From Russia with love. Was Trump campaign in touch with foreign government?
Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman John Podesta said Russia was trying to "elect a lap dog" by hacking his and Democratic National Committee emails during the 2016 election.
The CIA and FBI have confirmed that Moscow was behind the summer cyberattacks and leaked emails. While Podesta conceded that it is "unknown" if there was collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Moscow, he brought up several points of contact on Dec. 18’s Meet the Press.
"Russian diplomats have said post-election that they were talking to the Trump campaign," Podesta said. "Roger Stone (a Trump adviser) in August foreshadowed the fact that they had hacked my emails and those would be forthcoming when he said he was in touch with Wikileaks. Carter Page, one of Trump’s foreign policy advisers, went to Russia before the Republican convention and met with a person in the Russian hierarchy who was responsible for collecting intelligence."
We're not putting Podesta's claim on the Truth-O-Meter because there are varying reports of who spoke with whom, and beyond that, a lot of speculation. But Russian officials have said members of the Trump camp maintained contact with Russia, though there are discrepancies in their statements and a denial from the Trump campaign.
In an interview with the state-run news agency, Interfax, Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei A. Ryabkov said "there were contacts" with Trump’s "entourage" throughout the election, according to multiple translations of the interview. "I cannot say that all of them, but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives."
But the Trump campaign denied that this ever happened, and the Foreign Ministry clarified to the New York Times that Ryabkov meant Russian officials had met with Trump’s political allies and supporters, not his campaign staff directly.
Ryabkov told Bloomberg that the Russian embassy held meetings with the Trump camp on a "sufficient, responsible level" as part of "routine, everyday work." Ryabkov said the Russian embassy also had "sporadic" contact with the Clinton team, though it was "not always productive," according to Bloomberg. An unnamed Russian official said to CNN that Clinton team members visited Moscow unofficially and held meetings with government officials.
Meanwhile Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Vladimir Putin, told the Associated Press on the same day that Russian experts on the United States and international affairs had contacts with both the Clinton and Trump camps.
Podesta’s other assertions about the Trump team largely check out, though his claim about Carter Page, a businessman named as a Russia-specific policy advisor to Trump, is based on a report citing anonymous sources.
Roger Stone, a longtime friend and adviser to Trump, said in August that he was in communication with Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks. "I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation but there's no telling what the October surprise may be."
Wikileaks published the first batch of Podesta’s emails, many of which pertained to the Clinton Foundation, on Oct. 7.
As for Page, Yahoo News reported based on unnamed sources in Congress and the intelligence community that he travelled to Moscow in early July, just before the Republican National Convention. There, Page allegedly met with Igor Diveykin, according to Yahoo, is a former Russian security official "believed by U.S. officials to have responsibility for intelligence collected by Russian agencies about the U.S. election."
The bottom line: There are varying reports of who spoke with whom, and beyond that, a lot of speculation.
The Russian government has said it reached out to and spoke with people affiliated with both Trump and Clinton. Neither the Trump nor Clinton campaigns have acknowledged any such meeting. The Trump campaign denies the meetings took place. And if a meeting did occur, it’s unclear who represented Trump.