Who Is The Guy?
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is a Russian politician and former intelligence officer serving as President of Russia since 2012, previously holding the position from 2000 until 2008. In between his presidential terms he was also the Prime Minister of Russia under his close associate Dmitry Medvedev
Putin studied law at Leningrad State University, where his tutor was Anatoly Sobchak, later one of the leading reform politicians of the perestroika period. Putin served 15 years as a foreign intelligence officer for the KGB (Committee for State Security), including six years in Dresden, East Germany.
In 1990 he retired from active KGB service with the rank of lieutenant colonel and returned to Russia to become prorector of Leningrad State University with responsibility for the institution’s external relations.
Soon afterward Putin became an adviser to Sobchak, the first democratically elected mayor of St. Petersburg. He quickly won Sobchak’s confidence and became known for his ability to get things done; by 1994 he had risen to the post of first deputy mayor.
In 1996 Putin moved to Moscow, where he joined the presidential staff as deputy to Pavel Borodin, the Kremlin’s chief administrator. Putin grew close to fellow Leningrader Anatoly Chubais and moved up in administrative positions. In July 1998 Pres.
Boris Yeltsin made Putin director of the Federal Security Service (FSB; the KGB’s domestic successor), and shortly thereafter he became secretary of the influential Security Council. Yeltsin, who was searching for an heir to assume his mantle, appointed Putin prime minister in 1999.
Although he was virtually unknown, Putin’s public-approval ratings soared when he launched a well-organized military operation against secessionist rebels in Chechnya.
Wearied by years of Yeltsin’s erratic behaviour, the Russian public appreciated Putin’s coolness and decisiveness under pressure. Putin’s support for a new electoral bloc, Unity, ensured its success in the December parliamentary elections.
First and second terms as president of Russia
On December 31, 1999, Yeltsin unexpectedly announced his resignation and named Putin acting president. Promising to rebuild a weakened Russia, the austere and reserved Putin easily won the March 2000 elections with about 53 percent of the vote.
As president, he sought to end corruption and create a strongly regulated market economy. Putin quickly reasserted control over Russia’s 89 regions and republics, dividing them into seven new federal districts, each headed by a representative appointed by the president.
He also removed the right of regional governors to sit in the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament. Putin moved to reduce the power of Russia’s unpopular financiers and media tycoons—the so-called “oligarchs”—by closing several media outlets and launching criminal proceedings against numerous leading figures.
He faced a difficult situation in Chechnya, particularly from rebels who staged terrorist attacks in Moscow and guerilla attacks on Russian troops from the region’s mountains; in 2002 Putin declared the military campaign over, but casualties remained high.
Putin strongly objected to U.S. Pres. George W. Bush’s decision in 2001 to abandon the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. In response to the September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001,
he pledged Russia’s assistance and cooperation in the U.S.-led campaign against terrorists and their allies, offering the use of Russia’s airspace for humanitarian deliveries and help in search-and-rescue operations.
Nevertheless, Putin joined German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French Pres. Jacques Chirac in 2002–03 to oppose U.S. and British plans to use force to oust Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq.
Overseeing an economy that enjoyed growth after a prolonged recession in the 1990s, Putin was easily reelected in March 2004. In parliamentary elections in December 2007, Putin’s party, United Russia, won an overwhelming majority of seats.
Though the fairness of the elections was questioned by international observers and by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the results nonetheless affirmed Putin’s power.
With a constitutional provision forcing Putin to step down in 2008, he chose Dmitry Medvedev as his successor.
Putin as prime minister
Soon after Medvedev won the March 2008 presidential election by a landslide, Putin announced that he had accepted the position of chairman of the United Russia party. Confirming widespread expectations, Medvedev nominated Putin as the country’s prime minister within hours of taking office on May 7, 2008.
Russia’s parliament confirmed the appointment the following day. Although Medvedev grew more assertive as his term progressed, Putin was still regarded as the main power within the Kremlin.
While some speculated that Medvedev might run for a second term, he announced in September 2011 that he and Putin would—pending a United Russia victory at the polls—trade positions.
Widespread irregularities in parliamentary elections in December 2011 triggered a wave of popular protest, and Putin faced a surprisingly strong opposition movement in the presidential race.
On March 4, 2012, however, Putin was elected to a third term as Russia’s president. In advance of his inauguration, Putin resigned as United Russia chairman, handing control of the party to Medvedev.
He was inaugurated as president on May 7, 2012, and one of his first acts upon assuming office was to nominate Medvedev to serve as prime minister.
Third presidential term
Putin’s first year back in office as president was characterized by a largely successful effort to stifle the protest movement. Opposition leaders were jailed, and nongovernmental organizations that received funding from abroad were labeled as “foreign agents.” Tensions with the United States flared in June 2013, when U.S.
National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden sought refuge in Russia after revealing the existence of a number of secret NSA programs. Snowden was allowed to remain in Russia on the condition that, in the words of Putin, he stop “bringing harm to our American partners.”
After chemical weapons attacks outside Damascus in August 2013, the U.S. made the case for military intervention in the Syrian Civil War. In an editorial published in The New York Times, Putin urged restraint, and U.S. and Russian officials brokered a deal whereby Syria’s chemical weapons supply would be destroyed.
Putin commemorated the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the post-Soviet constitution in December 2013 by ordering the release of some 25,000 individuals from Russian prisons.
In a separate move, he granted a pardon to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil conglomerate who had been imprisoned for more than a decade on charges that many outside Russia claimed were politically motivated.
The Ukraine conflict and Syrian intervention
In February 2014, when the government of Ukrainian Pres. Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown after months of sustained protests, Yanukovych fled to Russia.
Refusing to recognize the interim government in Kiev as legitimate, Putin requested parliamentary approval to dispatch troops to Ukraine to safeguard Russian interests.
By early March 2014 Russian troops and pro-Russian paramilitary groups had effectively taken control of Crimea, a Ukrainian autonomous republic whose population was predominantly ethnic
Russian. In a popular referendum held on March 16, residents of the Crimea voted to join Russia, and Western governments introduced a series of travel bans and asset freezes against members of Putin’s inner circle.
On March 18 Putin, stating that the Crimea had always been part of Russia, signed a treaty incorporating the peninsula into the Russian Federation. Over subsequent days still more of Putin’s political allies were targeted with economic sanctions by the U.S. and the EU.
After ratification of the treaty by both houses of the Russian parliament, on March 21 Putin signed legislation that formalized the Russian annexation of Crimea.
In April 2014, groups of unidentified gunmen outfitted with Russian equipment seized government buildings throughout southeastern Ukraine, sparking an armed conflict with the government in Kiev.
Putin referred to the region as Novorossiya (“New Russia”), evoking claims from the imperial era, and, although all signs pointed to direct Russian involvement in the insurgency, Putin steadfastly denied having a hand in the fighting.
On July 17, 2014, Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, carrying 298 people, crashed in eastern Ukraine, and overwhelming evidence indicated that it had been shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired from rebel-controlled territory. Western countries responded by tightening the sanctions regime, and those measures, combined with plummeting oil prices, sent the Russian economy into a tailspin.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) estimated that more than 1,000 Russian troops were actively fighting inside Ukraine when Russian and Ukrainian leaders met for cease-fire talks in Minsk, Belarus, on September 5.
The cease-fire slowed, but did not stop, the violence, and pro-Russian rebels spent the next several months pushing back Ukrainian government forces. On February 12, 2015, Putin met with other world leaders in Minsk to approve a 12-point peace plan aimed at ending the fighting in Ukraine.
Although fighting slowed for a period, the conflict picked up again in the spring, and by September 2015 the United Nations (UN) estimated that some 8,000 people had been killed and 1.5 million had been displaced as a result of the fighting.
On September 28, 2015, in an address before the UN General Assembly, Putin presented his vision of Russia as a world power, capable of projecting its influence abroad, while painting the United States and NATO as threats to global security.
Two days later Russia became an active participant in the Syrian Civil War, when Russian aircraft struck targets near the cities of Homs and Hama. Although Russian defense officials stated that the air strikes were intended to target troops and matériel belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,
the actual focus of the attacks seemed to have been on opponents of Syrian president and Russian ally Bashar al-Assad.
Silencing critics and actions in the West
On February 27, 2015, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down within sight of the Kremlin, just days after he had spoken out against Russian intervention in Ukraine.
Nemtsov was only the latest Putin critic to be assassinated or to die under suspicious circumstances. In January 2016 a British public inquiry officially implicated Putin in the 2006 murder of former Federal Security Service (FSB; the successor to the KGB) officer Alexander Litvinenko.
Litvinenko, who had spoken out against Russian government ties to organized crime both before and after his defection to the United Kingdom, was poisoned with polonium-210 while drinking tea in a London hotel bar.
Britain ordered the extradition of the two men accused of carrying out the assassination, but both denied involvement and one
Andrey Lugovoy—had since been elected to the Duma and enjoyed parliamentary immunity from prosecution. Aleksey Navalny, an opposition activist who had first achieved prominence as a leader of the 2011 protest movement, was repeatedly imprisoned on what supporters characterized as politically motivated charges.
Navalny finished second in the Moscow mayoral race in 2013, but his Progress Party was shut out of subsequent elections on procedural grounds. In the September 2016 election, voter turnout was just 47.8 percent, the lowest since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Voter apathy was attributed to Putin’s steady implementation of so-called “managed democracy,” a system whereby the basic structures and procedures of democracy were maintained but the outcome of elections was largely predetermined.
Putin’s United Russia party claimed victory, but election observers documented numerous irregularities, including instances of ballot stuffing and repeat voting.
Navalny’s party was prohibited from fielding any candidates because of its registration status, and Nemtsov’s PARNAS received less than 1 percent of the vote.
By 2016 Putin’s involvement had shifted the balance in power in Syria, and evidence emerged that Russia was conducting a wide-ranging hybrid warfare campaign intended to undermine the power and legitimacy of Western democracies.
Many of the attacks blurred the line between cyberwarfare and cybercrime, while others recalled the direct Soviet interventionism of the Cold War era. Russian fighter jets routinely violated NATO airspace in the Baltic, and a pair of sophisticated cyberattacks on the Ukrainian power grid plunged hundreds of thousands of people into darkness.
Ukrainian Pres. Petro Poroshenko reported that his country had been subjected to more than 6,000 cyber intrusions over a two-month period, with virtually every sector of Ukrainian society being targeted.
Poroshenko stated that Ukrainian investigators had linked the cyberwar campaign to Russian security services. In Montenegro, where the pro-Western government was preparing for accession to NATO, authorities narrowly averted a plot to assassinate Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Ðjukanović and install a pro-Russian government.
Montenegrin prosecutors uncovered a conspiracy that linked nationalist Serbs, pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine, and, allegedly, a pair of Russian intelligence agents who had orchestrated the planned coup.In the months prior to the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a series of high-profile hacking attacks targeted the Democratic Party and its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Computer security experts tied these attacks to Russian intelligence services, and in July 2016 thousands of private e-mails were published by WikiLeaks. Within days the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation opened a probe into Russian efforts to influence the presidential election.
It was later revealed that this investigation was also examining possible connections between those efforts and the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Trump joked that Russia had released the hacked e-mails because “Putin likes me” and later invited Russia to “find [Clinton’s] 30,000 e-mails that are missing.” In spite of these statements,
Trump repeatedly dismissed the possibility that Putin was attempting to sway the election in his favour. After Trump’s stunning victory in November 2016, renewed attention was focused on the cyberattacks and possible collusion between
Trump’s campaign team and Russia. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Putin had ordered a multipronged campaign to influence the election and undermine faith in American democratic systems. U.S. Pres.
Barack Obama imposed economic sanctions on Russian intelligence services and expelled dozens of suspected Russian operatives, but President-elect Trump continued to reject the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies.
Trump took office in January 2017 and additional investigations were opened by the U.S. Congress to examine the nature and extent of Russian meddling in the presidential election. For his part, Putin denied the existence of any campaign to influence foreign elections.
In May 2017, however, another cyberattack was attributed to Fancy Bear, the Russian government-linked group that had carried out the hack on the Democratic Party. France was holding the second round of its presidential election, and the finalists were centrist Emmanuel Macron and far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen.
Le Pen had previously received financial support from a bank that had ties to the Kremlin, and she vowed to push for the end of the sanctions regime that had been enacted after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Just hours before a media blackout on campaign-related news coverage went into effect, a massive trove of internal communications dubbed “MacronLeaks” surfaced on the Internet.
This effort came to naught, as Macron captured nearly twice as many votes as Le Pen and became president of France.
Putin’s foreign moves appeared to produce significant dividends at home, as his popular approval rating consistently remained above 80 percent in spite of Russia’s sluggish economy and endemic government corruption.
Low oil prices and Western sanctions compounded an already grim financial outlook as foreign investors remained reluctant to put their capital at risk in a land where personal ties to Putin were seen as more important than the rule of law.
Even after Russia emerged from seven consecutive quarters of recession, both wages and consumer spending remained stagnant in 2017. These and other domestic problems seemed to do little to dent Putin’s image;
among those expressing concern for such issues in opinion polls, blame was most often affixed to Putin’s prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev.
As the March 2018 presidential election approached, it seemed all but certain that Putin would win a fourth presidential term by a wide margin. Navalny, the face of the opposition, was barred from running, and the Communist candidate, Pavel Grudinin, faced incessant criticism from the state-run media.
Two weeks before the election, Putin became the focus of a major international incident when Sergei Skripal, a former Russian intelligence officer who was convicted of spying for Britain only to be released to the United Kingdom as part of a prisoner swap, was found unconscious with his daughter in Salisbury,
England. Investigators alleged that the pair had been exposed to a “novichok,” a complex nerve agent developed by the Soviets.
British officials accused Putin of having ordered the attack, and British Prime Minister Theresa May expelled nearly two dozen Russian intelligence operatives who had been working in Britain under diplomatic cover. The diplomatic row had not abated when Russians went to the polls on March 18, 2018.
The date was, not coincidentally, the fourth anniversary of Russia’s forcible annexation of the Ukrainian autonomous republic of Crimea, an event that marked a spike in Putin’s domestic popularity.
As expected, Putin claimed an overwhelming majority of the vote in an election that independent monitoring agency Golos characterized as being rife with irregularities.
Putin had wished for a higher turnout than in his 2012 election victory, and ballot stuffing was observed in numerous locations. Putin’s campaign characterized the result as an “incredible victory.”
On July 16, 2018, fresh from the success of Russia’s well-received hosting of the World Cup football championship, Putin held a summit meeting in Helsinki with Trump.
The two had conducted discussions at the Group of 20 (G20) summit in Hamburg, Germany, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation gathering in Da Nang, Vietnam, in 2017,
but the encounter in Finland marked their first formal one-on-one meeting. It came at the end of Trump’s trip to Europe in which he had ruffled relations with the United States’ traditional European allies.
Although some observers questioned whether Trump would be able to hold his own in discussions with a counterpart as seasoned and cagey as Putin, Trump said that he thought his meeting with Putin would be the “easiest” of his trip.
After Putin kept Trump waiting by arriving late, the two met alone (with only translators present) for some two hours and then more briefly in the presence of advisers. In the press conference that followed, Putin once again denied any Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Trump then sent shock waves when, in response to a reporter’s question, he indicated that he trusted Putin’s denial more than the conclusions of his own intelligence organizations, which only days earlier had resulted in the U.S. Department of Justice’s indictment of 12 Russian intelligence agents for their meddling in the election.
Moreover, given the opportunity to condemn transgressive Russian actions, Trump instead cast blame on the United States for its strained relationship with Russia.
Trump also warmed to Putin’s offer to allow U.S. investigators to interview the Russian agents in return for Russian access to Americans of interest in Russian investigations.
Asked by an American reporter if he had favoured Trump in the election, Putin said that he had, because of Trump’s expressed desire for better relations with Russia. When questioned about whether Russia had kompromat (compromising information) on Trump,
Putin pointed to the St. Petersburg Economic Forum and talked about the impossibility of obtaining compromising material on each of the more than 500 “high-ranking, high-level” American businessmen said to have attended the conference.
He also said that he had been unaware of Trump’s presence in Moscow during an earlier visit. Some press accounts of his answer, however, pointed out that Putin did not explicitly deny having Trump-related kompromat.
The Russian press trumpeted the summit as a huge success for Putin. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov described the outcome of the summit as “better than super.”
The response in the United States was mostly shock, and a number of Republicans joined Democrats in strongly condemning Trump’s performance.
The Putin presidency
Toward the end of Yeltsin’s tenure as president, Vladimir Putin began playing a more important role. During the Soviet period, he joined the KGB and worked in East Germany for many years. Fluent in German and proficient in English, Putin worked for the liberal mayor
of St. Petersburg,
Anatoly Sobchak, in the initial post-Soviet period and ended up in Moscow when Sobchak failed to be reelected mayor in 1996. In July 1998 Putin became director of the Federal Security Service, one of the successor organizations of the KGB, and in August 1999 Yeltsin plucked Putin out of relative obscurity for the post of prime minister.
As prime minister, Putin blamed Chechen secessionists for the bombing of several apartment buildings that killed scores of Russian civilians, prompting the Moscow government to send Russian forces into the republic once again.
(Evidence never proved Chechen involvement in these bombings, leading some to believe that the Russian intelligence services played a role in them.)
The campaign enjoyed some initial success, with Grozny falling quickly to the Russians. Putin’s popularity soared, and Yeltsin, having chosen Putin as his successor, resigned on December 31, 1999.
Putin became acting president, and his first official act as president was to grant Yeltsin a pardon for any illegal activities he might have committed during his administration. In the presidential election held in March 2000,
Putin easily defeated Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov in the first round of balloting, winning 52.9 percent of the vote to secure a full term as president.
Although the Russian military was able to win control of Chechnya, Chechen fighters fled to the mountains and hills, threatening Russian forces with a prolonged guerilla war.
Fighting continued during the next two years, but by 2002 it had abated, and Putin, confident in Russia’s military position, sought talks with what remained of the Chechen leadership. Nevertheless, in October 2002, Chechen separatists seized a Moscow theatre and threatened to kill all those inside;
Putin responded by ordering special forces to raid the theatre, and during the operation some 130 hostages died—mostly as the result of inhaling gas released by the security forces in order to subdue the terrorists.
Despite worries arising from his years working for the intelligence services, many Russians came to believe that Putin’s coolness and decisiveness would enable him to establish economic and political order in the country and deal with the Chechen problem.
After years of Yeltsin’s unpredictable behaviour, the upsurge in violent crime, and the decline in both living standards and Russia’s prestige abroad, Russians were ready for a leader with an agenda and the mental capacity to implement it.
Putin soon moved to reassert central control over the country’s 89 regions by dividing the country into seven administrative districts, each of which would be overseen by a presidential appointee.
The new districts were created to root out corruption, keep an eye on the local governors, and ensure that Moscow’s will and laws were enforced. During the Yeltsin years,
contradictions between Russian federal law and that of the regions had created great chaos in the Russian legal system, and Putin worked to establish the supremacy of Russian Federation law throughout the country.
Putin even enjoyed success in taming the independent-minded regions, as the republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan reluctantly brought their constitutions into accord with that of the Russian Federation in 2002.
Although Putin hoped to maintain a strategic partnership with the United States, he focused on strengthening Russia’s relations (both security and economic) with Europe, particularly Germany, France, and the United Kingdom.
Nevertheless, after the September 11 attacks in 2001 on the United States by al-Qaeda, Putin was the first foreign leader to telephone U.S. Pres. George W. Bush to offer sympathy and help in combating terrorism.
Moreover, Russia established a council with NATO on which it sat as an equal alongside NATO’s 19 members. Russia also reacted calmly when the United States officially abandoned the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002,
established temporary military bases in several of the former Soviet states in Central Asia, and dispatched special forces on a training mission to Georgia, where there were suspected al-Qaeda training bases.
However, Putin was wary of U.S. unilateralism and worked to strengthen Russian ties with China and India and maintain ties with Iran. In 2002–03
he opposed military intervention against Iraq by the United States and the United Kingdom and developed a joint position with France and Germany that favoured a more stringent inspections regime of Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction program rather than the use of military force (see also Iraq War).
Putin brought new life to the CIS by providing relatively active Russian leadership, in sharp contrast to the Yeltsin years, and he strengthened Russia’s ties with the Central Asian republics in order to maintain Russian influence in this vital area.
Under Yeltsin the Russian army, starved of funds, had lost much of its effectiveness and technological edge. Russian defeats in the first Chechen war only underlined the appalling state in which the armed forces found itself.
Through greater arms sales, Putin hoped to increase funding for the armed forces, particularly for personnel and for the research and development sector of the Russian military industrial complex.
Putin also took steps to limit the political and economic power of the infamous oligarchs, whom many Russians considered to be thieves and one of the main causes of the myriad problems facing Russia.
Although Putin did not and could not destroy the business elite, he made it clear that certain limits on their behaviour would be expected. Those oligarchs who were either openly against Putin during the presidential campaign or critical of his policies faced the Kremlin’s wrath.
For example, in 2001 Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky, two of Russia’s richest men, were stripped of their electronic media holdings, and Berezovsky was removed from his position of influence at Russian Public Television, Russia’s most widely watched television channel.
And in 2003 Russia’s richest man, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of the oil giant Yukos, was arrested and eventually convicted of fraud and tax evasion. The campaign against certain oligarchs caused fear among many about Putin’s commitment to freedom of speech and the press.
During the Yeltsin era the media had become a tool in the hands of the oligarchs, who used their individual media outlets in their battles with each other and with political figures.
On the other hand, certain television stations consistently contradicted the reports of government-controlled stations on issues such as corruption and the wars in Chechnya, thereby providing an alternative source to government news sources.
While under Yeltsin the government did not try to reassert control over the mass media, television networks (or their owners) seen as unfriendly to Putin and his policies faced closure by the government—
usually on charges of nonpayment of taxes and financial mismanagement.
Despite criticism that he had centralized too much power in the presidency and was curtailing freedoms won with the dismantling of the Soviet Union, Putin remained popular and was reelected in 2004 in a landslide, garnering more than 70 percent of the vote.
During his second term, Putin’s popularity continued to be high, and speculation loomed that he, constitutionally ineligible to run for another term in office because of term limits, might engineer a change to the constitution to allow him to be reelected.
Instead, Putin surprised many observers in October 2007 by announcing that he would head the list of the pro-Putin United Russia party in parliamentary elections.
In December 2007 United Russia won more than three-fifths of the vote and 315 of the Duma’s 450 seats. Less than two weeks later, Putin anointed First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his successor as president for the 2008 elections.
In turn, Medvedev subsequently announced that he would appoint Putin prime minister if his campaign succeeded, thus giving Putin a platform by which to continue his dominance of Russian politics.
In March 2008, in a contest that some Western election observers (such as the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) considered not fully fair or democratic,
Medvedev was easily elected president, winning 70 percent of the vote. Medvedev took office on May 7, 2008; Putin was confirmed as prime minister the next day.
Trump’s private talks with Putin may contain clues to his Russia romance
Since Donald Trump was sworn in as president he has met his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, five times. The details of their conversations remain unknown to the public, and in most cases even to senior administration officials.
Democrats in Congress are now demanding more details of communications between the two leaders. Secrecy around such meetings, they say, raises fresh questions about the nature of Trump’s relationship with Putin at a time when his ties to Russia are the subject of several investigations.
The meetings with Putin are not the only subject of such Democratic demands.
House leaders left little room for doubt this week that they will utilize their newly minted majority to cast a wide net around the president, his family and their businesses.
The judiciary committee issued document requests to 81 individuals and entities, seeking information on everything from contacts between Trump aides and Moscow to hush money payments to women and possible obstruction of justice.
It all came a week after Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, testified before Congress and implicated the president in alleged criminal activity spanning decades.
Nonetheless, according to some national security experts, when it comes to uncovering the motivations behind the president’s desire for closer relations with the Kremlin and the complex web of contacts between his associates and Moscow, few interactions might be more consequential than those between Trump and Putin.
“What kind of things are being discussed that the president does not want to share?” said Steven Pifer, a former US ambassador to Ukraine who served on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council as senior director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.
“Is he discussing Trump Tower? What’s the basis for the discussion? We just don’t know. “I don’t know why the president doesn’t have a notetaker …
That would be the best way to send off any suspicions that something untoward has been done.” In fact, translators have been present at meetings between Trump and Putin, such as in Hamburg in 2017 and in Helsinki last year.
But it has been reported that the president has taken unusual steps to keep their notes private. Trump’s posture towards Russia has been a focus of his time in the White House,
confounding national security officials and exposing rifts between the president and prominent members of his administration. In his first year in office, after Congress forced his hand by building a veto-proof majority,
Trump begrudgingly signed sanctions that were passed in part to punish Moscow for its interference in the 2016 presidential election. But he resisted attempts to impose additional sanctions, including over Kremlin support for chemical weapons attacks carried out by the Assad regime in Syria.
The president has publicly disagreed with warnings from his own intelligence chiefs that the Russians are still seeking to influence in US elections.
National Security Agency chief Adm Mike Rogers testified before Congress last year that the administration was not doing enough to disrupt Russian cyberattacks at source, in part because the president had not authorized such an effort.
Trump has continued to express admiration for Putin, famously accepting his denials of Russian involvement in the 2016 election at their summit in Finland. That put the president squarely at odds with the US intelligence community and invited an avalanche of criticism.
Democrats now say Trump’s reportedly forceful attempts to conceal his communications with Putin raise questions about his motivations in pursuing closer relations with a regime largely regarded as a primary adversary.
In a joint letter this week, the chairs of the House intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight committees raised “profound national security, counterintelligence and foreign policy concerns, especially in light of Russia’s ongoing active measures campaign to improperly influence American elections.
“In addition, such allegations, if true, undermine the proper functioning of government, most notably the Department [of State]’s access to critical information germane to its diplomatic mission and its ability to develop and execute foreign policy that advances our national interests.”
If Trump’s communications were intentionally manipulated or withheld from the official record, the Democrats said, it would be a possible violation of federal law requiring “that presidents and other administration officials preserve such materials”.
Cohen previously told the Senate intelligence committee conversations about a potential Trump Tower Moscow ended before February 2016, when primary voting began.
It was later uncovered, through his cooperation with the special counsel, that attempts to reach a deal continued until at least that summer, past the point at which Trump had effectively secured the Republican nomination.
Cohen, who will begin a three-year prison sentence in May, has said he received an implicit order from Trump to lie to Congress. The president denies it. The president’s former lawyer and fixer also said two of Trump’s children,
Donald Trump Jr and Ivanka Trump, were briefed on Trump Tower Moscow approximately 10 times, contradicting their claims of minimal knowledge of the discussions.
Cohen also alleged that Trump was aware of his longtime adviser Roger Stone’s outreach to WikiLeaks, in advance of its release of hacked Democratic party emails. In their document requests,
Democrats included WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and at least three individuals associated with Stone who were believed to have been in contact with WikiLeaks: Jerome Corsi, Randy Credico and Ted Malloch. Some of those subjects have been interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller. His investigation will conclude with a report to Congress.
It is not expected to break with justice department guidelines suggesting a sitting president cannot be indicted. Alice Stewart, a Republican strategist,
said it was no surprise Democrats were on the offensive after campaigning in the 2018 midterms on restoring congressional oversight of the executive branch.“They’re following through on what a lot of people expected them to do,” she said.
“Republicans are going to take issue with it, but this is what their base really wants them to do.”Stewart, a supporter of Trump, said it was “appropriate” for Democrats to ask questions and request documents.“I take the president and the administration at their word when they say there’s nothing wrong, that there’s no collusion,” she said.
“The best way for them to put this all to rest is for them to comply with these investigations, put the information out there, let them find what they’re going to find, and then we can move on.”
Subscribe to my mailing list and get updates to your email inbox.
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.
Subscribe to my mailing list and get updates to your email inbox.
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.