If the Trump-Russia election collusion hoax was a movie, Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak would have a starring role.
From Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ fateful recusal to National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s resignation to the aftermath of FBI Director James Comey’s firing, the former Russian diplomat made more than just a few consequential appearances. The question is, were these incidental cameos or was Kislyak following a script written for him by the collusion fraudsters?
As Senate Republicans threaten to excavate the origins of the corrupt investigation into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, they might want to take a closer look at how Kislyak helped shape the bogus Russian collusion plotline.
Kislyak appears 55 times in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recent report. Alleged spy Maria Butina, sentenced last month to 18 months in federal prison for one count of conspiracy, met with Kislyak numerous times in 2015 and 2016 andpromised to “collect the contact information of prominent conservatives” for him. He has openly bragged about his numerous contacts with Trump associates.
But it’s Kislyak’s relationship with the Obama Administration that should raise suspicions that his interactions with Trump campaign aides before and after the election were intentional, designed to help fuel the phony collusion narrative.
According to visitor logs, Kislyak visited the Obama White House nearly two dozen times, including at least twice in October 2016. He met with National Security Advisor Susan Rice in the White House on October 7, 2016, the same day intelligence officials issued the warning about Russian election interference. Kislyak was there allegedly to receive a harshly worded message to Vladimir Putin about the meddling efforts.
In another meeting on October 14, 2016, Kislyak ran into his former counterpart, Michael McFaul, who had served as U.S. Ambassador to Russia for two years under President Obama. McFaul is an Obama confidante and was sworn-in as ambassador by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in January 2012: He also is a vocal Trump foe and collusion conspiracy theorist. (More questions: Why was McFaul at the White House on October 14, 2016, when he no longer worked there? Further, why was Kislyak, the representative of our alleged biggest geopolitical foe trying to crash our election, at the White House again?)
McFaul and Kislyak are close. A few weeks after the 2016 presidential election, McFaul lavished effusive praise on the diplomat whose country supposedly had just attacked America’s election, threatening the very foundation of our democracy and whatnot.
During an event at Stanford University on November 30, 2016, McFaul gushed that Kislyak’s job “is to represent his country here and I think he does it fantastically well.” McFaul repeatedly bragged about his relationship with the Kremlin’s diplomat. “He was a tremendous friend and colleague to me when I served in the government. I really value what you helped me do as a government official and what you did for me as a friend,” he said to Kislyak.
It was an odd and oddly timed tribute to the representative of a nation that villainously unleashed social media bots to throw the presidential election to Donald Trump—especially since Kislyak’s boss purportedly stole the election from the woman McFaul worked for at the State Department in an embarrassing rebuke of his friend, Barack Obama.
But perhaps McFaul spared any outrage for his Russian pal because Sergey Kislyak had helped Obama and Clinton loyalists manufacture one of the greatest political hoaxes of all time.
Kislyak solicited meetings with Team Trump beginning in April 2016, when he attended Trump’s foreign policy speech in Washington, D.C. It was the first time, according to the Mueller report, that Kislyak met Trump; he also had brief exchanges with Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner. Later that day, McFaul oddly tweeted, “Did Russian ambassador Kislyak attend opposition campaign event today? #doublestandards.”
In July 2016, Kislyak attended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where he interacted with Sessions and campaign aides Carter Page and J.D. Gordon. “Ambassador Kislyak continued his efforts to interact with Campaign officials with responsibility for the foreign-policy portfolio—among them Sessions and Gordon—in the weeks after the convention,” the Mueller report stated.
Gordon, perhaps smelling a rat, rejected one overture by Kislyak in August 2016, declining his invitation for lunch at the official Russian residence in D.C. The next month, Kislyak’s office contacted then-Senator Jeff Sessions, a member of Trump’s campaign committee, requesting a meeting. Sessions and Kislyak met in Sessions’ Senate office on September 8, 2016.
After the election, Kislyak contacted Jared Kushner, who agreed to meet with the diplomat on November 30, 2016. (Michael Flynn also attended the meeting.) According to the Mueller report, Kislyak offered to have Russian generals brief the transition team. (LOL.)
In December 2016, Kislyak continued to pursue more meetings with Trump’s son-in-law. “Kushner declined several proposed meeting dates, but Kushner’s assistant indicated that Kislyak was very insistent about securing a second meeting,” the special counsel wrote. The Russian ambassador also was insistent about wanting “Kushner to meet someone who had a direct line to Putin.” Totally not sketchy. At all.
Despite the fact the brief interactions and communications had nothing to do with a coordinated effort between the campaign and the Kremlin to influence the election, Kislyak’s outreach resulted in explosive news coverage in early 2017 to seed the collusion plotline. McFaul (unconvincingly) tweeted on March 31, 2016, “Never dreamed my former colleague Sergey Kislyak would become so famous,” with a link to a Washington Post article detailing Team Trump’s contact with his Russian pal.
Congressional Democrats pounced. “Ambassador Kislyak . . . also attends the Republican Party convention and meets with Carter Page and additional Trump advisors,” Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said during a March 2017 hearing of the House Intelligence Committee. “Ambassador Kislyak also met with National Campaign committee chair and now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.”
(Earlier that month, based on a recommendation by Justice Department staff, Sessions had recusedhimself from any matters related to the investigation into the Trump campaign due to his pre-election interactions with Kislyak and alleged attempts to cover-up the meetings.)
A May 2017 Washington Post article claimed Kislyak told Moscow that it was Kushner, not him, who was seeking a “secret communications channel” between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
But it was Kislyak’s role in the Michael Flynn debacle that is the most suspicious and caused the greatest personal and professional damage to Trump’s short-lived national security advisor. The envoy reached out numerous times to Flynn during the transition, including the night before the Obama administration would announce weak sanctions against Moscow for election meddling on December 28, 2016. The subject of those calls, including how the Kremlin would respond to the sanctions, eventually landed Flynn in legal trouble.
Sally Yates, the acting attorney general for 10 days and a Trump-hating partisan, told the White House shortly after the inauguration that Flynn was in violation of the never-enforced Logan Act for attempting to undermine U.S. foreign policy. When that tactic didn’t work, several officials illegally leaked details about Flynn’s calls with Kislyak to the media and suggested Flynn lied to the public about what had been discussed.
Flynn resigned in February 2017 amid pressure by the Trump White House and later pleaded guilty to one count of lying to federal investigators about the Kislyak calls.
And there is another odd angle to the Kislyak mystery that still is unresolved. The ambassador apparently received a $120,000 payment 10 days after the 2016 election. “Employees at Citibank raised an alarm about the transaction because it didn’t fit with prior payroll patterns and because he immediately split the money in half, sending it by two wire transfers to a separate account he maintained in Russia,” BuzzFeed reported in January 2018. It’s unclear whether this payment remains is under investigation by Congress or the FBI.
It will take months, maybe years, to fully vet all of the information contained in the Mueller report and give renewed scrutiny to the key players in the saga. But Kislyak’s central role, coupled with his close ties to the Obama White House, requires more immediate attention.
If the Russian ambassador to the United States was indeed acting at the direction of American political operatives to infiltrate a rival presidential campaign, influence a presidential election and taint an incoming administration, we can add yet another example of norm-breaking behavior to the long list of malfeasance and misconduct related to the Trump-Russia collusion hoax.