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Timeline Of Trump And Russia In Mid-2016: A Series Of Coincidences Or Something More?

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Timeline Of Trump And Russia In Mid-2016: A Series Of Coincidences Or Something More?

Politics

Timeline Of Trump And Russia In Mid-2016: A Series Of Coincidences Or Something More?

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here's one way to make sense of confusing events in 2016. Put them in a timeline. Today, we know many behind-the-scenes developments, like Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian lawyer. NPR's Tamara Keith lined up those events with what happened in public.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: In March of last year, the Russian military intelligence service known as the GRU began rifling through the email accounts and networks of the Democratic Party and other political officials. That's according to the U.S. intelligence community's declassified assessment of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

That same month, a Russian political commentator known variously as Putin's brain and Putin's Rasputin made it clear in a video in English, posted on YouTube, that Russia was officially rooting for Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEXANDER DUGIN: Go ahead, Mr. Trump. In Trump we trust.

KEITH: While praising Trump as a non-elitist American who wouldn't make mistakes like invading Iraq, Alexander Dugin had harsh words for Hillary Clinton and the Democratic primary process.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DUGIN: So there is nothing more stupid and fake than the American vote-counting system. It is a disgrace and not a democracy. The majority votes for Sanders but Clinton wins, bribing the electors.

KEITH: A month later, candidate Trump started talking about a system rigged against himself and Bernie Sanders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He wins. And then - you listen to the pundits - but he can't win. You know why? Because it's a rigged system, folks.

KEITH: As the primary process wound to a close, Donald Trump Jr. received the now-notorious email. It came on June 3 from a man linked to a Russian real estate developer the Trumps had partnered with on the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. He offered to connect the Trump campaign with people who could supply official Russian documents that would incriminate Hillary Clinton. The offer was said to be part of, quote, "Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

He was traveling, but it only took Trump Jr. 20 minutes to respond, if it's what you say, I love it, especially later in the summer. On June 7, they set a date for Trump campaign officials to meet with someone described in the emails as a Russian government lawyer - and it turns out, several other people connected to Russia. That very day was the end of the 2016 Republican presidential primaries.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: You've given me the honor to lead the Republican Party to victory this fall.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: We're going to do it. We're going to do it, folks. We're going to do it.

KEITH: In his speech to supporters that night, Trump teased an attack on Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

TRUMP: I am going to give a major speech, on probably Monday of next week, and we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.

(CHEERING)

KEITH: When asked whether this had anything to do with what was promised in the email chain, a spokesman for President Trump's outside legal team said the candidate was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.

Two days later, on June 9, the meeting happened at Trump Tower - with Donald Trump Jr., the campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, now a top White House adviser - all in attendance. In defending the meeting, Trump Jr. told Sean Hannity on Fox News that the Russians didn't deliver the goods.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HANNITY")

DONALD TRUMP JR.: It was literally just a waste of 20 minutes, which was a shame.

KEITH: Candidate Trump's major speech about Hillary Clinton didn't materialize that Monday. The Pulse nightclub shooting happened over the weekend and briefly changed the focus of the campaign. Something else happened that weekend that seemed sort of insignificant at the time. In an interview with the British ITV, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, gave a preview of what was to come.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "PESTON ON SUNDAY")

JULIAN ASSANGE: We have upcoming leaks in relation to Hillary Clinton, which is great. We actually have a - WikiLeaks has a very big year.

ROBERT PESTON: So - but some of the ones that have not yet come into the public domain, you are planning to put out?

ASSANGE: Yeah, we have emails related to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication. That is correct.

KEITH: Assange and WikiLeaks have long had an ideological affinity and close ties with Russia. The U.S. intelligence assessment says the Russian intelligence agency GRU delivered to WikiLeaks a trove of DNC emails, and those taken from Democratic officials like Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

On June 22, Trump finally delivered a speech going after Clinton and her family's foundation. But it was just a greatest-hits version of previous attacks he'd made against her.

That brings us to July 2016, a pivotal month in the campaign. We now know it's also when the FBI began investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. In Cleveland on July 21, one year ago this coming weekend...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton - death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.

(APPLAUSE)

KEITH: President Trump closed out the GOP convention. The next morning, WikiLeaks posted nearly 20,000 emails hacked from the DNC. The emails contain damaging information that confirmed the narrative that Democratic leaders preferred Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. The revelations roiled the Democratic convention that began just three days later. Trump tweeted about the DNC hack repeatedly, including this. The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC emails, which should never have been written - stupid - because Putin likes me.

On July 27, a reporter asked Trump if he would call on Putin to stay out of the election. Why should I tell Putin what to do, he answered.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Let me tell you. It's not even about Russia, or China or whoever it is that's doing the hacking. It was about the things that were said in those emails. They were terrible things.

KEITH: Rather than condemn the hacking at his press conference, Trump seemingly encouraged Russia to keep going.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let's see if that happens. That'll be next.

KEITH: After that, a reporter pressed Trump on whether he had any qualms about asking a foreign government to interfere, to hack.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

TRUMP: Nope, gives me no pause. If they have them, they have them. We might as well find...

KEITH: The 30,000 personal emails deleted from Clinton's private server never have surfaced publicly. But in early October, WikiLeaks began posting internal Clinton campaign emails. And they were rewarded mightily with a constant stream of negative stories about Clinton. Part of what investigators are trying to determine is whether all these things are connected or just dots on a timeline in a busy and strange election year.

Tamara Keith, NPR News.

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