The special prosecutor’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election has delivered a guilty plea – and a trove of new information about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Moscow. The new details allow us to piece together the Russiagate puzzle as never before.
On October 30th, Robert Mueller elevated a formerly little-known Trump foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, into a key figure in the Trump-Russia scandal. The 30-year-old Papadopoulos has admitted making false statements to the FBI about his outreach to the Russian government on behalf of the Trump campaign. Papadopoulos made repeated attempts to coordinate a meeting between then candidate Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and spoke with go-betweens about Russia’s “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, including “thousands of emails.”
Below, Rolling Stone has taken previously public information and woven it together with new details revealed in the “statement of the offense” from the Papadopoulos case, creating a timeline of key dates, figures and events that tie the Trump campaign to Russia. (An asterisk next to a date denotes “on or about,” as described in federal documents.)
Trump declares his candidacy for president of the United States.
Trump consults with retired Gen. Michael Flynn in New York.
Russian émigré Felix Sater, a longtime Trump associate with a criminal past, writes to Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, bragging he has proven contacts in Moscow who could help get Trump elected. An excerpt of an email by Sater published in The New York Times reads, “Michael … I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. … I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and I can engineer it. I will get all of Putins [sic] team to buy in on this.”
Flynn delivers a high-paid speech in Moscow for the propaganda-news outlet Russia Today. At the gala diner, Flynn sits beside Putin.
Flynn begins serving as an informal adviser to Trump.
Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions is tapped to lead the Trump campaign’s national security advisory committee.
Papadopoulos, living in London, signs on as a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign.
Papadopoulos is told by a “campaign supervisor” – identified by The Washington Post as Trump national campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis – that improving relations with Russia is a principal concern for the Trump campaign.
Papadopoulos, then in Italy, meets a London-based professor. According to federal documents, the professor “claimed to have substantial connections with Russian government officials.”
In a speech, Sessions promotes a new day with Russia. “There is no reason for the U.S. and Russia to be at this loggerheads,” Sessions says. “Strategically it’s not justified for either country.”
Russian phishing attack on Clinton campaign manager John Podesta is initiated. Podesta inadvertently gives hackers linked to Russian military intelligence access to his Gmail archive.
In an interview with The Washington Post‘s editorial board, Trump names four foreign policy advisers, highlighting two men who will become household names in the Russia scandal: “Carter Page, PhD,” and “George Papadopoulos – he’s an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy,” Trump says.
Papadopoulos emails the campaign supervisor – reportedly Clovis – and other top foreign policy team members. He reports a meeting with the professor and a Russian national whom Papadopoulos mistakenly identifies as “Putin’s niece.” Papadopoulos reports the get-together was “to arrange a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump.” The campaign supervisor replies to Papadopoulos, “Great work.”
Paul Manafort officially joins the Trump campaign; business partner Rick Gates comes along as Manafort’s deputy. (Manafort has a long history of assisting pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine.)
Trump hosts a national security meeting in Washington, D.C.; Papadopoulos introduces himself at the meeting, offering to work his connections to arrange a meeting between candidate Trump and Putin, according to federal documents.An Instagram photo of the meeting, posted by Trump, shows Papadopoulos sitting at the center of the table – near Sessions.
Papadopoulos sends regular email updates to the Trump campaign foreign policy team about his “outreach to Russia” and contacts with “the Russians.”
The DNC discovers an ongoing hack of its computer system, an effort that began in 2015, and alerts the FBI.
Papadopoulos emails a man identified as a “senior policy advisor”: “The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready.” Papadopoulos suggests London as a neutral meeting place.
Papadopoulos meets at a London hotel with the professor, who describes contact with “high-level Russian government officials” in Moscow. The professor reports the Russians have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. As Papadopoulos later recalled to the FBI, “the Russians had emails of Clinton … thousands of emails.”
In Trump’s first big speech on foreign policy, delivered at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, he calls for “improved relations with Russia.” Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak attends. He’s photographed in the front row near Sessions. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who had organised the event, meets with Kislyak.
Papadopoulos receives an email from a contact with ties to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). “I have just talked to my colleagues from the MFA,” the contact writes. “The[y] are open for cooperation.” Papadopoulos forwards the email to a “High-Ranking Campaign Official” – identified by The Washington Post as Corey Lewandowski – asking, “What do you think? Is this something we want to move forward with?”
Manafort is elevated to campaign chairman and chief strategist. He is not paid by the Trump campaign.
Papadopoulos emails “another high ranking Campaign official” – identified by The Washington Post as Manafort. The subject line reads, “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump,” and the body of the email reads, “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.” (To another colleague, the official [reportedly Manafort] writes, “We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”)
Rob Goldstone, a Trump family friend in the entertainment industry, emails Donald Trump Jr. with news from powerful, mutual Russian connections, forged during the 2013 Miss Universe contest in Moscow. These sources, Goldstone writes, “offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” Goldstone adds, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Trump Jr. replies, “If it’s what you say, I love it.”
At Trump Tower, Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort meet with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and several others with connections to Russia. The Russian lawyer brings talking points – including damaging information about Democratic donors – reportedly vetted with Moscow. The conversation also centers on ending sanctions associated with the Magnitsky Act.
Russia’s hack of DNC emails is made public as documents begin to leak.
Papadopoulos emails a “High-Ranking Campaign Official” offering to make an “off the record” trip to Moscow: “The Russian ministry of foreign affairs messaged and said that if Mr. Trump is unable to make it to Russia, if a campaign rep (me or someone else) can make it for meetings? I am willing to make the trip off the record if it’s in the interest of Mr. Trump and the campaign to meet specific people.”
Giving a heads up to Sessions, Carter Page travels to Russia to give a speech at Moscow’s New Economic School. On this trip, Page reportedly meets with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich. Page later emails an update to a Trump campaign aide, according to The New York Times.
Manafort reportedly offers to brief a Russian oligarch, an aluminum magnate close to Putin, on the presidential campaign. “If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in an email disclosed by The Washington Post.
After back-stage orchestration by Manafort to boost his favored veep pick, Trump taps Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate.
At the GOP convention, Trump loyalists strip the party platform of language pledging defensive weapons to Ukraine to protect against Russian aggression. The same day, Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, speaks with Sessions at an event hosted by the Heritage Foundation. Carter Page also meets with Kislyak during the convention.
In the buildup to the Democratic convention, WikiLeaks publishes 20,000 emails Russian hackers stole from the DNC. (Emails showing favoritism toward Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders will ultimately force the resignation of DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.)
Trump tweets, “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.”
Trump tweets, “In order to try and deflect the horror and stupidity of the Wikileakes [sic] disaster, the Dems said maybe it is Russia dealing with Trump. Crazy!”
At a press conference, Trump makes an open call for Russia to expose Clinton emails deleted from her private email server. “Russia, if you’re listening,” Trump says, “I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
The campaign supervisor writes to Papadopoulos to green-light a trip to Moscow. “I would encourage you,” he writes, to “make the trip, if it is feasible.” (Federal documents make clear: the trip never materialised.)
Manafort resigns as campaign chair after controversy erupts over his financial dealings with pro-Russian figures in Ukraine.
In his Senate office, Sessions meets with Kislyak.
Yahoo! News reports that U.S. intelligence is looking at whether Trump adviser Carter Page had back-channeled with “senior Russian officials,” including to talk about the possibility of easing sanctions on Russia should Trump be elected.
Page takes a “leave of absence” from the Trump campaign.
The Access Hollywood video surfaces, in which Trump brags of sexual assault. One hour later, WikiLeaks begins releasing Clinton chairman Podesta’s emails.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid writes an open letter to FBI Director James Comey, “In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government,” he writes.
Mother Jones publishes the first account of what’s now known as the “Steele dossier,” compiled by a former British intelligence official, that alleges Russia may be able to blackmail Trump with salacious material. The dossier also asserts, “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years,” and that Trump and “his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.”
Trump is elected president.
Flynn is tapped to be Trump’s national security adviser.
During a meeting with Flynn and Kislyak at Trump Tower, Kushner proposes setting up a secure line of communication between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian facilities and equipment, according to reporting by The Washington Post. (Kushner later tells Congress he wanted wary Russian generals and Flynn to be able to discuss the conflict in Syria.)
John McCain delivers the Steele dossier to FBI Director Comey.
Flynn and Kislyak discuss sanctions just imposed on Russian by then President Barack Obama – in retaliation for Russia’s campaign of electoral interference. Flynn reportedly suggests the sanctions could be rolled back.
After Putin rules out an immediate response to the new sanctions, Trump tweets praise: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”
The U.S. intelligence community publishes its public assessment that the Kremlin had attempted to influence the 2016 election: “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”
Sessions misleads Congress in his confirmation hearing, when asked about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. “I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions says under oath. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”
On the same day, BuzzFeed publishes the Steele dossier in full.
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates warns the White House that Flynn has not been truthful to other administration figures about his conversations with Kislyak, and that the national security adviser could be blackmailed on this basis by the Russians.
Papadopoulos is interviewed by the FBI, and lies repeatedly, setting up his future guilty plea.
President Trump and Putin speak on the phone for 50 minutes; Flynn attends the call.
Trump fires Yates.
Flynn is forced out, purportedly for misinforming Vice President Pence about his Kislyak contacts.
Sessions recuses himself from the Russia probe because of the controversy surrounding his contacts with Kislyak.
Trump tweets, “The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax, when will this taxpayer funded charade end?”
Trump fires FBI Director Comey.
In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump links Comey firing to the Russia investigation: “I was going to fire Comey…. And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, “You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
Robert Mueller is appointed as special counsel in the Russia investigation.
Trump tweets, “They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice.”
The FBI raids Manafort’s Virginia home.
Papadopoulos is arrested at Dulles airport near Washington, D.C.
Papadopoulos pleads guilty to making false statements to the FBI.
Trump tweets: “It is now commonly agreed, after many months of COSTLY looking, that there was NO collusion between Russia and Trump. Was collusion with HC!”
The Papadopoulos case is unsealed, along with indictments of Manafort and partner Rick Gates for financial crimes and “conspiracy against the United States.“
Trump tweets of former “great guy” Papadopoulos, “Few people knew the young, low level volunteer named George, who has already proven to be a liar.”