Russia’s Recurring Role in the 2016 Presidential Campaign

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) praised Donald Trump (R) during his annual press conference in Moscow, on December 17, 2015. singled him out as an absolute leader. (AFP Photo/Natalia Kolesnikova)

TRUMP PUTINThe controversy surrounding one of Donald Trump’s top campaign aides and his alleged ties to a pro-Russia Ukrainian party is just the latest fold in an ongoing saga.

Trump’s seeming closeness, both personally and in terms of policymaking, with Vladimir Putin has been an issue throughout the campaign.

Here is a rundown of the history of Russia playing a role in the 2016 presidential campaign, as well as various statements Trump has made about Putin throughout:

Accepting and Giving Compliments

When Trump was asked in December about reports that Putin was cracking down on internal dissent by killing journalists and political opponents, Trump’s response seemed complimentary of Putin.

“He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader, unlike what he have in this country,” Trump said.

And when Putin described Trump as a “bright and talented person,” Trump released a statement through his spokesman, Hope Hicks, that said in part: “It is always so great to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”

Approving of Putin’s Annexation of Crimea

In a late July news conference, Trump said he “would be looking at” the possibility of lifting sanctions against Russia tied to its illegal military annexation of Crimea, which the U.S. government refuses to accept.

“He’s not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want,” Trump told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos during a subsequent interview for This Week.

When Stephanopoulos said, “Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?” Trump tweaked his answer, blaming the way it exists now on President Obama.

“OK, well, he’s there in a certain way. But I’m not there. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this. In the meantime, he’s going away. He take — takes Crimea,” Trump said.

The following day, Trump defended his tweaked explanation at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, and didn’t shy away from suggesting improved relations with Russia would be a good thing.

“First of all, I have to say this, wouldn’t it be great if we got along with Russia? Am I wrong in saying that wouldn’t it be great? Am I wrong in saying that would it be great?” Trump said at the rally on Aug. 1.

“Putin said some very good things about me. People say, ‘Oh, Trump’s going to be weak with Putin because Putin is saying nice things about me.’ OK, all right. And I said he’s a strong guy, they immediately say, ‘Oh, Trump likes Putin.’ Look I don’t like or dislike, I just say this way, wouldn’t it be great if the United States and Russia got along combined, knocked out ISIS, maybe did other positive things?” Trump continued.

Detailing Their Meeting — or Lack Thereof

There have been at least three instances between 2013 and 2015 when Trump said that he has either met or spoken directly or indirectly with Putin.

But now he says that they’ve never met or spoken.

During an interview with ABC, Trump said, “I have no relationship with him,” but went on to say later, “Well, I don’t know what it means by having a relationship.”

“I didn’t meet him. I haven’t spent time with him. I didn’t have dinner with him. I didn’t go hiking with him. I don’t know — and I wouldn’t know him from Adam except I see his picture and I would know what he looks like,” Trump told Stephanopoulos in an interview for This Week.

That comes in clear contrast to what Trump said in 2014 to the National Press Club, when he said, “I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer.”

Carrying over to the Democrats and the DNC Hack

Questions about Russian interference are not only being raised in terms of the Trump campaign, but security experts pointed the finger at Russian hackers when it came time to look for the culprits behind the Democratic National Committee email hack.

The DNC hack and the contents of some of the emails largely led to the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as chairwoman.

Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta said that the suggested ties between Russia and the hack are “very worrisome.”

“Whether they’re actively trying to interfere in the U.S. election, that’s something that I guess we’ll need to see,” he said.

Trump speculated in a speech after the hack that “China, Russia or one of our many, many friends … hacked the hell out of us,” but the GOP candidate and his top advisers have rejected the suggestion that the Russians were motivated to help the business mogul.

In a later tweet, Trump wrote: “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC [emails] … because Putin likes me.”

Manafort’s Alleged Money Trail

Trump’s questioned friendliness with Russia isn’t the only possible connection between his campaign and the country.

Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, advised former Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych during his election campaigns before he was ousted from power in 2014. Yanukovych was a Putin supporter.

Manafort’s international work has been known for some time, but it came back into the fold this weekend when The New York Times reported Manafort’s name appears on a list of off-the-books payments amounting to $12.7 million between 2007 and 2012.

Manafort has since denied the reports, but the Ukrainian Anti-Corruption Bureau confirmed that Manafort’s name does appear in the ledger of payments, though they are still investigating whether or not the money was ever delivered.

Manafort released a statement saying he “never received a single ‘off-the-books cash payment’ as falsely “reported’ by The New York Times, nor have I ever done work for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.”

“The suggestion that I accepted cash payments is unfounded, silly and nonsensical,” he continued.

He added that his work in Ukraine ceased after “the country’s parliamentary elections in October 2014.”

During an earlier interview, Manafort was asked by ABC News if there were any ties between Trump’s campaign and Putin, and he denied it unequivocally.

“No, there are not. That’s absurd. And you know, there’s no basis to it,” he said.

Another Adviser’s Connection

Manafort isn’t the only one with access to Trump that has a connection to Russia.

Carter Page, an energy expert Trump tapped as a foreign policy adviser, spent three years living in Moscow working on key transactions with Gazprom, a Russian oil giant that is largely state-owned. Page was in Moscow last month to give a speech at a Russian business school.

Trump himself has explored the real estate market in Russia as far back as 1990 and toured Moscow with close friend and real estate developer Howard Lorber.

Lorber doesn’t have a formal role in the Trump campaign, but he did make an appearance at the Republican National Convention: Lorber was featured in the biographical video that played ahead of Trump’s address to the convention in Cleveland.