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Putin summit: Trump-Russia ties are under US investigation

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A police officer patrols with his dog at a market in Helsinki, Finland, on Saturday. Heikki Saukkomaa/afp

Putin summit: Trump-Russia ties are under US investigation

US President Donald Trump’s summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin caps decades of efforts by the property tycoon to establish top-level relations in Moscow.

Back in Washington, however, investigators are trying to discover whether Trump, his family and advisers already had a surreptitious working relationship with Russians when he ran for and won the presidency in 2016.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, investigating Russian meddling on Trump’s behalf in 2016, has already indicted 31 people – including 12 Russia intelligence agents on Friday – for hacking Democratic computer networks.

Mueller though wants to know if a series of campaign contacts with Russian and Russia-linked persons add up to more, possibly a conspiracy. Here is what Mueller is investigating.

The Ukraine link
Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort spent years working for Moscow-supported billionaire Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych.

Manafort also worked with tycoon Dmitry Firtash, who has close ties to the Kremlin, and Konstantin Kilimnik, a political operative in Ukraine believed tied to Russian intelligence. Manafort was in touch with both during the campaign.

London connection
George Papadopoulos, a young foreign affairs adviser on the Trump campaign, worked Russian contacts in London with the aim of setting up a Trump trip to Moscow or a meeting with Putin.

He also told the campaign that Moscow had damaging information on Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Nothing ever came of his efforts, but they were approved by senior campaign officials.

He has pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI.

Spy contacts
Another foreign policy adviser, former investment banker Carter Page, was investigated by US counterintelligence over meetings he held over several years through 2016 with Russian officials and other contacts either part of or linked to Russian intelligence.

The Trump Tower meeting
Top campaign officials Manafort, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and son Donald Trump Jr met in New York on June 9, 2016 with a Russian lawyer who was offering dirt on Clinton.

Helping arrange the meeting was a tycoon close to Putin and a Trump business partner.

Veselnitskaya, however, apparently arrived empty-handed, wanting to discuss other issues.

Questions remain over what Trump himself knew about the meeting, and why members of Trump’s team tried to hide it.

Leaks of hacked documents
An indictment released on Friday of 12 Russia spies for hacking Democratic documents during the campaign makes clear Mueller is examining whether Trump staff colluded.

Trump adviser Roger Stone, Don Jr, and others were in contact with leak channels WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, which the indictment said were used by Russian spies to disseminate the documents.

The Kislyak connection
Before and after the election, the then Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak had several encounters with campaign officials, and multiple communications with Kushner and national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Before the campaign, Flynn, a former Pentagon intelligence chief, had been paid tens of thousands of dollars to appear at events hosted by Russian companies, at one sitting next to Putin.

In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts he had with Russian officials during Trump’s presidential transition.

St Petersburg troll farm
Mueller has indicted 13 people involved with the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll farm responsible for much of the social media manipulation that boosted Trump’s campaign.

Records show that some lower-level campaign staff had contact with the group.

Business ties
Mueller is reportedly studying Trump’s business relations with Russians. Trump for decades sought to develop real estate in Moscow. In 2013, he took his Miss Universe pageant to the Russian capital, where he sought but failed to meet Putin.

Afterwards, and reportedly well into the 2016 campaign, aides including Trump fixer Michael Cohen continued to pursue a possible major development deal in Moscow.

Meanwhile since the early 2000s, the Trump organisation made numerous property sales to wealthy Russians, raising questions of whether it was enabling money laundering.

They included Trump’s 2008 sale of a Palm Beach property to Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million, $54 million more than Trump paid for it four years earlier.

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