The Progression of TrumpWorld’s Russia Denials

Paul Manafort (whose “limited role” in the Trump campaign lasted from March 2016 to August 2016, including three months as campaign chairman and chief strategist) on This Week, July 24, 2016:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But let me follow-up on that question from Bill Kristol, who, of course, is not part of the Clinton camp.

Are there any ties between Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?

MANAFORT: No, there are not. That’s absurd. And, you know, there’s no basis to it.

Donald Trump, Jr., when asked on CNN on July 24, 2016, to comment on Robby Mook’s suggestion that the Russian government was trying to help Trump get elected:

Well it just goes to show you their exact moral compass. They’ll say anything to be able to win this. This is time and time again, lie after lie, you notice he won’t say, “Well, I say this,” “We hear experts”; his house cat at home once said that this is what’s happening with the Russians. It’s disgusting, it’s so phony. I can’t think of bigger lies.

Donald Trump, in an interview with CBS Miami, July 27, 2016:

I can tell you I think if I came up with that they’d say, “Oh, it’s a conspiracy theory, it’s ridiculous … I mean I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia.

After Trump won the election, campaign spokesperson Hope Hicks said, on November 11, 2016:

It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.

Kellyanne Conway, on CBS’s Face the Nation, December 18, 2016:

JOHN DICKERSON: All right. We are not going to get any insight into the president-elect’s thinking here, but let me try this. Did anyone involved … in the Trump campaign have any contact with Russians trying to meddle with the election?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Absolutely not. And I discussed that with the president-elect just last night. Those conversations never happened. I hear people saying it like it’s a fact on television. That is just not only inaccurate and false, but it’s dangerous.

Mike Pence, on Face the Nation, January 15, 2017:

JOHN DICKERSON: Just to button up one question, did any advisor or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?

MIKE PENCE: Of course not. And I think to suggest that is to give credence to some of these bizarre rumors that have swirled around the candidacy. And the fact that a few news organizations, not this one, actually trafficked in a memo that was produced as opposition research and associated that with intelligence efforts I think could only be attributed to media bias. And as I said this week at a press conference, John, the American people are tired of it. We’re coming into this week with a great sense of optimism. The American people know that we can have government in Washington, D.C. as good as our people. We can get this economy moving again. We can rebuild our military.

Mike Pence, on Fox News Sunday, January 15, 2017:

WALLACE: I’m asking a direct question: Was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had?

PENCE: I joined this campaign in the summer, and I can tell you that all the contact by the Trump campaign and associates was with the American people. We were fully engaged with taking his message to make America great again all across this country. That’s why he won in a landslide election.

WALLACE: — if there were any contacts, sir, I’m just trying to get an answer.

PENCE: Yes. I — of course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign? Chris, the — this is all a distraction, and it’s all part of a narrative to delegitimize the election and to question the legitimacy of this presidency. The American people see right through it.

On January 23, 2017, The Wall Street Journal reported that newly-appointed Director of National Intelligence Mike Flynn was under investigation for meetings he had with Sergei Kislyak, Russian Ambassador to the United States.

On February 10, Pence defended Flynn. Pence said Flynn told him the Kislyak meeting never happened. Flynn resigned three days later. He admitted meeting with Kislyak and misleading Pence and the rest of the administration.

On March 1, The Washington Post reported that, contrary to his confirmation hearing testimony (that he didn’t meet with any Russian officials during the campaign or after the election), Attorney General Jeff Sessions actually spoke with Kislyak twice.

On May 8, former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates testified that she told the White House counsel on January 26 that Flynn lied about his contact with Kislyak, and expressed concern that he would be vulnerable to blackmail.

On May 26, the Post reported that Jared Kushner spoke with Kislyak in December 2016 about establishing backchannel communications between the transition team and Moscow by using communications facilities at the Russian embassy.

And, of course, on July 8, The New York Times reported that Donald Trump, Jr., met with a Russian-connected lawyer in June 2016. The story progressed like this:

  • July 8: There was a meeting about the Magnitsky Act and the meeting had nothing to do with Hillary Clinton
  • July 9: Donald, Jr., agreed to meet with the Russian lawyer only after being promised documents that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign, but left the meeting shortly after it became apparent there was no such information
  • July 10: Donald, Jr., himself releases the email thread arranging the meeting. It establishes the following facts:
    • The email said Donald, Jr., was being offered information that would damage Hillary’s campaign
    • The email explicitly stated the information came from the Russian government and was part of Russia’s attempt to get Donald Trump elected president
    • Donald, Jr., enthusiastically supported the idea
    • Manafort and Kushner were copied on the email
  • Also July 10: Donald admits that Kushner and Manafort attended the meeting
  • July 12: News outlets report that investigators were tipped off to the June 2016 meeting after Jared Kushner submitted a revised security clearance form, which included over 100 contacts with foreign representatives omitted from previous security clearance forms.
  • July 14: NBC News reports that the cast of characters at the June 2016 has been expanded to include a former Soviet counterintelligence officer who had been working as a pro-Russia lobbyist.

Kellyanne Conway on Fox News, July 14: “The goalposts have been moved. We were promised hard evidence of systemic, sustained furtive collusion.”

Mike Flynn at the Republican National Convention, July 2016, referring to Hillary Clinton’s private email server: “If I did a tenth of what she did, I would be in jail today.”