After an election marred by Moscow’s attempts to buoy Donald Trump’s candidacy, the Russian president wanted to cash in.
In December 2016, a few weeks after Donald Trump’s surprise election victory, Russian president Vladimir Putin convened what a Russian oligarch described as an “all-hands” meeting with some of his country’s top businessmen. A main topic of discussion: U.S. sanctions against Russia.
One of the oligarchs present was Petr Aven, co-founder of Alfa Bank, Russia’s biggest commercial bank. Aven had recently met with with Putin one on one to discuss the sanctions and what to do about them. Putin said he had been struggling to get messages to Trump’s inner circle, and urged Aven to take steps to protect his bank from additional U.S. penalties, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which details the episode. Aven perceived that as an order, not a request, according to Mueller, and understood “that there would be consequences if he did not follow through.”
Aven quickly understood that his mission was to contact the Trump transition team, and began an effort to contact Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Mueller’s nearly 450-page report granularly describes this and related episodes, revealing how Putin explicitly encouraged his country’s wealthiest and most powerful businessmen to make contact with Trump’s transition team after the election. The directives help explain the “flurry” of contact the oligarchs made with Trump’s associates in the weeks following the reality TV star’s unexpected victory, Mueller wrote.
Even though Mueller did not establish any conspiracy between Trump’s team and Russia, the special counsel’s report shows how important it was to Putin to establish a backchannel line of communication to Trump’s transition team — and how receptive Trump’s associates were to the overtures.
“As soon as news broke that Trump had been elected President, Russian government officials and prominent Russian businessmen began trying to make inroads into the new Administration,” Mueller’s team wrote in their final report.
In other words, after Trump pulled off his surprise victory in an election marred by Russia’s attempts to sow discord and buoy Trump’s candidacy, Putin wanted to cash in.
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