(Bloomberg) -- For a window into the swirl of Russians around Donald Trump’s campaign and his business, look back to a single day in mid-2016: June 9.
On that day, Trump’s lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen fielded emails about a trip he was planning for the following week to Russia, where Cohen’s contacts were dangling the possibility of a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties rode the golden elevators up Trump Tower in Manhattan for the now infamous meeting with Trump’s oldest son, son-in-law and his campaign chairman after promising to dish dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton.
And campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos was working to arrange a trip to Russia for Trump through a contact in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
It would be rare for an American presidential campaign to have even a single business contact with a foreign government, let alone an adversarial one like Russia’s. That day alone there were three, and over the course of Trump’s bid for the White House, there were many more.
Web of Contacts
None of the events of June 9 in and of themselves provide proof of wrongdoing by Trump or his associates. But that Thursday offers a snapshot of the web of Russian contacts entangling the presidential candidate, who by then had already confounded the Republican foreign policy establishment by exchanging praise with Putin and saying he’d welcome “a deeper level of relations with Russia.”
A fuller picture of what happened June 9 emerged on Thursday with Cohen’s guilty plea for lying to Congress about the timeline of long-running efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. He’d testified to lawmakers that efforts to make a deal ended in January 2016, before the presidential caucuses and primaries began. They actually continued until June, by which time Trump had achieved a lock on the Republican presidential nomination.
In a pair of Twitter messages on Friday, Trump said that he’d “lightly looked” at a potential project in Russia.
The Cohen plea document filed by Robert Mueller was the first time the special counsel has publicly connected Trump’s campaign and his business to the Russian government, adding a significant new chapter to the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether anyone around Trump colluded in it.
The Trump Tower meeting that day, organized by Donald Trump Jr., stands as an embarrassing milestone for the president and his family. Even a report by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee that otherwise vigorously defended the president found that the “meeting at Trump Tower between members of the Trump campaign and a Russian lawyer who falsely purported to have damaging evidence on the Clinton campaign demonstrated poor judgment.”
Days after the events on June 9, the American public got its first hint that Russian agents were already embarking on a sophisticated election interference operation that U.S. intelligence agencies later concluded was aimed at damaging Clinton and helping Trump win the presidency.
On June 14, the Washington Post reported that Russian government hackers had penetrated the network of the Democratic National Committee and gained access to the party’s opposition research file on Trump.
Yet that revelation didn’t deter some participants in Trump’s campaign from pursuing closer relations with Putin’s government.
Papadopoulos, for example, continued trying to broker a trip to Russia -- for Trump or a campaign staffer -- well into August. In July, another Trump foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, traveled to Moscow where he gave a commencement speech and says he briefly interacted with Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich.
And throughout July and August, longtime Trump associate Roger Stone and the conservative author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi sought to get access to Democratic emails stolen by Russia via WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, according to a draft plea deal by Corsi that he shared with several publications.
If nothing else, the public disclosure of Russian hacking apparently put an end to the maneuvering toward a Trump skyscraper in Moscow.
Shortly after the story broke, Cohen met his business partner on the deal, Felix Sater, in the pink-marbled lobby of Trump Tower, and told him that the trip and the project were off. No one at the Trump Organization was interested in doing deals with Russia any more, said a person familiar with the exchange.
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