President Donald Trump is controversial for a lot of reasons. But one of the biggest ones is definitely his interesting relationship with Russia and its president Vladimir Putin. Since it was first discussed during the third presidential debate in 2016, the conversation shifted rapidly to Trump’s relationship with the Russian President, and to questions of whether or not Russia has interfered in the 2016 election. As is turns out, Russia did some pretty shady things in the 2016 election.
Naturally, a presidential hopeful having an overtly friendly relationship with a man who’s been accused of overseeing a nauseating amount of human rights abuses didn't sway American voters. Throughout the election, rumors have surfaced that the billionaire and the alleged dictator have a kind of buddy-buddy relationship. Even The Simpsons have skewered their relationship.
It’s not the first time that word has floated in the wake of a discussion of Putin and Trump’s bromance. Just how close are the presidential hopeful and the amateur Russian karate champion, and what impact on Trump's presidency?
He Fired The FBI Director Before Warning Him Not To Investigate FlynnPhoto: Federal Bureau of Investigation / Wikimedia Commons
Former FBI Director James Comey was fired in May 2017 by President Trump. But the reasons why are a little murky - and semi-suspicious.
Comey - who was appointed to the position by Obama - was investigating Flynn's involvement with Russian officials after it came to light in February 2017 that Flynn lied about speaking with the Russian ambassador. It wasn't the first time Comey was looking into Russia's ties to the US government. In the summer of 2016, Comey received what is now called the "Donald Trump-Russia dossier," which outlined some suspicious activities between Trump's campaign and the country. That prompted its own investigation into Russia, which would eventually roll over into the 2017 investigation.
In January 2017, Comey and Trump allegedly met for a private meal where Trump asked Comey to pledge his allegiance to him. Comey said he would be honest and fair. Two months later, Comey was testifying in front of the House Intelligence Committee and confirmed the FBI was investigating a possible link between Trump's campaign and Russia. Trump went to Comey, according to a memo Comey wrote, asking him to shut down the Russia investigation.
In May, Comey asked the Justice Department for an increase in funding, and began moving to legally acquire depositions and evidence from various members of government and Trump's team. White House sources told several publications that this angered Trump, and he retaliated by firing Comey out of the blue. Trump said he wanted to fire Comey when he took office in January, but many people suspected he thought the investigation might cease without Comey at the head.
But that backfired. Days later, representatives on the House Intelligence Committees demanded an investigation, asking the FBI to turn over all evidence of the discussions between Comey and Trump. Officials said Trump's firing of Comey was an obstruction of justice to the FBI, some even saying it was enough to impeach him.
Eric Trump Bragged About Getting Money From Russia To Bolster BusinessPhoto: Ali Shaker / Wikimedia Commons
In 2017, author James Dodson told radio station WBUR about a conversation he and Eric Trump had in 2014. He said Donald Trump invited him to play golf, and Dodson chatted with his son Eric. The conversation turned to business, and Eric bragged to him he had acquired $100 million to fund renovations to one of his golf courses. Dodson told the radio station this was strange - as banks were still reeling from the recession - and asked how he managed that.
"As we were setting off, I said, 'Eric, who's funding? I know no banks - because of the recession, the Great Recession - have touched a golf course. You know, no one's funding any kind of golf construction. It's dead in the water the last four or five years.' And this is what he said. He said, 'Well, we don't rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.'"
The allegations weren't shocking, considering in 2008 Donald Trump Jr., said Russians were investing heavily into Trump properties.
Trump Admits Russia May Have Interfered In US Election
After winning the election in November 2016, Donald Trump admitted in January 2017 it was possible Russia carried out cyberattacks against both the Republican and Democratic parties during the election.
During a news conference before his inauguration, he refused to say whether he and his team had contact with anyone from Russia while campaigning but admitted they probably had some interference during the election. US intelligence officials said after Trump's win they found evidence of hackers tapping into both political parties to influence the election. As a result, President Barack Obama ousted 35 suspected Russian intelligence officers and imposed sanctions on Russia.
Intelligence agencies believe the hackers targeted Hillary Clinton's emails and helped release them - a huge detriment to Clinton's campaign and one of Trump's leading arguments against her.
Trump acknowledged the hacking, but said he wasn't 100 percent convinced it was Russia despite briefings from intelligence officials.
"As far as hacking, I think it was Russia," he said at his January press conference, before adding, "it could have been others also."
Trump said he spoke to Putin who denied involvement in the hacking.
His Top Advisors (And Associates) Have Russia TiesPhoto: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons
While Trump himself has direct ties to Russia and its leader Putin, his senior advisors, business associates, and even family members have links to the country as well. In this very handy guide compiled by Politico, we can see just how many people are connected to the country that directly advise the President.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice during Trump's campaign with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson formerly did business with Rosneft, a Russian oil company whose president is a close friend of Tillerson. He also received special Russian grants when he was the CEO of ExxonMobile. Michael Flynn, Trump's now-disgraced national security adviser, was paid by Russian TV to appear, met with Kislyak before the election but lied about it to Congress (which got him fired), and had regular contact with Russia's military intelligence agency.
Trump's campaign advisors own shares in Russian energy companies, have close relationships with senior Russian officials, and possibly helped with (or at the very least had beforehand knowledge of) the Russian hack on DNC emails. Trump's son-in-law secretly met with Kislyak and Flynn, which Flynn lied about at a congressional hearing.