Donald Trump's camp is denying a report that a Republican lobbyist was helping to build the GOP nominee's first major foreign policy speech at the same time he was earning hundreds of thousands of dollars promoting a Russian natural-gas pipeline.
According to congressional lobbying disclosures the firm of Richard Burt, a former administration official for President Ronald Reagan, received $365,000 for work he and a colleague performed for the pipeline, owned by a firm controlled by the Russian government.
The pipeline would allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to leverage his control over Europe by allowing Russian gas to reach markets in central and western Europe by bypassing Ukraine and Belarus, reports Politico.
Burt and other sources said he recommended Trump use a more "realist," approach to world affairs in his April 27 speech, when he called for more cooperation with Russia.
But Hope Hicks, Trump's spokeswoman, said in an email the campaign has "no knowledge of his claims."
"In fact, our team cannot verify his self-proclaimed contributions to Mr. Trump's speech and, I don't believe Mr. Trump or our policy staff has ever met Mr. Burt," said Hicks. "To our knowledge he had no input in the speech and has had no contact with our policy team."
Burt started working for the company, New European Pipeline AG, which is building the Nord Stream II pipeline, in November. At that time, Russian state-owned oil giant Gazprom owned 50 percent of the company, but in August, the firm's European partners pulled out, leaving Gazprom fully in charge.
Russia's ambassador to the United States attended Trump's speech, raising eyebrows by sitting in the front row, and the news about Burt's claims of involvement with the Trump campaign is raising further questions about the potential of Russia's influence, reports Politico.
Trump has referred to Putin as a "strong leader" and praised his leadership skills over those of President Barack Obama, and in August, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned when his tie to pro-Russian forces in Ukraine were revealed.
And while the Trump campaign denies Burt's involvement, the lobbyist this summer was invited to attend dinners hosted by Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Trump's national security committee chairman, to discuss national security and foreign policy. Burt and another source told Politico that he also wrote white papers for Sessions on those subjects.
Burt, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany, however, said he does not consider himself a Trump campaign advisor, and that he'd advise Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton if he was asked.
He said he delivered his written advice through an intermediary, who he would not name, and has not been in contact with Sessions or other Trump campaign workers since this summer's dinners.
Burt has had connections with Russia for years, dating back to 1989, when former President George H.W. Bush appointed him to negotiate the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the then-Soviet Union.
She said he has also advises Russia's Alfa Bank, and has registered for lobbying work for the Ukrainian construction firm TMM, the Polish government-owned airline LOT and the Capital Bank of Jordan.
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