We are a group of attorneys, who having examined the extensive information available to the public about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, believe there is an urgent need for a credible, nonpartisan investigation by an Independent Commission in addition to that of a Special Counsel. This is the first of three articles that discusses Russia’s attack on our democracy, and addresses alleged collusion with the Trump campaign.1
It is common knowledge that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. Russian military intelligence hacked into American computers and planted false news stories to manipulate the American public. At first, they did it to disrupt our election and weaken our government as they have done with democracies in Europe. Then after Donald Trump became the Republican frontrunner, their goal became to defeat Hillary Clinton and help get Trump elected, or in the event of his defeat, de-legitimize a Hillary Clinton presidency and the American democratic system.
Why did Russia support Trump? Russian President Vladimir Putin saw numerous opportunities in a Trump presidency: manipulation of an American President and U.S.-Russia relations; appointment of a Putin friend, opposed to U.S. economic sanctions against Russia, to lead the State Department; removal from the Republican convention platform of a pledge by the U.S. to give weapons to Ukraine; control over the U.S. government’s decisions on matters affecting Russia, such as ending the economic sanctions that have been crippling to the Russian economy, and reduction of criticism over Russia’s hacking and interference in the U.S. election.
Key players in the Trump campaign have significant and ongoing political and economic ties to Russian business interests and the Russian State. They stand to benefit personally from strong U.S.-Russia relations. There is increasing confirmation that the Trump team was in regular contact with Russian government officials during the election, which the Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia has admitted. The only question is whether the contacts were illegal. Based on all the available facts, we argue yes.
Before the 2016 Campaign
For many years, Trump has had significant financial ties to powerful Russian interests, and he has been praising Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin in spite of Putin’s iron-fisted suppression of dissent, his armed invasions of other countries, and his history of violence and corruption. In the early 2000s, after multiple bankruptcies, Trump ended up more than $3.4 Billion in debt. Major American banks refused to do business with him. Trump’s subsequent business transactions led many to believe that billionaire “Oligarchs” in the former Soviet Union and Russia came to his rescue and began to finance Trump projects in New York, Florida, and Panama.
The Financial Times examined the structure and history of several major Trump real estate projects from the last decade. The money to build these projects flowed almost entirely from Russian sources and sources connected to ex-Soviet countries. The arrangement was mutually beneficial. Trump made a great deal of money and appeared to be running a successful business, and his investors could use his business projects to park money they had taken out of Russia, stolen from State treasuries, wanted to hide, or to protect from confiscation by the Russian State. This arrangement, and the crime of money laundering will be discussed at length in the next article. It is raised here to show how the arrangement during the campaign — to help Trump win in return for (among several benefits) less interference by the U.S. with Russian expansion — was a continuation of a pre-existing relationship based on mutual benefit.
During the Campaign
While Russian military intelligence reportedly hacked both the Republican National Committee (RNC) and Democratic National Committee (DNC) computers, the hackers released only DNC e-mails. The dumping of damaging emails were done with such precision that it is difficult to ignore the possibility of coordination. Hours after the lewd Access Hollywood video of Donald Trump surfaced, WikiLeaks published thousands of e-mails from Clinton’s campaign chairman. To name a few more noteworthy connections between the Trump campaign and Russia: personal confidant with prophetic knowledge of hacked e-mails? Check. National Security Adviser paid by Russians? Check. Foreign policy adviser investigated for espionage? Check. Campaign manager with a $10 Million plan to “greatly benefit the Putin Government”? Check. All of these instances highlight the need for a probing and thorough independent investigation.
The Russian hacking and releasing of DNC e-mails were criminal offenses under Federal and New York State law. 2 The U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that Russia was behind the hack. If anyone on the Trump team “aided and abetted” the hacking, they can be charged with the same crime, and also be charged with conspiracy to commit the act, if they knew about it and agreed to it. 3
There is growing evidence that there were regular contacts between the Trump team and Russian government officials. Roger Stone, a long time Trump confidant and campaign adviser, shared information with and defended Guccifer 2.0, an online persona of Russian military intelligence. Stone denies that Guccifer 2.0 is Russian. All 17 American intelligence agencies, however, are unanimous in concluding that Guccifer 2.0 is a front for the Russian military intelligence personnel behind the DNC hack. Further, Stone told news outlets he has “a back-channel communication to WikiLeaks” through a good mutual friend. Stone even made statements indicating he knew about upcoming email releases ahead of time. So while explicit evidence that Stone agreed to the hacking hasn’t been reported yet, it’s reasonable to infer his involvement from the facts we do know.
Trump also encouraged Russian involvement in the election. In a July 2016 press conference, he publicly called on Russia to hack Clinton and publish emails from her private server. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” He went on, “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Trump’s Advisers Working as Agents of Foreign Governments
More connections between the campaign and Russia include people who were working simultaneously for the Trump campaign while secretly operating as foreign agents. It is a Federal crime for someone in the United States to act as an agent for a foreign government without formally registering with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). 4
The reported facts show that Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort operated as unregistered foreign agents in the U.S. Flynn was an adviser during the campaign and then became Trump’s National Security Adviser. There is bipartisan agreement that he likely committed a Federal crime by not disclosing that he had been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Russian propaganda channel RT, for speeches to Russian companies, and as a paid lobbyist for the Government of Turkey (and possibly for Russia) during the campaign. He has offered to testify before Congress and talk to the Department of Justice in return for immunity from prosecution.
Paul Manafort, who worked with Trump on casino-related political matters in the 1980s, became Trump’s second campaign manager. While working for the campaign, Manafort failed to disclose the millions he had received for years of lobbying work to further Russia’s interests in the U.S. and advising the Russian-backed leader of Ukraine. Manafort and Flynn have formally admitted these facts by retroactively registering as foreign agents.
Trump denies knowledge of any of this, but his denial does not ring true. His inner circle was comprised mostly of people who were connected financially to Russia — like Trump; held Russian-friendly positions — like Trump; discussed with the Russian Ambassador Trump’s desire to lift economic sanctions against Russia, or repeated Russian propaganda — like Trump. The apparent synchronized timing of email releases and their publication on right wing media also implies coordination among Russian-backed hackers and Trump’s advisors. It is highly unlikely that Trump didn’t know that Stone and others were in contact with Russian agents and representatives. Indeed, his own son Donald, Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner met with Russian representatives during the campaign.
More information is necessary, but it’s evident from what has already been reported, and admitted by key participants, that further independent investigation is warranted.
Private correspondence with foreign governments
It is a Federal crime under the Logan Act for a private citizen to interfere with U.S. foreign affairs. For example, by discussing the lifting of U.S. sanctions with the Russian Ambassador before Trump was inaugurated, Flynn, then still a private citizen, attempted to interfere with the U.S. policy of imposing sanctions on Russia over the seizure of Crimea.
Michael Flynn and Carter Page also might have illegally meddled in U.S. foreign affairs by criticizing U.S. policy and calling for lifting sanctions during speeches and interviews before Russian audiences, while acting as Trump surrogates.
After He Assumes Office
Since the Russia probe became apparent, Trump has purged key personnel responsible for these investigations. For example, the firing of FBI Director James Comey is highly suspicious. Days before he was fired, Director Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI is investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Shortly thereafter, he requested more funding for the investigation. In an interview with NBC News, Trump cited Russia in his decision to fire Comey. “And in fact when I decided to just do it I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story.’”
It is doubtful that the standing Senate and House committees, rife with partisan bickering, will “get to the bottom of” what happened. Justice delayed is justice denied. We therefore need a nonpartisan, entirely Independent Commission to investigate, collate, and uncover any gaps in relevant information. Only then can we begin to restore the American public’s trust in our Government.
- The conclusions made in this article are drawn from facts and research stated on the website PROBETRUMP.COM.
- 18 USC § 1030 and New York Penal Law §§ 156.10-30. Because the State of New York was where Trump was a resident and the location of his campaign, we analyze possible criminal activities under both Federal law and New York law.
- 18 United States Code § 2(a) provides: “Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal. NY CLS Penal § 20.00 (2015) provides: “When one person engages in conduct which constitutes an offense, another person is criminally liable for such conduct when, acting with the mental culpability required for the commission thereof, he solicits, requests, commands, importunes, or intentionally aids such person to engage in such conduct.” In general, the crime of conspiracy occurs when at least two people agree to commit a crime. Under both New York State and Federal conspiracy law, the crime is the agreement. As long as one of them does something to accomplish the crime they agreed to commit, they both can be arrested for conspiracy.
- In general, “the term ‘agent of a foreign government’ means an individual who agrees to operate within the United States subject to the direction or control of a foreign government or official.”