The June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between high-ranking members of the Republican presidential campaign staff and a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties remains the cornerstone of claims that Donald Trump colluded with Russia to steal the election.
A growing body of evidence, however, indicates that the meeting may have been a setup — part of a broad effort to tarnish the Trump campaign involving Hillary Clinton operatives employed by Kremlin-linked figures and Department of Justice officials. This view, that the real collusion may have taken place among those who arranged the meeting rather than the Trump officials who agreed to attend it, is supported by two disparate lines of evidence pulled together for the first time here: newly released records and a pattern of efforts to connect the Trump campaign to Russia.
The first line of evidence includes emails, texts, and memos recently turned over to Congress by the Department of Justice. They show how closely senior Justice Department officials and the Federal Bureau of Investigation worked with employees of Fusion GPS, a Washington-based research firm reportedly paid $1 million by Clinton operatives to dig up dirt on the Trump campaign.
They reveal that then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, the fourth-highest-ranking official at DOJ, coordinated before, during and after the election with Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, who did work for the Clinton campaign and Russians; and former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who was employed by Simpson.
Those emails, which disclose the topics of discussions but not their details, revolve around two business executives: Donald Trump and Oleg Deripaska, a Russian aluminum magnate close to President Vladimir Putin. Steele was particularly interested in resolving issues concerning Deripaska’s U.S. visa, which was revoked in 2006 because of his suspected ties to organized crime. In another sign of the overlapping strands of this story, when Special Counsel Robert Mueller was running the FBI in 2009, the bureau had asked Deripaska to contribute millions of dollars to help locate former FBI agent Robert Levinson, captured in Iran in 2007 while working for the CIA. Levinson remains missing.
The Ohr-Steele-Simpson correspondence appears to include references to the former British spy’s work for Fusion GPS on Trump’s ties to Russia. Months before the election, Steele wrote Ohr to say that he would be back in Washington soon “on business of mutual interest.”