are “the real story” — not the fact that members of his team are clearly playing footsie with Russia under the dinner table. In other words, he’s really just outraged that Flynn was caught. Perhaps he just expects everyone to look the other way — kind of like OJ wanted everyone to believe he would find “the real killer.”

Not this time, Donnie. Here’s to you being the third domino.


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