The Big Collusion Question
Since news broke of the hacking of the Democratic National Committee in June 2016, suspicions of a Trump-Russia collusion have been growing.
As emails repeatedly leaked to the press at critical times of the election cycle, it became clear that they were intended to directly damage the Clinton campaign. Multiple reports now acknowledge that the hack came from Russian agents. Directed by Vladimir Putin, the online persona Guccifer 2.0 hacked the emails, which Wikilinks then released.
The connection between the current presidential administration and Russian interests is more than supposition. Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump even openly encouraged Russians to hack Hilary Clinton’s emails in July 2016. After the election, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told a Russian news service that members of Trump’s team had been in contact, adding, “I cannot say that all of them, but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives.”
The news cycle seems to corroborate that story as information about many of the people associated with the Trump campaign becomes public knowledge. Roger Stone, who is a confidant of the president, tweeted about the Wikilinks release of the Russian-hacked Clinton emails before they happened. Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak twice during the 2016 election, though he swore under oath that he’d never had contact with Russian agents. The President’s first campaign manager Paul Manafort has long had ties to the Russian state; he resigned in August after a ledger was found that implicated him as having had received $12.7 million from the Ukraine’s pro-Russian president.
Another key figure, former national security advisor Michael Flynn, continues to become a central focus of the proceedings as more is known. He first came to the FBI’s attention when he made some phone calls to Russian Ambassador Kislyak, the same day that President Obama announced new sanctions on Russia as a result of its interference in the 2016 election. At first, the Donald administration claimed that he had been making a friendly call and not talking about the sanctions, but The Washington Post reported in February that the FBI was indeed investigating the nature of these calls. As recently as last week, the former national security advisor came under fire again when congressional officials announced that he had unofficially accepted tens of thousands of dollars from Russian groups during a trip in 2015.
Federal investigators have also found that Flynn was directly involved in drafting anti-democratic propaganda with Russian agents, for use in the United States and across Europe. This collusion was likely known of and condoned by the administration, including President Trump himself.
It now appears that the CIA suspected Russian inference with the 2016 presidential election much sooner than previously thought. In late August–as early as 10 weeks before the election— the CIA’s director at the time John O. Brennan called for individual briefings with select members of Congress to discuss the evidence of Russian election meddling. Though it is unclear what information prompted the series of meetings, it is clear that the CIA became increasingly concerned about the connection between Donald Trump and Russia. Since then Trump presidents has scrutinized closely.
When the FBI director James Comey announced the investigation into the connection between current presidential administration and Russian interests in March, he directly contradicted the President’s previous assertion that these suspicions were the result of scheming Democrats. One of the leads that the FBI is examining is the connection between far-right news sites and Russian bots, which littered social media with pro-Trump articles, some partially or completely fictional, during the election.
However, the FBI’s investigations will likely never give a full picture of the proceedings to the American public, since issues of counterintelligence are almost always handled behind closed doors. The few details of the investigation that will be publicly shared will likely come from the congressional hearings.
Investigative Committees within Congress
With congressional investigative committees now resumed after a two-week recess, one member of the Senate’s panel, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore, has expressed “serious concerns” about the investigation. He says, “For weeks I’ve called for the committee to move more quickly and more transparently, particularly on the key issue of following the money in this investigation.”
As of April 24th, the Senate Intelligence Committee has still not begun looking into the Trump-Russia connection, or questioning the key figures that may have been directly involved. Interestingly, none of the appointed representatives in the committee have experience with this kind of complex investigation. The committee is also smaller than usual for a probe of this type, at only seven people.
Despite this, the Senate’s committee holds out hope for a bipartisan and effective investigation. Richard Burr, the Republican chairman of the committee who has consistently endorsed President Trump, had previously been against investigating Russian interference in the election. As opening hearings take place on May 4th, Burr and Democratic vice chairman Senator Mark Warner claim to present a united front. “I have confidence in Richard Burr, that we, together with the members of the committee, are going to get to the bottom of this,” Warner stated.
Meanwhile, the House Intelligence Committee seems to finally be recovering from a whirlwind of events resulting in the recusal of committee chairman Devin Nunes, who had previously worked with the Trump campaign. Rep. Nunes cancelled a hearing without just cause in late March, leading many to believe that he was stalling the investigation in order to protect the President’s interests. When finally the Ethics Committee announced that they would look into whether he had mishandled information, Nunes was obligated to step down.
Now under the leadership of active chairman Rep. Mike Calloway, R-Texas, the house committees held second, closed interviews with high-ranking government officials on May 2nd: FBI director James Comey and NSA director Mike Rogers. They will also hold open hearings with former CIA director John Brennan, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and Director of National Intel James Clapper.
The investigations now underway, the President and the White House have been attempting to divert attention away from the security scandal with continued baseless allegations, such as the implication that former president Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the election. Regardless of the investigation’s outcome, it seems clear that the current administration is hiding something.