Investigators examine European transport of Trump associates – POLITICO

Congressional investigators are scrutinizing trips to Europe taken final year by several associates of President Donald Trump, amid regard they competence have met with Kremlin-linked operatives as partial of Russia’s division in a 2016 presidential election.

Several people tighten to then-candidate Trump visited Europe during and after a campaign, including his son Donald Trump Jr., Trump warn Michael Cohen and unfamiliar process advisers Carter Page, George Papadopoulos and Jeffrey Gordon. Their famous destinations embody London, Paris, Budapest and Athens.

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But their explanations of those trips have not always been forthcoming, and some congressional investigators find their stories suspect.

When a House Intelligence Committee member asked Page final month about his end-of-summer 2016 revisit to Budapest, for instance, Page primarily pronounced he “did a lot of sightseeing and went to a jazz club. Not many to report.”

Under serve questioning, Page certified to assembly with a Hungarian supervision executive who some congressional investigators cruise is an comprehension officer and cryptically offering that “there competence have been one Russian chairman flitting by there.”

Trump Jr. flew to Paris late in a debate to accommodate with and pronounce before a unfamiliar process organisation with ties to Russian officials. Cohen trafficked 3 times to Europe final year, yet he strongly denies a explain in a argumentative dossier on Donald Trump’s Russia connectors that he met personally with a Russian executive in Prague.

Such trips have lifted concerns about possibly a Trump associates were approached by Russian comprehension agents as partial of a Kremlin’s choosing nosiness or even sought face-to-face meetings themselves, presumably to plead appropriation damning information on Trump’s Democratic opposition Hillary Clinton, according to dual congressional officials informed with a probes.

Trump, his lawyers and his aides have all regularly insisted that they did not concur with a Russians.

The House Intelligence Committee — one of 3 congressional panels doubt Russian nosiness in a choosing along with special warn Robert Mueller — is quite meddlesome in how a European transport competence strew light on Moscow’s broader bid to forge ties with Trump debate officials, a congressional officials said. Russian comprehension services have prolonged sought to partisan or manipulate Americans roving in Europe.

“We have a series of people on a Trump debate who left a nation in a march of a campaign, and we need to figure out why,” pronounced Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, a committee’s second-highest-ranking Democrat. “We wish to know where they went, who they met with, if information was exchanged and possibly any agreements were made.”

The trips have drawn increasing inspection given it was disclosed in Oct that Papadopoulos met in London with suspected Russian operatives who betrothed “dirt,” including hacked emails belonging to Clinton.

Papadapoulos, like Page an appetite consultant and member of a Trump campaign’s inhabitant confidence advisory committee, has given pleaded guilty to fibbing to sovereign agents about those contacts. He is now a auxiliary declare for Mueller.

Swalwell pronounced a cabinet has perceived information about a transport of “a horde of others” besides Trump Jr., Cohen, Page and Papadopoulos. But, he said, “I can't contend now that we entirely know a abyss of a transport and a meetings.”

In particular, a House Intelligence Committee is seeking some-more sum on a outing to Paris that Trump Jr. took shortly before Election Day. He lunched during a Hotel Ritz Paris with Randa Kassis, a Syrian assent romantic with reported ties to Russian officials, along with her French husband, who reportedly nominated Russian President Vladimir Putin for a Nobel Peace Prize. That night, a younger Trump was paid during slightest $50,000 to pronounce during a husband’s unfamiliar process cruise tank.

Trump has not explained given he flew abroad during such a vicious indicate in a campaign. But Kassis boasted in a post-election Facebook post that she had “succeeded to pass Trump, by a talks with his son, a thought of how [the U.S. and Russia] can concur together” to finish Syria’s polite war.

Congressional investigators are also perplexing to discern possibly Cohen, one of Trump’s longest-serving and many devoted advisers, met with Russian operatives somewhere in Europe, including Prague, where a dossier alleges he attended a assembly to “clean adult a mess” combined by open disclosures of other Trump associates’ reported ties to Russia.

Cohen has come underneath tighten inspection for several Trump-Russia controversies, including deliberating with tip Kremlin officials during a GOP primaries a offer to build a Trump building in Moscow. He also was related to a due pro-Russian assent devise for Ukraine involving Felix Sater, a former Trump business associate with Russian supervision connections.

Cohen has heartily denied that such a assembly occurred, and he supposing a copy of his passport to BuzzFeed in May. The pass was hammered for entrance and exit to a United Kingdom and Italy — yet not a Czech Republic, whose collateral is Prague. “I have never been to Prague in my life. #fakenews,” Cohen tweeted on Jan. 10.

His pass stamps uncover that he trafficked twice to London in 2016 and once to Italy, from Jul 9 to Jul 17.

Cohen’s pass would not uncover any record of a revisit to Prague if he entered a EU by Italy, trafficked to a Czech Republic, and afterwards returned to his indicate of EU entry. A congressional executive pronounced a emanate is “still active” for investigators.

Papadopoulos done during slightest dual visits in 2016 to Athens, where he met with a boss of Greece and other tip officials in his ability as a Trump debate adviser, according to internal media reports.

One of a congressional officials pronounced that cabinet members were wakeful of media reports that one of Papadopoulos’ trips to Athens, in mid-May of final year, competence have overlapped with a revisit by Putin. Papadopoulos had a meeting there with a country’s pro-Russian invulnerability minister, Panos Kammenos, who also met with Putin around a time of a Russian leader’s visit.

Committee investigators are also meddlesome in a transport of during slightest dual Trump associates to Budapest, that U.S. officials cruise an active bottom for Russian intelligence.

The peremptory supervision of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is staunchly pro-Putin. In Jul 2016, Orban became one of a initial universe leaders to validate Trump for his anti-immigration policies. He is also a outspoken Putin fan who opposes continued EU sanctions over Russia’s advance of Ukraine.

Congressional Democrats contend their efforts to learn some-more about a trips have been been hamstrung by deficient or fake information from some Trump associates. They protest that Republicans have against Democratic final for banking, transport and communications annals that could uncover in larger fact where a Trump associates went and with whom they met, according to Swalwell and a second congressional executive who spoke on a condition of anonymity.

In particular, personal annals like credit label statements could strew new light on possibly Trump associates done any undisclosed stops inside Europe. The European Union does not emanate pass stamps or keep other annals of transport between 22 of a countries within a borders; a United Kingdom is one of 6 others that have opted out.

Adding to investigators’ concerns: tips from Dutch and British comprehension officials — common with Washington final year and reported by The New York Times in Mar — that Trump associates met in those countries with Russian officials. To date there is no publicly famous transport to a Netherlands by any Trump associates.

And a dossier, combined by a former British comprehension officer once posted in Moscow, pronounced a Kremlin used “operationally soft” cities in Europe such as Prague for meetings with Trump associates in sequence to hedge showing and yield both sides with trustworthy deniability. That was generally a box after “things had turn even ‘hotter’ given August” 2016 due to heated media concentration on probable Trump-Russia ties, according to a dossier, many of that has not been verified.

Russia’s comprehension services — famous informally as a FSB, a GRU and a SVR — have for decades used such a tactic in Europe. Current and former U.S. comprehension officials told POLITICO that Kremlin spies are lerned to reason their meetings in neutral and rare locations.

One source informed with a review pronounced cabinet Republicans have resisted Democrats’ request requests given they remonstrate that any of a witnesses have been untruthful or deceptive.

Andrew Weiss, a former comparison Russia process confidant during a Clinton White House and State Department, pronounced investigators are understandably questionable about a European meetings given past Kremlin practice.

That’s generally loyal when Trump associates “have meetings in third countries in a approach that seems deliberately dictated to make find some-more difficult,” pronounced Weiss, now during a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“The settlement of attempts to possibly not divulge such contacts or to misreport a piece of them is good established,” Weiss added.

Even if their intentions were innocent, Trump associates competence have served Russian interests by formulating a settlement of tip exchange that could be used to extort them, Weiss said.

Budapest was a executive subject during Page’s seven-hour barbecuing by a House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 2.

At first, Page pronounced he especially remembered his four-day weekend for a outing down a Danube and a jazz bar visit.

But underneath assertive doubt by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a former prosecutor like Swalwell, Page conceded that he met with Hungary’s then-ambassador to a U.S., Réka Szemerkényi, to follow adult on a review they had during a Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.

Page also pronounced he discussed “foreign process things” with a ambassador, and conceded that he had some “general” discussions about U.S.-Russia family with her and maybe some other Hungarian officials. He insisted, though, that he could not remember any details.

“You don’t remember a names of anyone we met with or what their positions were in a Hungarian government?” Schiff asked, according to a twin of a closed-door event that has given been released.

“Not right now,” Page responded, adding that a outing sum “are a apart memory.”

“You went all a approach to Budapest,” Schiff said, “and we can’t remember who we met with and what we hoped to accomplish?”

Since then, Hungarian press has reported that Page did, in fact, accommodate with comparison advisers to Orban, including his U.S. affairs confidant Jen? Megyesy.

J.D. Gordon, who supervised Page and Papadopoulos as executive of a National Security Advisory Committee, told a Hungarian journal Mandiner that he also visited Hungary in 2016 to pronounce during a think tank with ties to a Orban government. Gordon denied any indiscretion and had no serve comment.

During Page’s coming before a House Intelligence Committee final month, Schiff’s questions suggested seductiveness in other as-yet-undisclosed trips to Budapest by Trump associates.

Schiff asked Page possibly any of a officials he met with in Budapest indicated “to we that anyone else from a Trump debate had been in Budapest that year?”

At first, Page pronounced no.

Then, he conceded, Szemerkényi “may have mentioned someone else flitting through.”

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