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Thu Apr 18, 2019, 07:55 PM

Natasha Bertrand, Politico: When Trump won, Putin deployed his oligarchs (to cash in)


In December 2016, a few weeks after Donald Trumpís surprise election victory, Russian president Vladimir Putin convened what a Russian oligarch described as an ďall-handsĒ meeting with some of his countryís top businessmen. A main topic of discussion: U.S. sanctions against Russia.

One of the oligarchs present was Petr Aven, co-founder of Alfa Bank, Russiaís biggest commercial bank. Aven had recently met with with Putin one on one to discuss the sanctions and what to do about them. Putin said he had been struggling to get messages to Trumpís inner circle, and urged Aven to take steps to protect his bank from additional U.S. penalties, according to special counsel Robert Muellerís report, which details the episode. Aven perceived that as an order, not a request, according to Mueller, and understood ďthat there would be consequences if he did not follow through.Ē

Aven quickly understood that his mission was to contact the Trump transition team, and began an effort to contact Trumpís son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Muellerís nearly 450-page report granularly describes this and related episodes, revealing how Putin explicitly encouraged his countryís wealthiest and most powerful businessmen to make contact with Trumpís transition team after the election. The directives help explain the ďflurryĒ of contact the oligarchs made with Trumpís associates in the weeks following the reality TV starís unexpected victory, Mueller wrote.

Even though Mueller did not establish any conspiracy between Trumpís team and Russia, the special counselís report shows how important it was to Putin to establish a backchannel line of communication to Trumpís transition team ó and how receptive Trumpís associates were to the overtures.


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