Trump-Russia collusion: the basics
The gradual release and discovery of information in the Trump-Russia story, and the constant tactical retreat of Trump campaign and White House officials, has successfully moved the goalposts for many observers, such that the only Trump behavior they will recognize as bad is “collusion”, and the only evidence they will accept of collusion is a recording of a phone call between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin in which Putin asks, “So, Donald Frederickovich, shall we collude?”, and Trump replies, “Da.” But if you assemble the facts that we already know, collusion is plain.
What we have, in Trump and Russia, are two parties assisting each other, each aware of the other’s assistance and actively seeking that assistance. Because they have concealed their communications, we may never know to what extent they privately coordinated that assistance, or made explicit the quid pro quo nature of that assistance. Does it matter? There were working together, they knew they were working together, and they were doing something nefarious. That’s collusion.
Consider the facts:
- Russia stole e-mails and documents from Hillary Clinton’s party and released them strategically to benefit the Trump campaign, while stealing e-mails and documents from Republican interests but not releasing them. Russia also stole the Clinton campaign’s turnout model and data analytics.
- Russia used social media to influence voters through paid and unpaid messaging and organizing of real-world actions, with the purpose of supporting Trump, denigrating Clinton, and discouraging potential Clinton voters. To target this messaging, Russia had access not just to the stolen data, but to proprietary Trump campaign polling data provided by campaign manager Paul Manafort.
- Russia forged at least one document, attributing it to Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Shultz; this document was instrumental in FBI director Jim Comey’s devastating intervention against Clinton.
- The Trump campaign knew it was being helped by Russia, sought and took advantage of this help, and facilitated this help as well. Through Roger Stone, the Trump campaign was in direct contact with Russian intelligence about the stolen e-mails during the campaign; both Stone and Don Trump junior were in direct contact with WikiLeaks, the primary intermediary for the document release.
- Trump and his administration have tilted US policy towards Russian interests in dramatic and previously-unthinkable ways, not just lifting, trying to lift, and blocking sanctions against Russia, but undermining US allies and alliances while embracing key elements of Putin’s envisioned illiberal world order.
- Trump and his family and business partners were involved in business in Russia and with Russians, apparently heavily dependent on this business, much of it was illegal, and they continued to pursue new business opportunities during the campaign and the administration, including a Trump Tower Moscow deal worth hundreds of millions of dollars and for which they hoped to receive the assistance of the Russian government and Putin himself.
- Wealthy Russian nationals increased their purchase of Trump properties, apparently to launder money, and channeled money to Trump personally through his properties and inaugural fund.
- Trump and his campaign, transition, and administration have concealed their communications with Russia from the rest of the US government and the public, before and after inauguration.
- Trump and his associates have lied repeatedly about their activities with regard to Russia, and attempted to thwart the investigations into those activities and into the Russian operation on Trump’s behalf.
Additionally, Russia worked for the Republican Party and against the Democratic Party by hacking the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and releasing documents that were then used by Republicans. Russian nationals may also have channeled money to the National Rifle Association that was spent aiding Republican campaigns, including Trump’s; the NRA’s spending was tens of millions of dollars more than it had previously spent, and largely free of donor-disclosure requirements.
Finally, the Trump-Ukraine affair over which Trump was impeached is usually treated as a separate matter. But Trump’s concern with Ukraine was intimately connected to his relationship with Russia, including the election collusion itself and the cover-up. Manafort was involved in Ukrainian politics on the pro-Russia side, entangling him in later Ukrainian investigations of corruption by pro-Russia politicians, including president Viktor Yanukovich. These investigations eventually became of interest to the Trump-Russia investigation, leading to a quid pro quo by the Trump administration in which Ukraine ceased cooperating with the Trump-Russia investigation in exchange for US assistance. Manafort himself planted in Trump the Russian disinformation that Ukraine, not Russia, hacked the DNC server. Trump’s idiosyncratic pro-Russia foreign policy includes skepticism about the Ukrainian claim to Crimea; Trump’s pro-Russia policy led to steps by Ukrainian officials to defend Ukraine politically that Trump took as direct attacks on himself.
What follows is an edited timeline, to be updated as facts become known. The timeline draws from a very detailed timeline of events connected to the Trump-Russia affair, and subsequent timelines of the Trump administration, maintained on Wikipedia, and from isolated news reports, Jennifer Taub’s timeline from the Mueller indictments, and Buzzfeed’s timeline on the Trump Tower Moscow deal. The point of the timeline below is to pull out those facts that directly demonstrate the clear pattern of collusion. The events focus primarily on matters directly connected to Russia, but it must be emphasized that whenever Trump has acted to undermine US alliances or the liberal international order, and whenever he has damaged the US through his own incompetence, he has been serving the interests of Russia in the manner Russia hoped and expected he would. Not included on the timeline below are the many acts of Russian support that took place throughout the campaign via social media, but these acts were extensive, and relatively well-designed.
Acts of oligarchs and other wealthy Russian nationals do not equate to acts of the Russian state; but the wealthier a Russian is, the more likely he is close to Putin and operating with Putin’s consent or even at his direction, since Putin has made and broken many Russian fortunes.
The emphasis on the titles of campaign officials as titles, rather than positions, is because campaign roles were especially unclear in the Trump campaign. For example, Jared Kushner was probably the most authoritative figure after Trump himself throughout the campaign, Ivanka Trump’s role was never specified, and Kellyanne Conway held the title of ‘campaign manager’ when it was reported at the time that Steve Bannon would outrank her and that her role was largely as a travelling Trump wrangler.
Summer: Russian intelligence penetrates the computer network of the Democratic National Committee; Dutch intelligence, which is monitoring Russian intelligence, alerts the US government. The administration informs the Congressional Gang of Eight, but not the DNC.
June 16: Trump announces his candidacy at Trump Tower in New York.
June 17: In an interview with Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly, Trump predicts “a great relationship with Putin.”
July 11: Russian operative Maria Butina asks Trump a question about Russia policy at a public forum in Las Vegas. Trump responds by ridiculing Obama’s bad relationship with Putin, claims that he knows and gets along with Putin, promises a friendlier relationship in which the US makes money, and says sanctions are unnecessary. Butina works primarily for Putinist Russian politician Aleksandr Torshin, infiltrating US conservative organizations to cultivate Russian influence.
August 8: Longtime Trump friend and Republican operative Roger Stone, a key advisor, officially leaves the campaign. He and Trump continue to speak frequently, though.
September: The FBI informs staff at the DNC of the hacking; the information is not passed on to a senior level.
September 25: Trump aide and lawyer Michael Cohen forwards architectural renderings of a Trump tower in Moscow to Felix Sater, a Russian-born Cohen/Trump associate and developer with past ties to Russian organized crime, and to Russian developer Andrey Rozov.
September 29: Rozov responds to the tower proposal enthusiastically. Trump praises Putin in an interview with O’Reilly.
October 5: Cohen forwards a draft letter of intent on the Moscow tower to Sater.
October 6: In an interview with radio host Michael Savage, Trump claims to have met Putin and “got along with him great”, and again predicts a good relationship.
October 8: Sater sends Cohen a revised letter of intent, with a location.
October 9: Sater tells Cohen of a meeting with a relative of a Putin associate who owns a potential site.
October 11: Trump again predicts he would “get along very well” with Putin.
October 12: Sater tells Cohen that the head of Russia’s VTB Bank, which is under US sanctions, will finance the tower.
October 13: Sater sends Cohen the letter of intent, now signed by Rozov.
October 17: Trump embraces Putin’s support by tweeting a Washington Examiner story, ‘Putin loves Donald Trump’.
October 28: Trump and Rozov sign a final letter of intent.
December: Barbara Ledeen, a former Senate staffer and associate of foreign policy advisor Mike Flynn, proposes to Peter Smith, an investment banker and Republican fundraiser, donor, and activist, a detailed plan to obtain classified e-mails “purloined by our enemies”; the plan involved searching public sources for leaked e-mails, and contacting foreign intelligence. Smith originally declines, but will later participate.
December 8–13: An NRA delegation visits Russia on a trip arranged by Butina and Paul Erickson, and meets with foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and Putin aide Dmitry Rogozin, among others. Erickson, a Republican operative, is Butina’s US partner and lover.
January: Republican operative Paul Manafort, also a veteran of politics in Ukraine, advising the pro-Russia Party of the Regions and president Viktor Yanukovich, begins pursuing a position on the Trump campaign. Manafort is an old friend and partner of Stone and a neighbor in Trump Tower of Trump himself. Manafort is motivated to work for Trump because he is heavily in debt to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, and believes he can use his work for Trump to square the debt. Deripaska engages in influence operations directed by the Russian government.
February 28: Senator Jeff Sessions endorses Trump.
March 3: Sessions becomes chair of Trump’s national security advisory committee.
March 12: WikiLeaks posts a search index for the collection of 30,000 e-mails and documents released by the State Department sent to or from the private server Clinton used as Secretary of State.
March 14 or so: Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos meets Joseph Mifsud, an academic with ties to the Russian government, in London. Papadopoulos later lies about this, saying it took place before he joined the campaign, and that he didn’t know of Mifsud’s Russian-government connections. Papadopoulos will try to use the Mifsud connection to broker a Trump-Putin meeting.
March 19: Clinton campaign chair John Podesta’s e-mail is hacked by Russian intelligence.
March 28: Manafort joins the Trump campaign as a volunteer, originally to work on the convention, at the recommendation of Stone.
April 11: Manafort asks longtime associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian intelligence officer, if he can get out of debt with Deripaska based on his work for Trump.
April 12: Russian hackers gain access to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee network, which they use to steal information later released under the ‘Guccifer 2.0’ name and used by Republican Congressional campaigns and Paul Ryan’s Congressional Leadership Fund PAC.
April 18: Russia accesses the DNC network and begins stealing e-mails.
April 19: Russia registers the DCLeaks domain.
April 26: Mifsud tells Papadopoulos that Russia has e-mails that can hurt Hillary Clinton.
April 27: Papadopoulos e-mails both campaign aide Stephen Miller and Manafort to report contacts with Russia and mention the possibility of a trip to Russia. Trump, Kushner, and Sessions speak with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak in DC. Later they lie about it.
May: Stone meets with a Russian national offering dirt on Clinton. He later lies about it. Manafort deputy Rick Gates shares polling data with Kilimnik at Manafort’s direction, and repeats this act several times later; the polling data indicates opportunities for Trump in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, and public-opinion weaknesses of Clinton, and Kilimnik delivers this to Russian intelligence. Don jr. speaks privately with Torshin at the NRA convention in Louisville.
May 19: Manafort given titles of ‘campaign chairman’ and ‘chief strategist’.
May 26: Trump clinches the Republican nomination.
June 3: In e-mails with Rob Goldstone, a publicist with connections to wealthy Azeri-Russians Aras and Emin Agalarov, Don jr. is offered incriminating information on Clinton, explicitly as part of the Russian government’s support for Trump, and enthusiastically agrees to a meeting. He later announces this upcoming meeting at a regular meeting of senior campaign staff, including Manafort, Gates, Trump aide Hope Hicks, Ivanka and Eric Trump, and Kushner. Manafort tells staffers that the planned meeting is unlikely to produce important information. Hicks will later deny knowing of the meeting prior to 2017.
June 6: Don jr. communicates again with Goldstone. He then speaks by phone with Emin Agalarov. Later that night, Trump announces that he will give a major speech, probably on June 13, to offer information on the Clintons.
June 7: In an e-mail to Don jr., Goldstone specifically says that Don jr. will be meeting with a “Russian government attorney”.
June 9: Don jr., Kushner, and Manafort meet with Goldstone and several others, including Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian attorney and de facto official, Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist who once worked for Soviet counterintelligence, and Ike Kaveladze, an employee of Aras Agalarov. Don jr. asks for dirt on Clinton, but is reportedly given none. Veselnitskaya instead wants to discuss lifting sanctions against Russia; Don jr. apparently offers to revisit the issue after the election. Trump’s big speech of June 13 never happens.
June 12: WikiLeaks head Julian Assange says that WikiLeaks will release more of Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.
June 14: The DNC announces it was hacked, and correctly attributes the hack to Russia. Trump speaks with Stone by phone later in the day. At some point this summer Trump begins attributing the hack to Ukraine, based on claims from Manafort, who (per Gates) likely got the conspiracy theory from Kilimnik, and thus Russia itself.
June 15: Russia begins releasing DNC e-mails through DCLeaks. Stone and Gates discuss the hack by phone; Stone promises there will be more information. The Trump campaign uses the leaked information constantly, especially as later released by WikiLeaks.
June 16: Stone speaks to Trump by phone.
June 20: Manafort given title of ‘campaign manager’.
June 22: WikiLeaks contacts Russian intelligence (Guccifer 2.0) asking to be allowed to release the DNC e-mails, and specifically asks for Clinton information that it can release before the convention.
July 7: Manafort offers private briefings to Deripaska.
July 14: Russian intelligence sends WikiLeaks a link to the stolen DNC documents.
July 18: The Republican convention begins. Kislyak meets there with Trump advisors Carter Page and J.D. Gordon, and elsewhere with Sessions. Gordon asks (successfully) to weaken platform language that calls for arming Ukraine in its conflict with Russia; Kilimnik reportedly claims to have been involved. WikiLeaks informs Russian intelligence that it has received the stolen documents and would leak them “this week”.
July 19 or so: According to Cohen, Stone tells Trump by phone that he has spoken to Assange and that an e-mail dump is imminent.
July 22: WikiLeaks begins releasing further DNC e-mails.
July 23: A “senior” campaign official (possibly Gates) is told to contact Stone for more information about WikiLeaks and the documents.
July 25: The Democratic convention begins. Stone asks associate Jerome Corsi by e-mail to contact Assange for the DNC e-mails, and to visit London, where Assange is. Corsi contacts an associate in London.
July 27: Trump publicly asks Russia to locate and release deleted e-mails from Clinton’s private server. Five hours later, Russia for the first time attempts to hack Clinton’s current personal e-mail account, as well as tens of Clinton campaign accounts. At some point after this, Trump asks Flynn several times to locate the e-mails. Flynn then asks Ledeen and Smith for assistance. Smith contacts hackers, including Russian hackers, eventually paying one Russian group $150,000.
July 29: The DCCC announces that it has also been hacked by Russian intelligence. Cambridge Analytica, founded by Bannon and major Trump donor Robert Mercer, is first paid by the Trump campaign. On this day or soon thereafter, Trump remarks to Gates that more e-mail releases are coming.
July 30: Manafort and Stone speak by phone for more than an hour; Stone assures him of future leaks, which Manafort welcomes.
July 31: In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump says he will consider recognizing Russian control of Crimea, saying that the people of Crimea prefer it, and also that he will consider lifting Crimea-related sanctions. He refuses to “disavow” Putin’s praise, promises a good relationship, but claims he has never met or spoken with Putin and denies business connections or debts to Russia. This same day, Stone speaks to Trump by phone for about ten minutes; an hour later, he asks Corsi by e-mail to visit Assange in London, or to send Trump supporter Ted Malloch, who was in London.
August: Rebekah Mercer, daughter of Robert, asks if Cambridge Analytica can do something with the stolen e-mails.
August 1: Corsi tells Stone by e-mail that Assange plans two more releases, one shortly and one in October. He references Podesta, and proposes a strategy depicting Clinton as old and unwell that is later employed by the Trump campaign.
August 2: Stone e-mails Manafort about Assange. On the same day, Manafort and Gates meet in person with Kilimnik, and take steps to conceal the meeting; special counsel Bob Mueller’s office will later flag this as a significant event and potential “way of getting cash”. They discuss in detail polling data proprietary to the campaign, which Manafort has given to Kilimnik to pass on to others, most likely including Deripaska, and a purported peace deal in Ukraine that would lead to a lifting of sanctions against Russia, and which Manafort understands will give Russia effective control of eastern Ukraine. Manafort later lies about this meeting.
August 3: Stone writes to Manafort, claims to have an idea to “save Trump’s ass”, and asks for a call. The same day, Don jr., campaign aide Stephen Miller, and donor Erik Prince meet with Prince associate and lobbyist George Nader and media specialist Joel Zamel; Nader offers the Trump campaign the assistance of the Saudi and Emirati governments.
August 5: Stone begins communications with Russian intelligence (Guccifer 2.0).
August 8: Stone first claims to be in contact with Assange.
August 16: Stone e-mails Bannon, claiming to know how Trump can win, but “it ain’t pretty”.
August 17: As the official Republican nominee, Trump is briefed by the US intelligence community and told specifically that Russia is responsible for the hacks against the Democrats, and that Russia will attempt to infiltrate his campaign; he apparently says nothing about prior overtures from Russia. On the recommendation of the Mercers, Bannon joins the campaign with the title of ‘chief executive officer’. Conway joins with the title of ‘campaign manager’. Bannon reports having discussed Wikileaks and Assange with Stone both before and after assuming this role; Stone promises additional leaks.
August 19: Manafort resigns.
August 21: Stone tweets: “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary” [sic].
August 22: Aaron Nevins, a Republican operative in Florida, contacts Russian intelligence (Guccifer 2.0) seeking material, receives and analyzes it, and sends Russia a link, which Russia passes to Stone.
August 25: Stone associate Randy Credico tells Stone by text of a conversation with Assange.
August 29: Marie Yovanovitch, a career foreign service officer, takes up her post as ambassador to Ukraine. Her tenure will feature a notable focus on corruption, drawing opposition from within the Ukrainian government.
August/September: Cell-phone signals and intelligence intercepts suggest that Cohen visits Prague, coinciding with a purported meeting with Russians suggested as a possibility in the Christopher Steele dossier. Cohen denies having ever been to Prague, even after he begins cooperating with the Trump investigation, and special counsel Bob Mueller accepts this denial.
September 8: Sessions meets with Kislyak in his Senate office.
September 18: Stone e-mails Credico asking specifically for Clinton/State department e-mails from 2011 August 10–30, seeking her actions on a possible peace deal in Libya.
October 1: A day after indicating a visit to Assange, Credico texts Stone about major news that will destroy the Clinton campaign. Stone begins a near-daily prediction of an imminent release from WikiLeaks.
October 3: An Access Hollywood producer at NBC finds an archived tape of Trump speaking with host Billy Bush, bragging about, among other things, grabbing women “by the pussy”; NBC debates the tape but does not release it. Stone e-mails Prince, mentions speaking to his “friend in London” the previous night, and that a “payload” was imminent.
October 4: A planned Assange press conference doesn’t happen. Prince asks Stone about it, Stone offers to check, Prince contacts Stone again, and at Stone’s suggestion they move to the encrypted WhatsApp. Bannon e-mails Stone about the press conference and for information about future WikiLeaks releases; Stone promised “a load every week going forward”.
October 5: Russia renews two trademarks for Ivanka Trump for ten years.
October 7: Around noon, Stone has a long call with someone at the Washington Post. The Obama administration publicly blames Russia for the hacking. A few hours later, the Washington Post releases the Access Hollywood tape; Corsi later claims that Stone knew of the tape and called him after its release, asking for Assange to counter with the Podesta e-mails. Within 30 minutes of the tape’s publication, WikiLeaks begins the release of John Podesta’s e-mails. Campaign staffer and Bannon aide Alexandra Preate texts Stone “well done”. Senior campaign staff, with Flynn present, discuss reaching out to WikiLeaks.
October 8: Deutsche Bank, a major creditor of Trump and suspected of laundering Russian money, loans Kushner’s company $285 million.
October 18: In an e-mail to Bannon, Prince suggests that Trump should assert that Russia is actually trying to help Clinton win.
October 28: Comey informs Congress by letter that he is reopening the Clinton e-mail investigation; House Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz immediately releases the letter.
November 6: Comey again closes the Clinton e-mail investigation.
November 8: Donald Trump is elected. After this, Russia extends four of his trademarks.
December 1: Kushner, with Flynn present, asks Kislyak about setting up a communications backchannel under Russian control.
December 13: Kushner meets with Sergei Gorkov, head of the Russian state-owned and US-sanctioned Vneshekonombank, reportedly at Kislyak’s request.
December 22: Flynn, as directed by a senior transition official, requests that Kislyak delay or veto a UN Security Council resolution on Israel. (He and Kushner sought the assistance of other states as well.) Flynn later lies about this act.
December 29: Obama enacts sanctions against Russia for election interference. Flynn, following instructions from Mar-a-Lago relayed by his future deputy K.T. McFarland, secretly speaks with Kislyak and asks Russia not to retaliate for the sanctions. Flynn later lies about this call.
December 30: Putin publicly declines to retaliate for the sanctions.
January 9: Cohen meets at Trump Tower with Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.
January 10: Sessions, as nominee for attorney general, says in a hearing that he is unaware of any campaign communications with Russia and that he “did not have communications with the Russians”.
January 11: Prince meets with Russian state investment official Kirill Dmitriev and Nader in the Seychelles, discussing among other things a communications backchannel between Trump and Russia and US-Russia military cooperation in Syria. Around this time Prince exchanges numerous texts with Bannon that both later delete.
January 12: Trump names former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani an advisor, officially for information security issues.
January 20: Trump becomes president.
January 31 or so: Cohen begins receiving monthly payments indirectly from Vekselberg; he eventually receives $583,332.98 in total.
February 4: Speaking with O’Reilly, Trump says he respects Putin, and defends him from charges of being a killer by saying “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?”
February 13: Mike Flynn is fired as national security advisor.
February 14: Trump asks Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.
March 2: Sessions recuses himself from investigations into campaign-related matters, leaving oversight to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.
April: Trump repeats publicly, to the Associated Press, that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for the DNC hacks, and that a Ukraine-based company has “the server”.
May 4: Smith tells the Wall Street Journal of his involvement in the search for stolen e-mails.
May 6–7: While at his Bedminster (New Jersey) golf club, Trump decides to fire Comey.
May 8: Trump asks Sessions and Rosenstein to produce a rationale for firing Comey.
May 9: Trump fires Comey. At the time, the firing is justified as a response to Comey’s improper treatment of Clinton, a justification drafted by Rosenstein but completely opposed to Trump’s previous claims.
May 10: Trump meets in the Oval Office with Lavrov and Kislyak; Russian press is allowed but US press is not. Trump tells Lavrov that firing Comey relieved Trump of pressure on the Russia investigation, and divulges highly-sensitive Israeli intelligence on ISIS. He also says that he is not concerned over Russia’s election interference, including in the US. The memoranda from this meeting are later among numerous memoranda of conversations that Trump officials attempt to conceal from normal circulation to the relevant government employees. Trump’s divulgence of Israeli intelligence prompts the CIA to exfiltrate its most-highly-placed asset from Russia, lest Trump betray that source, too.
May 11: In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump acknowledges that he fired Comey in part because he believed “the Russia thing” was “a made-up story”, and that he intended to fire Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s recommendation.
May 14: Smith kills himself.
May 17: Rosenstein appoints former FBI director Mueller as special counsel for the Russian election operation.
May 25: Speaking in Brussels at a NATO summit, Trump again pointedly declines to express support for the North Atlantic Treaty’s Article 5, regarding mutual assistance in the case of an attack, and engages in his usual complaints about allies’ inadequate defense spending.
June 8: Giuliani meets with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko.
June 9: Lutsenko brings his office into an investigation of the Black Ledger, a record of corruption under previous president Yanukovich that implicates Manafort, possibly with the intention of ending the investigation.
June 14: It is reported in Europe that Poroshenko will meet with Trump.
June 17: Trump orders White House counsel Don McGahn to have Rosenstein fire Mueller; McGahn considers resigning, but ultimately stays in his job without ever passing on the instruction to Rosenstein.
June 19: The White House announces a meeting between Poroshenko and vice president Mike Pence.
June 20: Poroshenko is granted a brief meeting with Trump.
July 4: North Korea successfully tests an intercontinental ballistic missile. Trump initially believes this to be a hoax, because Putin had told him North Korean lacked the capability.
July 7: Trump meets with Putin for two hours at the G-20 summit in Hamburg. He later meets Putin for another two hours, with only an interpreter present; he confiscates the interpreter’s notes and orders the interpreter not to discuss the meeting with anyone.
July 8: Returning from Hamburg, Trump is presented by Hicks with a draft statement for Don jr. about the 2016 June 9 Trump Tower meeting, which is about to be disclosed by the New York Times; Hicks argues to admit the true purpose of the meeting. Trump personally dictates a new, false statement, claiming the meeting was about adoptions. Around this time, Trump tells the Times that adoptions were also a subject of his talks with Putin in Hamburg.
July 9: The New York Times reports the Trump Tower meeting. Trump says that he and Putin discussed a joint cybersecurity unit, for elections among other things.
July 10: The Trump Organization drafts a false statement for Goldstone on the Trump Tower meeting.
July 19: In an interview, Trump publicly lambastes Sessions for recusing himself, signalling his preference for the Russia investigation to be overseen by someone more concerned with Trump’s interests; he will continue pressuring Sessions publicly to resign and to investigate Trump’s enemies.
July 24: After a private meeting with staff of the Senate intelligence committee, Kushner publicly denies colluding or knowing of collusion with Russia.
August 2: Trump reluctantly signs a bipartisan bill that limits his power to give sanctions relief to Russia; it had passed with near-unanimous (and thus veto-proof) majorities. Russia orders a reduction of 755 in the US diplomatic staff in Russia.
August 9: Trump presses Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell by phone to do more to protect him from the Russia investigation.
August 10: Trump expresses gratitude to Putin for saving the US money by ordering the removal of US diplomats.
October 1: Trump fails to meet a legal deadline to identify Russian targets of the sanctions bill passed in August.
October 27: Manafort and Gates are indicted in connection with their work for the pro-Russian party in Ukraine.
October 30: Papadopoulos pleads guilty to lying to the FBI.
November: Flynn begins cooperating with the Russia investigation.
November 14: Sessions admits to the House judiciary committee that there were contacts between Russia and the Trump campaign.
November 21: Trump and Putin speak by phone, supposedly on a Russian plan to end the war in Syria.
November 22: Flynn terminates his joint defense agreement with Trump. His lawyer notifies White House counsel and Trump’s personal lawyer; the latter replies by voicemail that they would still need to be told (on “national security” grounds) if Flynn shares information implicating Trump, and pointedly notes Trump’s warm feelings for Flynn.
November 30: In a private session of the House intelligence committee, Sessions will not say whether Trump asked him to interfere in the Russia investigation.
December: Believing that subpoenas are being issued to uncover his business with Deutsche Bank, Trump again moves to fire Mueller.
December 1: Flynn pleads guilty to lying to the FBI.
December 14: Trump and Putin speak by phone, reportedly on cooperation over the North Korean missile program.
December 15: Trump publicly describes the Trump-Russia affair as a hoax and refuses to rule out pardoning Flynn.
December 20: The State Department approves the sale of small arms to Ukraine.
December 22: The State Department grants an export license for Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
January 2: Trump demands on Twitter that the Department of Justice investigate Comey and Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
January 25: The New York Times reports Trump’s attempt to fire Mueller in June of 2017.
January 26: Trump denies the Times report about firing Mueller.
February 2: A memo by House intelligence committee chair Devin Nunes, attempting to discredit the FBI/Mueller investigation of the Trump-Russia affair, is declassified and released by Trump.
March 2: The Defense Department gives final approval for sales of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
March 15: The administration imposes sanctions on the Russian agencies and individuals indicted for hacking by Mueller.
March 16: Former FBI deputy and acting director Andy McCabe, whom Trump had targeted over the Trump-Russia investigation, is fired just ahead of his planned retirement, depriving him of retirement benefits.
March 20: Russia announces that Trump called Putin and congratulated him for his claimed election victory. The White House had denied that there was a call, and Trump’s advisors had urged him not to congratulate Putin.
March 26: In response (primarily) to the attempted murder of Russian double agent and defector Sergei Skripal in Britain, the US expels 60 Russian diplomats and operatives; Trump is furious when he learns of the severity of the expulsion.
April: Lutsenko halts investigations into Manafort.
April 2: A Russian foreign-policy official claims Trump invited Putin to the White House.
April 9: Trump claims he has been urged to fire Mueller; he is noncommittal.
April 13: Trump pardons Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby of obstruction of justice and lying to officials, which implicates many of his own associates. He again threatens Comey with prison.
April 15: US ambassador the the UN Nikki Haley announces sanctions against Russian companies for supporting Syria’s chemical weapons program; Trump countermands her.
April 19: Giuliani becomes a personal lawyer for Trump, primarily for the Mueller investigation.
April 30: At an “intimate” dinner at Trump’s Washington hotel, US businessmen Lev Parnas (born in Ukraine) and Igor Fruman (born in Belarus) urge Trump to remove Yovanovitch; Fruman records the conversation, including Trump saying “Get rid of her. … Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. Okay? Do it.” Trump also orders senior staffer Johnny DeStefano to remove her; DeStefano claims that this is not immediately possible.
May 2: The New York Times reports that Ukraine has ceased cooperation with the Mueller investigation, to win and retain favor with Trump and US military assistance.
May 8: Trump announces a US withdrawal from the multilateral deal on Iran’s nuclear program.
May 21: Trump orders an internal Justice Department investigation of the FBI’s investigation of his campaign.
June 9: Trump leaves the G7 summit early and withdraws from a joint statement; he and his administration spend two days attacking Canada and prime minister Justin Trudeau over trade.
June 12: Trump meets in Singapore with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Without consulting Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis or South Korea, Trump speaks of bringing home US troops, and promises to cancel military exercises with South Korea, calling them “provocative” and using North Korea’s preferred term, ‘war games’. The summit itself, and the cancellation of exercises, are major, unreciprocated concessions to North Korea. Cancelling the exercises was reportedly suggested by Putin; several exercises are in fact cancelled.
July 16: Trump meets Putin in Helsinki. They meet privately, with only interpreters, for two hours. In a press conference afterwards, Trump takes the side of Russia over US intelligence on the question of Russian election interference and speaks favorably of letting Russia interrogate US personnel. In the US, Butina is charged as an unregistered foreign agent for her work on behalf of Torshin with the NRA.
July 17: Donor disclosure rules are repealed for certain non-profit groups, including the NRA.
July 19: In an interview with Fox News, Trump casts doubt on NATO’s mutual-defense obligation, specifically citing the possibility that member Montenegro, an apparent target of Russian interference, could start a war through its own aggression and drag in the US.
August 29: Contradicting a Mattis statement from the day before, Trump reiterates his intention not to conduct military exercises with South Korea.
October 19: Trump cancels military exercises with South Korea scheduled for December.
November 6: In midterm elections, Democrats win control of the House of Representatives.
November 7: Trump fires Sessions, and bypasses Rosenstein to make Sessions’ chief of staff, Matt Whitaker, the acting attorney general and supervisor of the Russia investigation.
November 30: At the Buenos Aires G-20 summit, Trump again meets Putin, secretly and without US staff, for about fifteen minutes; only Melania Trump and a Russian interpreter are present. A scheduled meeting had been publicly cancelled by Trump after Russian ships seized two Ukrainian ships in the Kerch Strait days before.
January 2: Trump justifies the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as a counterterrorist action.
January 27: Sanctions are lifted against Deripaska’s companies.
February 1: The US announces its withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) with Russia, following Russian violations.
February 14: Former attorney general Bill Barr resumes the post and becomes the supervisor of the Mueller investigation, which he had previously criticized publicly and in an unsolicited memo to Rosenstein, specifically defending Trump against obstruction of justice accusations.
March 22: Mueller closes the investigation and submits a report to Barr; by regulation, the report must explain why he did or did not issue indictments, and is later reported to run hundreds of pages.
March 24: Barr submits a short summary of the report to Congress. It appears from Barr’s summary that Mueller felt he could not sustain a prosecution for direct criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government; Barr’s misleading presentation of this narrow finding leads to a press narrative of exoneration for collusion. Meanwhile, Barr decides on his own to clear Trump of obstruction of justice, a subject on which Mueller did not offer an official opinion; Barr’s legal theory is that Trump cannot be guilty of obstruction, no matter what he did, if no prosecutable crime was ultimately found. Members of Mueller’s office then challenge Barr’s interpretation of their conclusions, and note that they had prepared their own summaries for public release that were far more damning. Barr’s summary says nothing on the counterintelligence aspect of Mueller’s investigation.
April 21: Vladimir Zelensky is elected president of Ukraine, defeating incumbent Poroshenko.
April 24: Trump dismisses Yovanovitch as ambassador to Ukraine.
May 20: Zelensky is inaugurated. The US delegation is led by energy secretary Rick Perry, and includes EU ambassador Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker, special representative for Ukraine negotiations; the three are later central to the “irregular channel” of Ukraine policy led by Giuliani, and self-designated “the Three Amigos”. Also in the delegation is US senator Ron Johnson.
May 23: Trump meets in the Oval Office for a debrief on Zelensky’s inauguration, leading to the “irregular channel”. Present are Perry, Sondland, Volker, and Johnson, as well as national security advisor John Bolton. Trump complains about Ukraine trying to hurt him and mentions the Russian disinformation that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for hacking the Democrats in 2016. He directs the Three Amigos to work with Giuliani.
May 29: Mueller leaves the Justice Department, and makes a public statement in which he clarifies that the decision not to indict Trump was based on DOJ policy, not a lack of evidence, and that he would have explicitly cleared Trump of criminal acts if he were confident of Trump’s innocence.
July 25: In a phone call with Zelensky, Trump demands investigations into Joe Biden and the (false) Ukrainian hack of the DNC, as a condition for further security assistance. The same day, he officially freezes security assistance already appropriated by Congress.
August: Trump tells Bolton that he wants to continue withholding security assistance to Ukraine until it helps with the two investigations.
September 26: Trump’s campaign begins a $10 million ad attack on Biden over his actions and supposed motives in Ukraine.
September 27: Amid reports of Trump officials abnormally hiding the July 25 call with Zelensky from internal circulation, transferring memoranda to a system only for the most highly classified information, is it revealed that conversations with Putin and Muhammad bin Salman were handled similarly.
November 15: Stone is found guilty of lying to Congress, witness tampering, and obstruction of a proceeding.
December 18: Trump is impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over the Zelensky call.
January 16: Trump goes on trial in the Senate for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
February 5: Trump is acquitted by the Senate; all Democrats vote to convict on both charges; Mitt Romney casts the only Republican vote for conviction, on abuse of power.
February 7: Trump fires Sondland, and removes from the National Security Council staff prominent impeachment witness Alex Vindman and his brother Yevgeny.
March: Late in the month, Trump is briefed about a Russian offer of bounty to fighters in Afghanistan who kill US troops. At the time this is reported publicly in late June, Trump has still not responded.
May 7: The Department of Justice announces that it will drop all charges against Flynn, including the charges to which Flynn pled guilty.
May 30: Trump proposes to expand the G-7 by several members, including Russia.
June 5: A government official announces that Trump has decided to remove 9500 of the 34500 US troops in Germany.
July 10: Shortly before Stone is due to begin his sentence, Trump commutes it.
November 3: Trump is defeated for reelection by Biden; most major news organizations do not project a winner until November 7.
November 25: Trump pardons Flynn.
December 22: Trump pardons Papadopoulos and Alex van der Zwaan, an associate of Manafort and Gates convicted for his efforts to cover up their actions.
December 23: Trump pardons Stone, Manafort, and Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner.
January 6: Trump addresses a rally in Washington that he had called for the purposes of pressuring Congress to overturn the election. He sends the ralliers to the Capitol, where Congress is in joint session to count the Electoral College votes. Many of the ralliers enter the Capitol by force and engage in destruction and looting; some appear to have intended to kidnap or kill members of Congress and Pence, who is presiding over the count. Trump allows the riot to proceed for several hours, despite requests for armed intervention.
January 13: Trump is impeached again, for incitement of insurrection.
January 20: Immediately before leaving office, Trump pardons Bannon and Erickson. He also pardons Elliott Broidy, vice chair of his campaign’s joint fundraising committee with the RNC and of his inaugural committee, and later RNC deputy finance chair, a client of Cohen, and business associate of Gates, who was convicted in connection with a lobbying plan on behalf of the Malaysian government and its investment arm, 1 Malaysia Development Berhad. Later that day, Trump leaves office.