Updated on March 30, 2018.
Buried in a late-night court filing in Robert Mueller’s expansive probe of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was an explosive claim: An adviser to President Donald Trump’s campaign and transition teams had knowingly been in contact with a former Russian intelligence officer as late as September 2016, prosecutors said. The revelation is the strongest connection to date between Trump’s campaign and Russia’s intelligence services, which U.S. officials say were behind the cyberattacks on Democrats during the election.
The adviser, Rick Gates, was a deputy to Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort and stayed on as a liaison between Trump’s transition team and the Republican National Committee after the election, well after Manafort was forced to step down over his alleged ties to dirty Ukrainian money. Manafort and Gates’s arrival to the campaign team coincided with the most pivotal Russia-related episode of the election: the release of emails that had been stolen from the Democratic National Committee by hackers working for the GRU, Russia’s premier military-intelligence unit. The GRU remained at the center of the Russians’ interference campaign, using the Guccifer 2.0 persona, DCLeaks.com, and WikiLeaks to publish the hacked material in droves before the election. Gates and Manafort, meanwhile, remained in touch with the former GRU officer who the special counsel’s office believes was still connected to Russian intelligence services during the election—raising new questions about what the campaign officials knew about Russia’s hack-and-dump scheme.