The House intelligence panel’s ranking member on Monday aired in public the most thorough recounting to date of the contacts between senior Donald Trump campaign advisers and Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign and its aftermath.
Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, listed the contacts in an opening statement to an Intelligence Committee hearing that saw FBI Director James Comey confirm that the agency is investigating possible collusion between Trump’s inner circle and Russia.
In a packed House of Representatives hearing room that had the buzz of a historic event, drawing interest in the United States and abroad, Schiff listed in a 15-minute opening statement a chronology of contacts undertaken by a handful of Trump formal or informal advisers with Russians.
Schiff asked whether the accumulation of contacts could be “nothing more than an entirely unhappy coincidence? Yes, it is possible.” It is also possible, he added, that they are “not disconnected and not unrelated. . . . We simply don’t know, not yet, and we owe it to the country to find out.”
He cast the outcome of the investigation as a potential turning point in history, one in which the battle of the times is “not communism vs. capitalism, but authoritarianism vs. democracy and representative government.”
He said the stakes were high for Trump barely two months into his presidency.
“If the Trump campaign, or anybody associated with it, aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history,” Schiff said.
Comey told the hearing that he’d been cleared by the Justice Department to announce that the FBI is looking at whether crimes were committed during the election campaign.
“That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts,” Comey told the committee.
Schiff focused on several men who served in varying capacities in the Trump campaign, from informal confidant to key advisers and a political operative who was briefly chairman of the campaign. Six of the men had direct contact with Russians, he said. They were:
▪ Carter Page, whom Schiff described as “someone candidate Trump identified as one of his national security advisers.” Page traveled to Moscow on a trip approved by the Trump campaign last July. According to a dossier prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer who is said to be held in high regard by U.S. intelligence, Page had a secret meeting with Igor Sechin, chief executive of Russian gas giant Rosneft and reportedly “a former KGB agent and close friend of Putin’s.” According to Steele, Schiff said, Page was offered participation in a deal involving the sale of a 19 percent share of Rosneft, a sale that eventually occurred, generating unknown brokerage fees. Page has declined to discuss details of his dealings in Russia with McClatchy, saying only that he has done no wrong and does not know the head of Rosneft.
▪ Paul Manafort, who served as the Trump campaign chairman from April to August 2016. Again citing the Steele dossier, Schiff said it was Manafort who “chose Page to serve as a go-between for the Trump campaign and Russian interests.” Manafort resigned from the campaign after it was revealed that he was suspected of receiving $12.7 million from the pro-Russian government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
▪ J.D. Gordon and Walid Phares, who Schiff said met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Republican National Convention last summer. “It was J.D. Gordon who approved Page’s trip to Moscow,” Schiff said. At the convention, Schiff said, Trump advisers sought successfully to remove a section of the GOP platform that supported the provision of “lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine, which Russia had sought to dominate as part of its sphere of influence.
If the Trump campaign, or anybody associated with it, aided or abetted the Russians, it would not only be a serious crime, it would also represent one of the most shocking betrayals of our democracy in history.
Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member on House Intelligence panel
▪ Roger Stone, a longtime Trump confidant who Schiff said had communicated with Guccifer 2.0, a hacker who claimed he had penetrated the Democratic National Committee. Schiff said intelligence agencies later determined that the emails, which WikiLeaks began to publish last July, “were in fact stolen by Russian intelligence and Guccifer 2.0 acted as a front.” A month later, Schiff said, Stone “communicates with the Russian cutout Guccifer 2.0, and authors a Breitbart piece denying Guccifer’s links to Russian intelligence. Then, later in August, Stone does something truly remarkable, when he predicts that the personal emails of Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta will soon be published. ‘Trust me, it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel. #Crooked Hillary.’ ” Shortly after, Schiff said, “WikiLeaks releases its first batch of Podesta emails. The release of John Podesta’s emails would then continue on a daily basis up to Election Day.”
▪ Michael Flynn, whom Trump named as his national security adviser shortly after his election victory. Flynn had a secret conversation with the Russian ambassador in Washington in December “about sanctions imposed by President Obama on Russia over its hacking designed to help the Trump campaign. Michael Flynn lies about this secret conversation,” Schiff said. “The vice president, unknowingly, then assures the country that no such conversation ever happened. The president is informed Flynn has lied, and Pence has misled the country. The president does nothing,” Schiff said. “Two weeks later, the press reveals that Flynn has lied and the president is forced to fire Mr. Flynn. The president then praises the man who lied, Flynn, and castigates the press for exposing the lie.”