There are a bunch of names connected to the Trump/Russia affair. Of these, the following four appear so far to have been the most prominent in his campaign.
- Roger Stone – accused of having prior knowledge of the Clinton campaign hacks that he allegedly got from Russian sources
- Carter Page – Identified in the dossier as a key link between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence
- Michael Flynn – Paid by Russian sources to appear with Putin, and a paid foreign agent, illegally interfered with Obama foreign policy in at least one telephone call with the Russian ambassador to the US
- Paul Manafort – a political advisor to pro-Putin president Yanukovich in Ukraine, allegedly paid illegally for those services, offered to influence US politics and media for the Kremlin and apparently was paid to do so
Was it a coincidence that these guys happened to be working for Trump? Or did Trump bring them in because of their affinity for things Russian? Or did one or more of them serve as a bridge between Trump and Russia, and bring in the others?
I have no idea. One tiny clue might be when they first became associated with Trump.
It appears that Stone came first by a long shot. According to Wikipedia, he was a long-term lobbyist for Trump’s casino business. He was already connected to the Trump campaign in 2015, and allegedly “left” the campaign in August 2015. Everyone else apparently came later.
Stone was a principal in the lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly. That firm was formed in 1980 and worked for the Reagan campaign. As co-principals in the Black firm, Stone and Manafort knew each other for many years.
Manafort’s name first appears in March 2016
In March 2016, he joined the presidential campaign of Donald Trump to lead Trump’s “delegate-corralling” efforts. In April 2016, Trump fired campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and promoted Manafort to the position. Manafort gained control of the daily operations of the campaign as well as an expanded $20 million budget, hiring decisions, advertising, and media strategy.
So it does not stretch credulity to think that when Trump needed a new campaign manager, Stone recommended Manafort. How important was any shared pro-Russia orientation? We cannot say. It is as likely that Manafort’s relationship to Stone was as important as anything else. On the other hand, Trump could have found out all he wanted about Manafort through Stone. And Manafort had a long history of connections to Russia.
It appears that Flynn connects via a “star search” for potential political allies with foreign policy chops.In other words, Trump probably saw something in Flynn that he liked. Attitude? Pro-Russia stuff? Both? Perhaps. Whatever it was, Trump apparently liked what he saw in Flynn enough to shortlist him for the VP job. And he would eventually appoint Flynn to the top national security post. This suggests a strong link.
BTW, Flynn had already demonstrated his foreign links (attending the Russian gala in December 2015 in Moscow, sitting next to Putin). Trump must have been aware of Flynn’s orientation when he brought him to the campaign.From this, you get a sense of why Trump was reluctant to fire Flynn in 2017, even after he was warned about Flynn’s doings. Trump was ok with Flynn. as he was from the beginning.
Page was one of five people named by Donald Trump as his foreign policy advisors when he responded to a question in a March 2016 interview with the editors of the Washington Post. Despite this statement by Trump, members of his campaign staff claimed in September 2016 that Page had never met or briefed Trump.
One day you’re in, the next you’re out! And where did Carter Page come from?
Page is much younger than the other folks above, getting his MBA in 2000. But even before then, he was known in the US for strongly pro-Russian views on foreign policy. He worked for Merill Lynch for 8 years and part of that time in Moscow. He founded his own energy firm “Global Energy Capital” in 2008 with “former mid-level Gazprom executive, Sergei Yatsenko”. BTW, I could find no information googling Yatsenko’s name. And the firm has no known transactions to its account.
I have been a Russia wonk for most of my adult life, I spent years living and reporting from Moscow, still go there regularly for reporting trips, and am in touch with lots of friends there. And yet, despite the tightly knit nature of the expat business community in Russia, no one I spoke to had ever heard of Carter Page.
Hmmm … and there is more
… while Page might not be helping Trump, Trump has been a significant help to Page. Since being named by Trump as an adviser, Page, who has spent his career trying to put together energy deals in Russia and the former Soviet Union, has finally begun to be noticed in the region. He is being treated in Russia as a person with potentially important ties in America.
So Page appears to be a nobody wanting very much to become a player in the big leagues. Like Flynn, his pro-Russia orientation was clear long before we hear Trump says he was a key advisor.
My rather humble conclusion — Trump either knew or could easily have found out about the pro-Russia orientation of Manafort, Flynn, and Page. It was most clearly the selling point to bring in Page, who had nothing else to recommend him. It does not appear, therefore, that Trump was unaware or duped into letting these guys loose during the campaign.
Why is this important? If investigations close in on these guys, don’t be surprised if Trump distances himself from them. Don’t be surprised if he says “I had no idea!” Or “How could I have known? I was so busy becoming president!” The above chronology makes this less than credible.