Trump calls the special counsel's probe a 'witch hunt,' but his links to Russia go back a long time

  • The special counsel's investigation into Russia's interference in America's 2016 presidential election has passed the one-year mark. President Trump insists that's enough.
  • When a new report revealed that Robert Mueller was also examining reported offers by Middle Eastern countries to help the Trump campaign, the president said that was only because the Russia probe came up empty.
  • Yet the Russia pattern began long before Trump became a presidential candidate.

The special counsel's investigation into Russia's interference in America's 2016 presidential election has passed the one-year mark. President Donald Trump insists that's enough.

Trump calls it "a witch hunt." When a new report revealed that Robert Mueller was also examining alleged offers by Middle Eastern countries to help the Trump campaign, the president said that was only because the Russia probe came up empty.

Those arguments, and the passage of time, have chipped away at public support. A majority of Americans want Mueller to keep investigating — but a smaller majority than just two months ago.

Trump remains behind his last line of defense: Nobody has shown he conspired with Russia in 2016. Nobody knows whether Mueller ultimately will.

Mueller has, however, accumulated guilty pleas and cooperation from Trump's former national security advisor, deputy campaign chief and campaign foreign policy advisor. And evidence on public display already paints the jarring picture of an American president who has embraced Russian money and favors while maintaining rhetoric and policies that benefit Russia and undercut his own country's national security officials.

The pattern begins long before Trump became a presidential candidate.

His partners in the Trump Soho project in New York, announced in 2006, included a former official of the Soviet Union and a Russian who confessed to felony fraud involving organized crime.

Son Donald Trump Jr. said two years later that money was "pouring in from Russia" for "high-end product."

The same year, a Russian oligarch paid Trump $95 million for a Florida mansion the elder Trump bought in 2004 for less than half that price.

Showcasing a family golf course in 2013, son Eric Trump told a journalist that Russian financiers provided what American banks would not. (The younger Trump later denied saying so.)

The elder Trump openly courted Russian President Vladimir Putin while staging a beauty pageant in Moscow. With help from the same organized-crime-linked felon who collaborated on Trump Soho, Trump sought to develop real estate in the Russian capital while seeking the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

For his campaign, Trump tapped advisors with questionable ties to Moscow.

He made Paul Manafort his campaign chief. A Trump Tower resident since 2006, Manafort had received tens of millions of dollars from Putin allies in Ukraine.

He made Michael Flynn his national security advisor. In November 2015, Flynn got $45,000 from a Russian propaganda arm to attend a dinner with Putin.

He picked as foreign policy advisers Carter Page — identified years earlier by U.S. officials as a potential Russian spy – and a little-known 30-year-old named George Papadopoulos.

President Donald Trump holds a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in the White House East Room in Washington, March 6, 2018.
Leah Millis | Reuters
President Donald Trump holds a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven in the White House East Room in Washington, March 6, 2018.

Soon after his appointment, Papadopoulos heard from a professor in London that Russians had obtained email "dirt" on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Weeks later, Donald Trump Jr. arranged a meeting at Trump Tower to explore a Russian offer of damaging information on Clinton. His brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Manafort also attended that meeting in early June 2016.

Democratic Party emails — stolen by Russian operatives, according to U.S. intelligence officials — were released by front groups later that month. Then, in July, candidate Trump publicly asked Moscow for more dirt.

"Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," he said, referring to Clinton's emails.

In August, Trump's longtime friend Roger Stone warned of trouble to come for Clinton campaign chair John Podesta. In October, Podesta's emails — also stolen by Russian operatives — were publicly released.

Throughout 2016, Trump stood out for his warmth toward Putin. His campaign changed a Ukraine-related plank in the Republican Party platform to make it more Russia-friendly.

After the election, U.S. intelligence officials disclosed publicly that Russia had intervened to help Trump. In response, Trump attacked those U.S. officials and emphasized Putin's personal assurances that Russia hadn't done it.

Before Trump took office, Flynn secretly discussed sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama with Russia's ambassador to the U.S. He later admitted lying to investigators about those discussions.

Kushner discussed establishing "back channel" communications with Moscow using Russian facilities. When the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians became public last year, the president himself helped draft a public statement concealing its purpose.

The president held off from implementing new sanctions against Russia that a Congress controlled by his own party enacted.

He fired FBI Director James Comey over the Russia probe. Under Comey's successor, Trump's own appointee Christopher Wray, the president continues to routinely denounce Mueller's "witch hunt."

Just as striking, his administration has not mobilized to counter Russian cyberattacks — because, the director of the National Security Agency director says, the president has not asked him to.

"President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there's little price to pay," Adm. Michael Rogers told Congress.

Inescapably, the source of that conclusion is the president of the United States.