From the legislative side, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham quickly introduced the Russia Sanctions Review Act on February 8, 2017. The legislation called for new penalties on Russia and included a provision that gave Congress veto power over any sanctions-lifting package proposed by the White House that would affect Russia. It passed that summer with a veto-proof majority, effectively forcing Trump to sign the bill. The administration blew through two deadlines to impose the new sanctions as required by law, but began to implement them in waves in March.
Several of the Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the administration are key players in Mueller’s investigation. At least one, Viktor Vekselberg, was questioned by the special counsel’s team earlier this year about payments he made to Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen between January and August 2017.
A Russia-Linked Professor Offered Dirt on Clinton
In April 2016, a shadowy professor with ties to Russia named Joseph Mifsud told a young Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” Russia had hacked the Democratic National Committee months earlier, and would soon break into Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s inbox. It is still not clear how Mifsud seemed to know in advance that Russia sought to compromise Clinton’s candidacy. After his breakfast meeting with Mifsud at a London hotel, Papadopoulos tried several times to organize a meeting between Trump and Putin, according to emails he sent to top Trump campaign aides that were released by the special counsel’s office in October.
Another unknown is whether Papadopoulos explicitly told Trump campaign officials about the “dirt” Mifsud had disclosed; The New York Times reported on Tuesday night that a Trump campaign aide told Senate investigators that he recalls receiving an email from Papadopoulos describing the compromising information Mifsud had alluded to. Mueller charged Papadopoulos in October for lying to federal agents about his conversations with Mifsud. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in exchange for a lighter sentence. Mifsud has virtually disappeared since his name was made public late last year.
Top Trump Campaign Officials Met With Russians to Get Dirt on Clinton
Last July, as Trump and his aides were flying back to the U.S. from a whirlwind trip to Poland and Germany, The New York Times published what seemed like a smoking gun: Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner had attended a meeting at Trump Tower at the height of the election with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Clinton. Emails released by Trump Jr. after the meeting was made public detailed how it had been arranged: Music publicist Rob Goldstone, who represents the pop-star son of one of Trump’s former business partners, offered Trump Jr. information on behalf of “the crown prosecutor of Russia” that would “incriminate” Clinton. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Goldstone wrote. “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. replied. Following the exchange, the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya—who acknowledged recently that she works as an “informant” for the Kremlin—was dispatched from Moscow to meet with the trio on June 9, 2016.