Reports December 17, 2018

Following the Money: Trump and Russia-Linked Transactions From the Campaign to the Presidential Inauguration


At the turn of the 18th century, a newly elected president of the United States—only the second in the nation’s then-brief history—cautioned the American people about “the danger to our liberties if anything partial or extraneous should infect the purity of our free, fair, virtuous, and independent elections.” In particular, John Adams pointed to threats from abroad, warning that if a changed election outcome “can be obtained by foreign nations by flattery or menaces, by fraud or violence, by terror, intrigue, or venality, the Government may not be the choice of the American people, but of foreign nations. It may be foreign nations who govern us, and not we, the people, who govern ourselves.” Speaking before a joint session of Congress, he thus pleaded with the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to “[preserve] our Constitution from its natural enemies,” including “the profligacy of corruption, and the pestilence of foreign influence, which is the angel of destruction to elective governments.”

The threat of foreign influence over our elections did not wane in the intervening 220 years: Today, the United States has a president whose election was aided by the fraud and intrigue of a foreign nation. Americans who watched how President Donald Trump, in the words of the late Sen. John McCain, “abased himself … abjectly before a tyrant” in Helsinki, cannot be faulted for wondering whether John Adams’s long-ago warning has become a reality.

Trump’s campaign to win the presidency required money, as did the Kremlin’s campaign to help him. While these two campaigns aligned in their goal—Trump’s victory—overt monetary contributions from Russia would have drawn regulatory scrutiny, not to mention public ire. Any financial support from abroad, therefore, would have had to be creatively obscured.