On July 16th, there was a much awaited joint conference between the US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. This conference held at Helsinki was highly anticipated as it was a one-on-one meeting between the two superpowers. It was given further importance due to the allegations of Russian collusion in the 2016 Presidential Elections. This 2 part series will break down the actual conference, the reason for the anticipation and also the investigation into the Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential elections. Read on to know why this meeting has put President Trump in a spotlight, not only among the Democrats but also the Republicans.
Let’s start from the beginning
The 2016 US Presidentia elections were extensively followed world wide. As is known, Donald Trump was elected as the President of the United States, even though his opponent Hillary Clinton gained most of the popular vote. This made him the 5th person to be elected while losing the popular vote.
Soon after the elections, reports were submitted by various US Intelligence Agencies such as the CIA, FBI and the NSA that the Russian government had meddled in the US Elections. This interference was in Trump’s favour. Since then, allegations of collusion between Russia and the US have been an underlying layer of doubt in Trump’s term as POTUS.
US Investigates the Russian Interference Allegations
To recap,the Presidential campaigns were held in 2016; and the elections were held in November 2016. On January 20th, 2017 President Trump was sworn in as the POTUS. It was in January 2017 that the allegations of the Russian involvement in the elections that came out.
The then FBI Director James Comey made it known to the Congress that FBI is investigating if Russia had played any part in the 2016 elections. James Comey also confirmed that the FBI is looking at individual links between the members of President Trump’s campaign and the Russian Government. James Comey stated in his House Intelligence Committee testimony as follows:
I’ve been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.
May 9th, 2017:
President Trump formally dismissed Comey from his post as the Director of FBI. Initially, the dismissal was portrayed as being recommended by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The reason given was due to his “supposed conduct” in the Clinton email controversy.
May 10th, 2017:
President Trump told reporters that Comey was fired because he “wasn’t doing a good job”.
May 11th, 2017:
President Trump contradicted the earlier stance that Comey’s dismissal was because of somebody’s recommendation. He instead stated that it was “his decision regardless of recommendation”.
May 17th, 2017:
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as the special counsel for the US Department of Justice. He would oversee the investigation of links or connections between Donald Trump’s campaign members and the Russian government.
June 8th, 2017:
James Comey testified before a Senate Intelligence Committee. He affirmed that he had “no doubts” about the Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential elections. He even stated that it was the Russians behind the intrusions in the DNC’s servers and leaks. Comey also clarified that while he was sure of their interference; there was no indication of votes being altered due to the said interference.
While it is a usual occurrence for foreign governments to reach out to the members of the incoming presidential administration; Comey warned that sometimes it may cross a line. That is where, he said that the FBI would come in. He stated:
But when a foreign power is using, especially coercion, or some sort of pressure to try to co-opt an American official, it’s serious for the FBI and at the heart of the counterintelligence mission.
July 13th, 2018:
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that 12 Russian hackers have been indicted in the 2016 Presidential Election investigation. The investigation accused them of hacking into the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton Presidential campaign. They are supposedly part of the Russian GRU military intelligence agency.
Trump’s Attitude towards the 2016 Presidential Elections
President Trump has been severely against the investigation from the very beginning. When Comey was in charge of the investigation, he alluded to it as a “made-up story”. President Trump was also angry at James Comey for not showing unwavering loyalty to him. Comey’s prioritization of the Russian interference over the anti-Trump leaks could have left a bad taste. Thus his lack of confidence in Comey could have played a huge part in the dismissal.
President Trump has belittled any finding by the US agencies which alludes to a possible connection between his campaign and the Russian government. He has constantly tried to belittle any findings made by the Mueller investigation and called the entire investigation a “witch hunt”.
But his recent behavior at the Helsinki Joint Conference and subsequent announcements made later have made him unpopular even among the Republicans. Keep a watch out for Part 2 of the series which talks about the Helsinki conference; the tweets later and other developments post the conference.