Trump's Deputy Chief of Staff Tried to Arrange a Meeting with Putin During the Campaign: Report
Investigators have turned up an email in which one of Donald Trump’s campaign staff mentions an effort to arrange a meeting between Trump campaign officials and Vladimir Putin.
The aide, Rick Dearborn, who is now President Donald Trump's deputy chief of staff, sent a brief email to campaign officials last year relaying information about an individual who was seeking to connect top Trump officials with Putin, the sources said.
The date for the email about a proposed Putin meeting was in June 2016, which is also when the Trump Tower meeting between Trump’s senior campaign staff and Russians offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton took place. However, it’s not clear that the two were connected, as that meeting isn’t referenced and the person who suggested the meeting to Dearborn isn't named.
The person was only identified in the email as being from "WV," which one source said was a reference to West Virginia. It's unclear who the individual is, what he or she was seeking, or whether Dearborn even acted on the request.
What the letter does suggest is that discussions about meeting with Russian officials—even Putin himself—were happening at multiple levels within the Trump campaign. The level of turnover and drama among Donald Trump’s senior staff has been so high, that the few second-tier roles Trump has bothered to fill rarely get mentioned and haven’t been subject to much scrutiny. That may be about to change.
[Dearborn] served as then-Sen. Jeff Sessions' chief of staff, as well as a top policy aide on the campaign. And investigators have questions about whether he played a role in potentially arranging two meetings that occurred between the then-Russia ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak, and Sessions, who has downplayed the significance of those encounters.
Sessions was famously reluctant to reveal his meetings with Kislyak. He initially even omitted mention of an extended private meeting with Kislyak that took place in Sessions’ Senate office, then blamed that meeting on Senate Intelligence committee business claiming it had nothing to do with the Trump campaign. However, no other member of the committee had such a meeting with Kislyak. Sessions has waved off other meetings with Kislyak as chance encounters that he barely remembers.
Sessions’ prolonged meeting with Kislyak didn’t come until September, three months after the Dearborn note trying to line up meetings between Trump officials and Putin. It’s unclear at this point whether Sessions’ meeting with Kislyak came as a result of connections established by Dearborn or the “WV” source.
However, in the case of one of those other Kislyak meetings, there was a very definite connection.
Dearborn was involved in helping to arrange an April 2016 event at the Mayflower Hotel where Trump delivered a major foreign policy address, sources said. Kislyak attended the event and a reception beforehand, but it's unclear whether he interacted with Sessions there.
That Mayflower meeting is one that Sessions has waved away, though photos of the occasion show Kislyak and Sessions both coming from a backstage event at almost the same time and standing near each other in the audience for Trump’s speech.
One notable feature of the Dearborn email is that it offers a meeting directly with Putin, which seems like an odd first step.
Retired CIA chief of Russia operations, Steve Hall added that it would be unusual to set up a meeting with Putin himself before meeting with operatives tied to the Kremlin.
But if other meetings had happened before that email between Trump officials and Kislyak or other representatives of the Russian government, the email might make more sense.