WASHINGTON – Members of President Donald Trump’s campaign and transition team had more than 100 contacts with Russian-linked officials, according to a new report.
The milestone illustrates the deep ties between members of Trump’s circle and the Kremlin. The findings, tracked by the Center for American Progress and its Moscow Project, come amid reports that special counsel Robert Mueller is nearing the conclusion of the two-year investigation into Russian collusion in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by the president.
“This wasn’t just one email or call, or one this or that,” said Talia Dessel, a research analyst for the left-leaning organization. “Over 100 contacts is really significant because you don’t just have 100 contacts with a foreign power if there’s nothing going on there.”
The organization used publicly available court documents and reporting to tally up the number of contacts. Each meeting and message was counted as a separate contact.
The number of contacts was raised to 101 this week after it was reported that Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, a former campaign aide, shared polling data with Manafort’s former Russian business partner Konstantin Kilimnik.
Dessel noted the group’s list of contacts is on the “conservative” end and the “very minimum amount of contacts” between Russian-linked officials and those within the Trump campaign and transition.
Those within Trump’s team who had contacts with Russian-linked officials include Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, former Trump adviser Roger Stone, the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump.
Trump has consistently denied all allegations of colluding with Russia and has repeatedly called the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt”.
Dessel said the group omitted many contacts that were seen as “intermediaries” between the members of Trump’s team and Russian-linked officials, which would include the messages between Roger Stone and WikiLeaks, which is noted as being described by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a “hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”
Russia’s role in the 2016 election and ties between the president and the Kremlin are all but certain to remain constant themes of 2019 with a new Democratic-led House that now has subpoena and investigative powers.
Morgan Finkelstein, a spokeswoman for the Center for American Progress and the Moscow Project, said the organization has hosted discussions with lawmakers about the Russia investigation and what areas they can focus on in the next two years.
“The fact is there is so much low-hanging fruit that Republicans simply ignored or didn’t flesh out when they had power,” Finkelstein said, noting a major area that could provide new insights is the money and financial aspect between Russia and Trump’s team. “There’s so much to explore but we’ve identified a pretty clear roadmap.”