NEW YORK — A news story making the rounds claims that members of President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and transition team engaged in more than 100 contacts with “Russian-linked officials.”
The compilation of alleged contacts, however, is a product of the George Soros-funded Center for American Progress, founded by John Podesta, who served as chairman of Trump opponent Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
The analysis uses questionable methods to claim contacts with “Russian-linked officials” and categorizes Wikileaks and its founder, Julian Assange, as Russia-linked operatives based on U.S. intelligence assessments despite a lack of conclusive evidence.
USA Today led the charge with a headline claiming, “Trump’s team had over 100 contacts with Russian-linked officials, according to think tank analysis.”
The newspaper reported the analysis was conducted by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and its Moscow Project, and allows that CAP is a “liberal think tank.”
The newspaper did not mention Podesta and his role founding CAP, where he still serves on the group’s board.
While he was Clinton’s campaign chairman, the campaign notoriously funded the controversial Fusion GPS firm via the Perkins Coie law firm to conduct the anti-Trump work that resulted in the largely-discredited dossier written by former British spy Christopher Steele, alleging Russian collusion.
Some Russians tied to Fusion GPS factor into CAP’s list of alleged contacts between Trump’s orbit and Russia.
The brief USA Today article summarized CAP’s purported findings thusly:
Those within Trump’s team who had contacts with Russian-linked officials include Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, former Trump adviser Roger Stone, the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump.
“This wasn’t just one email or call, or one this or that,” said Talia Dessel, a research analyst for the left-leaning organization.
The Huffington Post ran a similar story on CAP’s report under the headline, “Trump Campaign Had More Than 100 Contacts With Russia-Linked Operatives: Report.”
“Trump Team Had Over 100 Contacts With Russia-Linked Officials, Says Think Tank,” blared a Daily Beast article.
Haaretz reported that “Trump Team Had Over 100 Contacts With Russian Officials, New Report Claims.”
A closer look at CAP’s report alleging “101 contacts with Russia-linked operatives” finds numerous methodology issues.
It counted several instances of reported communications between WikiLeaks and individuals in Trump’s orbit as alleged contacts with “Russian-linked operatives,” relying on U.S. intelligence assessments about WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks has long denied ties to Russia.
The report counted contacts between members of Trump’s team, including Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr., and Russian moguls Emin and Aras Agalarov.
The Agalarovs, who deny they acted on behalf of the Russian government, were involved in initiating contact with Trump Jr., which resulted in the infamous Trump Tower meeting, a confab that raises numerous questions about participants’ ties to Fusion GPS, the same firm funded by Clinton’s campaign while Podesta was chairman in order to author the infamous dossier.
Emin Agalarov, a Russian singer and businessman, is the son of Russian billionaire Aras Agalarov. Aras Agalarov organized the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow when the pageant was partially owned by Trump.
Bob Goldstone, a publicist for the Agalarovs, emailed Trump Jr. to set up the Trump Tower meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya and other Russian nationals.
That meeting was also counted in CAP’s list of contacts with “Russian-linked operatives” despite the mounting evidence pointing to the increasing likelihood of the confab being set up as a dirty trick against Trump’s presidential campaign.
CAP’s list documents:
Donald Trump Jr., Manafort, Kushner, and Rob Goldstone met in Trump Tower with Russian attorney and lobbyist Natalia Veselnitskaya, former State Department contractor Anatoli Samochornov, Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet counterintelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin, and Georgian real estate and finance executive Irakly Kaveladze.
CAP left out that three Russian participants at the meeting have ties to the controversial Fusion GPS outfit, and two have confirmed ties to Hillary Clinton, as Breitbart News reported.
Also, email logs brought to light show numerous emails were exchanged between a Clinton associate, Fusion GPS and Trump Tower participants, with the subjects of some of those emails referencing the Magnitsky Act, which sanctions Russian officials and was by all accounts the very topic of the Trump Tower meeting.
One Russian participant in the Trump Tower presentation admits to personally knowing Hillary Clinton since the late 1990s and says he “knew” some of the people who worked on Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
Another Russian attendee, a translator, testified that he was previously an interpreter for Hillary herself as well as for John Kerry and Barack Obama.
Questions are also raised by a timeline showing numerous personal meetings between Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson and Trump Tower participants. A Clinton associate, Ed Lieberman, was listed as being present at one and possibly two of those meetings.
Separately, Lieberman met with one Russian participant the same day of the Trump Tower meeting, according to separate testimony.
There are also questions about the initial setup of the Trump Tower meeting, with the publicist who sent the infamous email to Donald Trump Jr. promising “information that would incriminate” Clinton later admitting that he used deliberately hyperbolic language to ensure that the meeting took place. No such incriminating information on Hillary was provided, according to all meeting participants. In testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Robert Goldstone, the publicist, further said that he believes the meeting was a “bait and switch” by a Russian lobbyist seeking a meeting on another matter by misleadingly claiming to be bringing the Trump campaign dirt on Clinton.
The CAP list, meanwhile, relates contacts involving pre-presidential reported discussions to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Trump’s real estate business engaged in talks to build numerous international towers.
Also making the list are reports of former Trump adviser Roger Stone receiving an unsolicited offer from a Russian national claiming dirt on Clinton and asking for $2 million. Stone says he rejected the offer.
CAP also counts a public and brief meeting between former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. just prior to Trump’s first foreign policy speech. Kislyak was one of numerous dignitaries at the event.
CAP further counted a second brief talk between Kislyak and Sessions at a Cleveland event co-hosted by the Heritage Foundation and the U.S. State Department.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.