This page expands on the "Evidence of Collusion" section from our "Questions and Answers" page, with more details about each person involved and the ways in which they were connected to both Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016.
1.) George Papadopoulos. It is now a legally established fact that a Russia-connected contact (who has has possibly gone missing) "told defendant Papadopoulos about the 'thousands of emails'" Russia had collected. This conversation took place in April 2016, well before the e-mails began to leak out, but a time when "when defendant Papadopoulos had been a foreign policy adviser to the [Trump] Campaign for over a month." (See timeline). It's unclear whether he told anyone else at that time. Neither Papadopoulos nor anyone else in the Trump campaign reported this information to US law enforcement, and Trump continued to publicly deny that Russia was involved in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee until after the election. The FBI investigation of Trump campaign connections to Russia was opened after Papadopoulos disclosed this knowledge to a foreign diplomat, who passed it on to the FBI.
Papadopoulos was also in contact with another Russia-linked businessman who copied Jared Kushner on some of his e-mails. Papadopoulos pushed for the campaign to reach out more directly to Russia, including offering to help set up a direct meeting between candidate Trump and Putin. And after the 2016 election, he allegedly said he was “doing a business deal with Russians which would result in large financial gains for himself and Mr. Trump.”
2.) Felix Sater. In 2015, a Russian-American Trump associate named Felix Sater had written an e-mail to Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, saying: “Buddy our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it [...] I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.” He was working to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow at the time, with funding from a Russian bank subject to US sanctions. One of the people he was working with was a former agent of Russian military intelligence (the GRU) - now named as Evgeny Shmykov.
Sater is reported to be cooperating in an investigation of money laundering involving investments from Kazakhstan in the Trump SoHo property Sater helped run.
Sater now claims that he didn't really think Trump could get elected or that he could get Putin to help. He does not deny writing the e-mail.
3. Michael Cohen. After receiving the email from Felix Sater, Michael Cohen himself apparently did seek buy in on plans for a Trump tower in Moscow from a member of Putin's team — with the permission of Donald Trump. Trump had signed a letter of intent to pursue the development.
Fox News reports that he wrote to Putin's press secretary requesting assistance on the real estate deal, and spoke to the press secretary’s assistant on the phone about it. In November of 2015, Cohen also spoke on the phone (at Ivanka Trump's request) with a Russian Olympic weight lifter who offered to introduce Donald Trump to Putin to facilitate plans for the building. In a sentencing memorandum, the Special Counsel’s Office revealed that a Russian national in contact with Cohen (thought to be this weight lifter), claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation offered the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level,” and insisted that a meeting with Putin could have “phenomenal” impact, “not only in political but in a business dimension as well.” Cohen did not follow up on the invitation, because he and Felix Sater were already working with a different person (possibly referring to Evgeny Shmykov) whom he believed to have Russian government connections.
Michael Cohen pled guilty to lying to Congress about this real estate project in Moscow, which Cohen was trying to develop during the campaign. According to documents filed with his guilty plea, “The Moscow Project was discussed multiple times within the Company and did not end in January 2016” and “Cohen agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project and took steps in contemplation of Individual 1's [Donald Trump] possible travel to Russia.”
A shell company set up by Michael Cohen received payments in 2017 of $1 million from Columbus Nova, an investment firm in New York whose biggest client is a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian oligarch. Cohen met with Vekselberg in Trump Tower shortly before the inauguration, discussing the incoming administration's Russia policy. Vekselberg then attended Trump's inauguration ceremony and private after-parties. The CEO of Columbus Nova, Vekselberg's cousin, Andrew Intrater, made a $250,000 donation to the Trump inauguration fund. Vekselberg's American business partner Len Blavatnik donated $6.35 million to GOP political action committees.
Though he was the president's personal attorney, with no role in government, Michael Cohen was also involved in delivering a very pro-Russia "peace plan" for Ukraine from a Ukrainian politician to National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The "peace plan" was to have been promoted using funding from Vekselberg.
Finally, according to McClatchy the Special Counsel has evidence that he "secretly made a late-summer trip to Prague during the 2016 presidential campaign" -- which he has categorically denied doing when alleged to have met a Russian contact there.
4.) Paul Manafort. Paul Manafort offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin (Manafort’s former employer, Oleg Deripaska) shortly before the Republican National Convention. He made the offer in e-mails addressed to a Russian intermediary (Konstantin Kilimnik) with ties with Russian military intelligence and had his own relationship with Deripaka. Emails from Manafort obtained by the Atlantic appear to indicate that he hoped to use his position as Trump's campaign manager to curry favor with Deripaska -- who had loaned him at least $10 million. Manafort has a history of working on behalf of Russian interests.
Kilimnik had worked for Manafort in Ukraine — Paul Manafort had to resign as Trump campaign manager when it was revealed he was getting cash payments from a pro-Putin party in Ukraine. Manafort shared presidential campaign polling data with Kilimnik and asked that it be passed on to two financiers of that pro-Putin Ukrainian party. Manafort had dinner with Kilimnik in August, 2016.
He was charged with money laundering (with money coming from figures associated with the Russian Mafia) and acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the pro-Putin government of Ukraine. Those charges were withdrawn (though he confessed to those actions) in return for his cooperation with the Special Counsel investigation. However, Manafort was convicted on other charges including bank and tax fraud, and pled guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States (related to his foreign lobbying work), and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice (related to attempted witness tampering). However, the agreement for reduced sentencing he received in return for those pleas was voided after the special counsel said he lied to investigators about his contacts with Killimnik and maintained an unusual open channel with Mr. Trump’s attorneys even after his plea agreement .
Manafort also reportedly met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange while Russia was in the process of stealing the documents WikiLeaks eventually released. He attended the Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. And he had a connection to Cambridge Analytica through Konstantin Killimnik’s business partner Sam Patten.
After the election, Manafort advised the White House on how to attack and discredit the investigations of President Trump.
A more detailed review of evidence of collusion associated with Manafort is available at this link.
Manafort's long history with Donald Trump is described here.
5.) Donald Trump Jr. Trump’s son, Donald Trump, Jr, along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, met with Russian operatives after being promised damaging information on Clinton. The e-mails coordinating the meeting said, "This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." On these terms, the Trump campaign agreed to a meeting. And indeed, according to the New York Times, the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, "had discussed the allegations with one of Russia’s most powerful officials, the prosecutor general, Yuri Y. Chaika," and admits to being an "informant" for his office.
Putin himself referenced the allegations made by Veselnitskya in a press conference with Donald Trump in Helsinki. Veselnitskya has also been linked to other officials in the Russian government. (One of her contacts in the prosecutor general’s office died in a helicopter crash in 2018.)
She followed up after the meeting, and Donald Trump Jr. also stayed in touch with the Russian acquaintances — Aras and Emin Agalarov — who had helped it up. Natalia Veselnitskya was one of a number of influential Russians who were invited to Trump's inauguration.
Among the other attendees of the Trump Tower meeting: Rinat Akhmetshin (a former Russian military intelligence officer who "once said there is no such thing as former”) and Ike Kevaladze (who had been accused of laundering $1.4 billion of Russian money via contracts with a business which had links to former KGB officers.) The meeting was followed by a series of suspicious money transfers, with Aras Agalarov forming a shell company in the US and then sending millions of dollars to American accounts including those of his son Emin, and to Emin’s publicist (who attended the Trump Tower meeting), and to Ike Kevaladze.
Michael Cohen has said that then-candidate Trump knew in advance about the meeting Trump Jr. attended, though his accounts have been inconsistent. Trump Jr. (and his sister Ivanka Trump) were also involved in Cohen and Sater’s efforts to develop a Trump Tower Moscow during the campaing.
Separately, Donald Trump Jr. exchanged direct messages with WikiLeaks. They told him that cooperating with them was "strongly in his interest." He did not report these exchanges. He did tweet out a link they sent him, and asked around about the owners of a website they said they had hacked.
And he met, at the 2016 convention of the National Rifle Association, with Alexander Torshin. Further details about this meeting are described below under “11.) Paul Erickson, Alexander Torshin and Maria Butina.”
6.) Michael Flynn. According to the Wall Street Journal there is evidence of "Russian hackers discussing how to obtain emails from Mrs. Clinton’s server and then transmit them to Mr. Flynn." Flynn’s associate Peter Smith had been looking to buy any emails hackers may have obtained from Hillary Clinton. “Investigators also have evidence that the late GOP activist Peter W. Smith may have had advance knowledge of details about the release of emails from a top Hillary Clinton campaign official by WikiLeaks,” according to one source interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. Smith also reached out to “Guccifer 2.0”—and sought the help of a white nationalist hacker who lives in Ukraine.
Flynn was paid $67,000 during the campaign by Russian interests, among his many foreign financial entanglements, and attended a public dinner event with Vladimir Putin. He and his son met with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, about a week before that event.
According to reporters for Mother Jones magazine, a Flynn associate has stated that before the election “Flynn said he discussed with Kislyak a grand bargain in which Moscow would cooperate with the Trump administration to resolve the Syrian conflict and Washington would end or ease up on the sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Ukraine. [Another] Flynn associate says Flynn said he had been talking to Kislyak about Syria, Iran, and other foreign policy matters that Russia and the United States could tackle together were Trump to be elected. A third Flynn associate recalls that shortly after the election, Flynn told him he had been in contact with Kislyak about Syria—but without stating whether that was before or after Election Day. “
During the inauguration, Michael Flynn sent a text message to a colleague that they were "good to go" on plans to collaborate with Russia on a nuclear energy project in the Middle East which was being impeded by the sanctions against Russia.
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified that she warned the Trump administration that Michael Flynn could be blackmailed by Russia because they could threaten to expose his lies about what he discussed with them during the transition. However, Flynn remained in office for 18 days, until after these lies were exposed by the US media, despite the risk posed by having someone susceptible to Russian threats in such a sensitive position.
Flynn had multiple opportunities to disclose the content of his discussions with Kislyak during his FBI interview. “When the defendant said he did not remember something they knew he said, they used the exact words the defendant had used in order to prompt a truthful response,” according to a sentencing memo filed by the Special Counsel. At a hearing, Flynn said he was “aware that lying to the FBI was a crime.”
7.) Roger Stone. Trump adviser Roger Stone knew about upcoming releases of stolen documents, apparently because he received an email saying "Word is friend in embassy [Julian Assange] plans 2 more dumps, one shortly after I'm back. 2nd in Oct...Impact planned to be very damaging.” He received the email on Aug. 2, 2016. He sought to cover up this source.
Also on Aug 2, 2016, Julian Assange met with a friend of the person who sent that email. Both Assange and the person he met with (Trump campaign adviser Ted Malloch) have made frequent appearances on the Russian state-controlled TV network “RT” (formerly known as “Russia today.”)
Stone was in contact with Guccifer 2.0 via Twitter direct messages. Since Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian agent, Stone's direct communication with him about the e-mail hack constitutes a form of collusion with the Russian government, though it is not clear if Stone knew that’s who he was talking to.
Furthermore, after testifying to the House Intelligence Committee that he had no contacts with Russians, Stone revealed in June of 2018 that he had been approached by a Russian national offering to sell damaging information on Hillary Clinton (Stone claims he declined the offer.)
Stone is also known to have exchanged messages with WikiLeaks. A witness claims that Stone had learned as early as Spring 2016 that WikiLeaks had e-mails which would embarrass top Democrats. Former Trump adviser Sam Nunberg said that Stone told him that he had actually met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a detail which is supported by e-mails Stone sent. WikiLeaks, in turn, was also in contact with Guccifer 2.0. In a Sept. 18, 2016, message, Stone urged an acquaintance who knew Assange ask the WikiLeaks founder for emails that he believed would hurt Clinton's campaign. Stone later worked to get a pardon for Julian Assange.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that the special counsel’s office questioned witnesses about Stone’s activities, including his contacts with WikiLeaks, and has obtained telephone records. The special counsel also has evidence of August, 2016 conference calls in which Stone told callers about WikiLeaks’ plans to release information that he said would affect the 2016 presidential campaign.
A Republican campaign worker named Andrew Nevins received Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee documents from Guccifer 2.0, some of which he posted publicly on his blog, and shared with Roger Stone.
Trump himself mentioned the WikiLeaks releases over a hundred times in the final weeks of the campaign. (WikiLeaks head Julian Assange has tried more than once to relocate to Russia.) Trump called on Russia to release whatever they had from Hillary Clinton's server, even as he denied Russian involvement in the hacking of the DNC.
8.) Alexander Nix and Steve Bannon. Alexander Nix, the CEO of "Cambridge Analytica" who acted as consultants for the Trump campaign, offered to help WikiLeaks sort through the emails taken by Russian hackers from the DNC servers in July of 2016. He reportedly did this at the request of the company's major investor, Robert Mercer, a prominent Trump supporter and donor to Trump supporting PACs.
And a former employee of the company testified that it"used Russian researchers to gather its data, (and) openly shared information on 'rumor campaigns' and 'attitudinal inoculation'" with companies and executives linked to the Russian intelligence agency FSB. A director at the same company claimed to have channelled cryptocurrency payments and donations to WikiLeaks, and to have met with Julian Assange to discuss the American election in February, 2017.
Cambridge Analytica was not just a contractor -- its leadership and funding were closely linked to the Trump campaign. Steve Bannon, Trump's campaign chief, had served as vice president and secretary of Cambridge Analytica from June 2014 to August 2016, when he resigned to take the position with Trump. He was also on its board of directors, and owned a stake in the company. As early as 2014, under Bannon's leadership, Cambridge Analytica was reportedly testing slogans which would eventually be used by the Trump campaign. They were working with Trump and his team before Trump even announced his candidacy (and former staffers are now working on the Trump 2020 campaign.) As consultants, Cambridge Analytica “ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy” for Trump, according to Nix. And both John Bolton and Michael Flynn had ties to Cambridge Analytica, Flynn as an advisor, and Bolton (through a PAC) as a customer who spent $1.2 million on polling and "behavioral microtargeting."
Given these close links, there is not a clear distinction between Cambridge Analytica offering to help sort through hacked emails for distribution or sharing information with Russian entities, and the Trump campaign doing so. At the very least, Cambridge Analytica seem to have been attempting to take advantage of Russian efforts.
Cambridge Analytica also had some pre-existing links to Russia. They gave briefings on their political work to Moscow firm Lukoil, and the researcher who developed their crucial algorithm worked for St Petersburg university and was funded by the Russian government for his research into social media. Facebook data which Cambridge Analytica acquired under false pretenses was accessed from Russia. Cambridge Analytica tested the popularity of Vladimir Putin among Americans in 2014, at the direction of Steve Bannon. An employee of Cambridge Analytica's parent company named Sam Patten had also worked for many years with Konstantin Kilimnik, the same suspected Russian spy that Paul Manafort met with. (Patten has now pled guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent, and Kilimnik faces charges of witness tampering.)
In 2014 under Bannon, Cambridge Analytica harvested Facebook data from at least 87 million users and left sensitive voter-targeting algorithms unprotected online, where it could be accessed by anyone including foreign agents. The company was found guilty of breaking UK data protection laws.
An investor in Cambridge Analytica's parent company also invested another privately held company whose largest shareholder was the Ukrainian oligarch (and Paul Manafort business partner) Dmitry Firtash.
The hedge fund run by Cambridge Analytica investor Robert Mercer also invested in a company called "VimpelCom" which has since been renamed Veon. The largest shareholder in that company is the Russian financial group "Alfa Group." Alfa Group is notable for featuring in the Steele dossier and in a story about Trump organization server which had a mysterious communication pattern with a Russian bank's server. Alex Van Der Zwaan, who was indicted by Robert Mueller and pled guilty to charges of lying to federal investigators, is the son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan, a director and co-owner of Alfa Bank.
Cambridge Analytica aslo played a role in the British campaign to leave the European union, supporting a key Russian policy goal: breaking up the EU.
9.) Erik Prince. An informal adviser to Trump’s transition team whose sister is education secretary Betsy De Vos, Erik Prince attended a secret meeting in the Seychelles with a Putin-linked Russian financier, which appears to have been one of a series of such meetings -- and the others included Russians as well. As information contradicting his testimony has come out, it now appears that Prince lied to Congress about the nature of those meetings.
Erik Prince also arranged a meeting in Trump Tower Aug. 3, 2016 with foreign emissaries who offered to help the Trump campaign, which Donald Trump Jr. attended. A man named George Nader attended the meeting and said that the princes who led Saudi Arabia and the the United Arab Emirates were eager to help Trump win election as president. Israeli social media specialist Joel Zamel also attended and offered social media campaign services; he was paid $2 million after the election by Nader.
Officials from Israel, Saudia Arabia, and the UAE have repeatedly encouraged their American counterparts to consider ending the Ukraine-related sanctions on Russia in return for Putin’s help in removing Iranian forces from Syria.
10.) Jeff Sessions. Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, told his superiors in Moscow in the spring of 2016 that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions. (Sessions does not recall such a meeting.)
Later in the summer, at the Republican National Convention, Kislyak met with Sessions and two other Trump campaign advisers. (Sessions acknowledges that this meeting took place.) At that convention, the Trump campaign successfully pushed to modify the party's platform, to remove language about arming Ukrainians fighting against the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Finally in September, Sessions met with Kislyak again in Sessions' office. (Sessions acknowledges that this meeting took place as well. He denies any collusion with Kislyak at either of the meetings he acknowledges.)
At his confirmation hearing, Sessions had initially testified to Congress that he had not met with any Russians at all during the campaign. When the meetings with Kislyak were revealed, Sessions corrected his testimony and recused himself from oversight of the Russia investigation.
11.) Paul Erickson, Maria Butina, and Alexander Torshin. In July of 2018, a Russian graduate student named Maria Butina was arrested and charged with conspiracy to "infiltrate organizations active in U.S. politics in an effort to advance the interests of the Russian Federation.” In December of 2018, she pled guilty to that charge.
She traveled around the US (and invited Americans to Moscow) meeting with political leaders, gun-rights activists, and student groups. E-mails obtained using search warrants indicate that she was trying to build a resume that would give her access to officials who were the target of a Russian government influence campaign. Her goal was to establish “back channel” communications with American politicians. Her efforts appear to have been approved by the Kremlin.
The New York Times has reported that: “Ms. Butina had made a minor splash among American conservatives as an ebullient graduate student at American University with a knack for meeting influential Republicans. She snapped photos with Donald Trump Jr., befriended Grover Norquist, the anti-tax crusader, and accompanied J.D. Gordon, a Trump campaign aide, to see the band Styx. To support herself in the United States, she relied in part on a Rockefeller heir, George O’Neill Jr., who has used his wealth to advocate better relations with Russia.” The same article reports that the president of the National Rifle Association and his wife enlisted Butina’s help in a scheme to broker the sale of five million barrels of Russian jet fuel.
Butina was taking orders from Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia's central bank and a former Russian senator, and was involved in a sexual relationship with Paul Erickson, a US Citizen and NRA activist. At one point during the 2016 campaign, Butina and Alexander Torshin tried unsuccessfully to broker a meeting between Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Separately, her romantic partner Paul Erickson wrote an email to Jeff Sessions' former Chief of Staff, then working for the Trump campaign. “Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump,. He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election. Let’s talk through what has transpired and Senator Sessions’s advice on how to proceed.”
At an National Rifle Association (NRA) convention in Kentucky in May 2016, Butina's boss Alexander Torshin spoke to Donald Trump Jr. (The FBI reportedly has obtained wiretaps of the discussions leading up that meeting from the Spanish government, which was investigating Torshin for money laundering.)
Torshin claims to have met with the future president himself in 2015 in Nashville, where that year's NRA convention was held. In December 2015 his associates in Moscow hosted an NRA delegation which included Sherriff David Clarke, who worked for a Trump-supporting political action committee.
She tried to arrange a meeting for a delegation of high-ranking members of the National Rifle Association with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and worked with the Outdoor Channel to develop a television show highlighting Putin’s “love of the outdoors” that would feature the Russian President himself. Butina has said she was twice denied visas to travel to the U.S. and received permission only on her third attempt to go to a National Rifle Association conference, after meeting with NRA leaders in Russia. She claimed in 2013 that her gun rights group had entered into a “signed cooperation agreement” with the NRA.
At a speech in July 2015, Trump took a question from Maria Butina from stage, after Butina had unsuccessfully tried to arrange a meeting with him through Erickson. The question was about sanctions on Russia. Trump publicly replied "I believe I would get along very nicely with Putin, OK? And I mean, where we have the strength. I don’t think you’d need the sanctions. I think we would get along very, very well.”
Russian sources reported that Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had discussed Butina's case, but the American read out of the call did not mention her.
Here we also document the original charges faced by Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, which were reduced by plea deals and partial convictions.
Paul Manafort and Rick Gates served as campaign chairman and deputy campaign manager, respectively, for the 2016 Trump campaign. Among the charges initially brought against them:
- Between at least 2006 and 2015, Manafort and Gates acted as unregistered agents of the Government of Ukraine, when it was run by a pro-Putin political party whose leader later fled to Russia.
-In order to hide Ukrainian payments from United States authorities, from approximately 2006 through at least 2016, Manafort and Gates laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts.
- Manafort and his former employee Konstantin Kilimnik (a Russian citizen) have also been charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The Justice Department cites evidence that they tried to influence testimony from witnesses about the extent to which they lobbied in the United States on behalf of their Ukrainian clients.
They are accused of continuing to hide evidence of their actions through 2017, and hiding that evidence from the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury is itself a crime, "Conspiracy against the United States." This is one of the charges to which Rick Gates pled guilty in return for his cooperation.