DOSSIER PROVING TO BE RIGHT: Rachel Maddow takes the lead in the investigation of the Russian Connections as Congress defaults.
By Steve Benen
The first real sign of trouble came last summer, when Republican officials were putting together the party platform at their national convention in Cleveland. As regular readers know, when Republican officials were putting together the party platform, Donald Trump and his campaign team were completely indifferent towards the document and the process – with one notable exception.
The only thing Team Trump quietly pushed was a subtle change to make the Republican platform more in line with Russia’s foreign policy preferences. One GOP congressman was quoted saying soon after that the “most under-covered story” of the Republican convention” was Team Trump’s efforts to change the party platform to be more pro-Putin.
About a month later, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked the then-candidate about this. “I wasn’t involved in that,” Trump said. “Honestly, I was not involved.” Told that members of his team were responsible for pushing the platform in a direction Russia wanted, Trump added, “Yeah. I was not involved in that.
Left unresolved is why Team Trump found it necessary to change the platform, and who on the Republican’s team pushed for the change. As Rachel noted on last night’s show, this report from Politico brings the story into sharper focus.
U.S. and Ukrainian authorities have expressed interest in the activities of a Kiev-based operative with suspected ties to Russian intelligence who consulted regularly with Paul Manafort last year while Manafort was running Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
The operative, Konstantin Kilimnik, came under scrutiny from officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department partly because of at least two trips he took to the U.S. during the presidential campaign, according to three international political operatives familiar with the agencies’ interest in Kilimnik.
Kilimnik, a joint Russian-Ukrainian citizen who trained in the Russian army as a linguist, told operatives in Kiev and Washington that he met with Manafort during an April trip to the United States. And, after a late summer trip to the U.S., Kilimnik suggested that he had played a role in gutting a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform that would have staked out a more adversarial stance towards Russia, according to a Kiev operative.
I’m not in a position to say whether Kilimnik’s claims are true, but it would at least make sense of a story that, to date, has been very difficult to understand.
It also dovetails with a CNN report from last week in which J.D. Gordon, the Trump campaign’s national security policy representative at the Republican convention, said he helped push for the platform change that “Donald Trump himself wanted and advocated for.” Gordon later told TPM he spoke with RNC officials about the platform language, but denied having “pushed” for the change.
Shortly after learning about the platform change, practically everyone on Team Trump shrugged their shoulders and proceeded to spend months denying any involvement. Now, however, we’re learning that those denials, like so many claims about the Russia scandal, weren’t entirely true.
Complicating matters further, we also have this Politico report from Tuesday,
Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski approved foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s now-infamous trip to Moscow last summer on the condition that he would not be an official representative of the campaign, according to a former campaign adviser.
A few weeks before he traveled to Moscow to give a July 7 speech, Page asked J.D. Gordon, his supervisor on the campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee, for permission to make the trip, and Gordon strongly advised against it, Gordon, a retired Naval officer, told POLITICO.
Page then emailed Lewandowski and spokeswoman Hope Hicks asking for formal approval, and was told by Lewandowski that he could make the trip, but not as an official representative of the campaign, the former campaign adviser said.
Hmm. Donald Trump chose Carter Page, who has extensive Russian ties, as one of his top foreign policy advisors for reasons that are still unclear. Page sought and received permission from Team Trump to go to Russia in July, and a week later, Team Trump quietly pushed the Republican platform in a more Putin-friendly direction. (A week after that, Wikileaks started publishing stolen documents from the DNC, believed to have been taken by Russian officials to help the Trump campaign.)
What’s more, let’s also not forget that the now-infamous dossier about Trump and Russia, which remains unverified, specifically alleges not only that the Trump campaign was aware of the Russian hacks, but the change in the Republican platform was part of a quid-pro-quo between Team Trump and Moscow.
And while there are plenty of important questions about the validity of that dossier, key pieces of the document now appear to be accurate.
Health care and wiretap conspiracy theories have helped push the Russia scandal off front pages, but the controversy continues to move forward in a way the White House should find alarming.