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Russia: The ‘cloud’ over the Trump White House

Russia: The ‘cloud’ over the Trump White House

Throughout the confusion of Donald Trump’s campaign and the chaotic events of his early days in the White House, one controversy has clung to the Trump team like glue: Russia.

US intelligence agencies have concluded Moscow tried to sway the presidential election in favour of Mr Trump.

It is alleged that Russian hackers stole information linked to the campaign of his rival Hillary Clinton and passed it to Wikileaks so it could be released to undermine her.

Congressional committees were set up to investigate the matter and, in March, then-FBI director James Comey confirmed the bureau had its own inquiry.

President Trump sacked Mr Comey on 9 May, citing his reason as “this Russia thing”, in a move that shocked Washington and fuelled claims of a cover up.

However, it did not halt the investigation. On 18 May, the department of justice appointed ex-FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to look into the matter.

Mr Mueller has not given any details of his investigation but US media have reported he is investigating Mr Trump for possible obstruction of justice, both in the firing of Mr Comey and whether Mr Trump tried to end an inquiry into sacked national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Mr Flynn resigned in February after failing to reveal the extent of his contacts with Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington.

President Trump has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia, calling the allegations a “witch hunt”.

Early warning signs

It was back in May 2016 that the first reports emerged of hackers targeting the Democratic Party. Over the next two months, the reports suggested US intelligence agencies had traced the breaches back to Russian hackers.

In July, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Wikileaks published 20,000 internal emails stolen by the hackers. US intelligence officials said they believed with “high confidence” that Russia was behind the operation, but the Trump campaign publicly refused to accept the findings.

Instead, at a press conference, Mr Trump caused outrage by inviting Russian hackers to target Hillary Clinton’s controversial personal email server, saying: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing”.

The first casualty

About the same time the hacking scandal was beginning to unfold, Mr Trump’s then campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was accused of accepting millions of dollars in cash for representing Russian interests in Ukraine and US, including dealings with an oligarch with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While Mr Manafort was running the campaign, the Republican Party changed the language in its manifesto regarding the conflict in Ukraine, removing anti-Russian sentiment, allegedly at the behest of two Trump campaign representatives.

Mr Manafort, who quit as Mr Trump’s campaign chairman last August, is being investigated by the FBI and also reportedly by New York officials.

Like Mr Flynn, Mr Manafort, a political operative with more than 40 years’ experience, was supposed to marshal some of the chaos and controversy around Mr Trump, but ended up falling prey to it.

Subsequently, further allegations have been made in Ukraine about secret funds said to have been paid to Mr Manafort, and it has also been claimed that he secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to assist President Putin’s political ends.

Mr Manafort has denied both allegations.

Source News

Updated: August 22, 2017 — 9:52 pm

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