GOP nominee Donald Trump has continued to strongly deny any connections with Russia or its leader, President Vladimir Putin, but The Guardian
, a major British newspaper, on Saturday raised questions about an increasingly tangled web of connections he and key players in his campaign, namely chairman Paul Manafort, have had over the years with the country.
Trump himself added fuel to the growing fire this week when he urged Russia to find and turn over more than 30,000 emails missing from Hillary Clinton's
private email server, and then by insisting in a Fox News interview that he was being sarcastic, reports The Guardian.
However, a law enforcement official has told The New York Times
that the "same adversary" that hacked the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's emails has also hacked Clinton's campaign computer system.
"These are sophisticated actors," the official told the Times.
"We can't say 100% that Mr. Putin had a hand in any of this but this kind of meddling in other countries’ affairs is part of Russia’s toolkit," agreed Alina Polyakova, deputy director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council, told The Guardian. "It’s a kind of asymmetric warfare. To me, this looks like something straight from the Russian Secret Service playbook, but I’m surprised at how brazen they’ve been."
Trump foreign policy adviser Joseph Schmitz, though, denied a connection between Trump and Putin, but noted it's important to remember that "we had to negotiate with Joseph Stalin when we had a common enemy called Hitler. Bill Clinton went on vacation in Russia when he was a Rhodes scholar; that’s a fact. If anyone is in bed with Russia, it’s the Clintons.”
CNN's Drew Griffin on Saturday also examined Trump's ties with Russia, including a revelation that Trump had trademarked several combinations of namesake properties in that country:
Meanwhile Clinton's campaign servers were allegedly attacked
by a group known as "Fancy Bear," which is connected to Russia's military intelligence service, also linked to the hack on the Democratic National Committee and leading to the resignation of DNC
Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
The speculation is also growing after the Republican platform, approved at the Cleveland convention, removes a call to arm Ukraine against Russia, a move several Republicans have also decried.
Ohio Sen. Rob Portman called the change "deeply troubling," while party operative Charlie Black added that the change was "unusual."
And then, notes The Guardian, there's Manafort.
Trump raised eyebrows when he first brought in the veteran operative to manage his convention operations, at a time when a contested convention was still a possibility.
Manafort's role in the campaign has grown, though, particularly after the departure of former campaign chairman Corey Lewandowski.
Just six years ago, Manafort was helping pro-Russia Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych change his image, leading to his election in Ukraine.
Sources tell The Guardian that they were surprised to see Phil Griffin, one of Manafort's long time aides in Kiev, working at the Republican convention with the foreign dignitaries program.
Manafort has also made millions for consulting work for helping pro-Russians Rinat Akhmetov, Dmitry Firtash and Oleg Deripaska. Firtash is under U.S indictment, while Deripaska is banned from entering the United States because of his connection with organized crime, reports The Guardian.
The FBI is investigating who was behind leaking the DNC's documents, which showed just before the party's convention that the committee was pushing for Clinton over Bernie Sanders for the nomination.
Moscow denies the connection, insisting that the United States not involve the Kremlin with its issues, but experts say Putin has been behind several attempted election cyberattack interruptions in France, Greece, Italy, and Latvia. Also, malware was discovered in Ukraine's election software in 2014.
Meanwhile, Trump's ties with Russia go back as far as 1987, when it was still the Soviet Union. More recently, in 2013, Trump traveled to Moscow to meet with Putin to discuss airing his Miss Universe beauty pageant from there, reports The Guardian.
Putin cancelled the meeting at the last minute, sending Trump a note and a traditional gift of a lacquered box, Moscow billionaire Aras Agalarov, who was a liaison between Trump and Putin, told The Washington Post.
He also collected $14 million from Agalarov and other business figures for bringing the pageant to Crocus City Hall, which the Russian billionaire owns, notes The Guardian.
Trump also met with Russian pop stars, including rapper Timati and Philipp Kirkorov, who he first met in 1994 when the singer was performing at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City. He also spent time there with Trump in 1999 and 2013, and tells The Guardian they did not talk about politics, but "about the beauty of Russian and American women."
He said he also introduced Trump to Russian-Ukrainian singer Ani Lorak, as he knows Trump as a "big connoisseur of female beauty."
Trump also sold his six-acre Palm Beach mansion property in 2008 for $95 million to Russian fertilizer billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.
In the infamous Panema Papers leaks
, Rybolovlev has hidden more than $2 billion in paintings by artists such as Picasso through offshore law firms from his wife before their divorce.
Conservative columnist George Will, who opposes Trump's election, on Friday wrote an extensive opinion piece for The Washington Post
linking Trump with Putin, who he says is "etching with acid a picture of America as ignorant, narcissistic and, especially, unreliable.
"Trump validates every component of this indictment, even saying that the U.S. commitment to NATO's foundational principle — an attack on one member is an attack on all — is not categorical."
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