Who are the key players in the Trump-Russia investigation?

Published: Monday, March 13, 2017 @ 4:56 PM
Updated: Friday, January 25, 2019 @ 10:44 AM

What You Need to Know: Paul Manafort

Here are some of the key players in the Trump-Russia story.

Paul Manafort

Manafort was the chairman of Donald Trump’s campaign but resigned in August 2016 after revelations surfaced about his work on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. 

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Yanukovych was a supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to The Associated Press, Manafort “helped a pro-Russian governing party in Ukraine secretly route at least $2.2 million in payments to two prominent Washington lobbying firms in 2012, and did so in a way that effectively obscured the foreign political party's efforts to influence U.S. policy.” 

A U.S. lobbyist must declare publicly if they represent any foreign leaders or political parties. The New York Times reported that Manafort spoke to Russian intelligence officials last year via telephone calls that were monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies. 

Manafort has denied that he spoke with the Russians. Manafort has also been linked to handwritten ledgers that list cash payments of $12.7 million by Manafort’s name. 

Manafort agreed in September 2018 to cooperate with investigators while pleading guilty to charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice through witness tampering. 

However, the special counsel’s office said in a court filing in December 2018 that despite the agreement, Manafort told “multiple discernible lies” about his contact with Trump administration officials and with a Russian associate.

On Jan. 25, 2019, a federal judge set a hearing for Feb. 4 to hear lawyers argue over whether Manafort lied repeatedly to the investigators he had promised to help. 

Michael Cohen

Cohen was Donald Trump’s personal attorney. 

According to a New York Times report, Cohen was involved with a peace plan for the Ukraine and Russia that involved the U.S. removing sanctions on Russia in return for Russia ending its support of pro-Russia separatists fighting the Ukrainian government in eastern Ukraine.

In addition to having sanctions removed, the deal would allow Russia to cement its control over Crimea. Russian annexed Crimea in 2014. 

The Times story claims that Cohen delivered the peace plan to Michael Flynn, the national security adviser who was forced to resign in Janurary, 2017. 

Cohen told The Washington Post that he did not deliver a plan to Flynn, but that he had met with businessman Felix Sater and Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Artemenko in New York in January and talked about a peace plan for the Ukraine for “about 15 minutes.” 

Artemenko said that the plan was, indeed, delivered to the White House.

Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018, to eight counts of tax and finance violations in federal court. Cohen says that a federal candidate, believed to be Trump, directed him to break campaign finance laws.

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison in November 2018.

He testified before Congress in both private an public during the last week of February 2019.

Michael Flynn

Flynn was Trump’s national security adviser – for three weeks. 

He was forced to resign when it became known that he misled Vice President Mike Pence on conversations Flynn had with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. 

U.S. intelligence sources said that Flynn talked with Kislyak about sanctions placed on Russia by former president Barack Obama in late December. 

Flynn also worked for “Russia Today,” a state-owned TV show. He was paid for a visit he made to Russia to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Russia Today, and could be in trouble for that visit if it was not approved by the Defense Department and the State Department. 

Flynn was registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent prior to Election Day. He was registered for $530,000 worth of lobbying work that may have aided the Turkish government. 

The AP reported that the Trump transition team was told that Flynn likely needed to register as a foreign agent before taking a top national security role.

Sergey Kislyak

Kislyak was the Russian ambassador to the United States.

He spoke with Flynn in December 2016 about sanctions that had been brought against Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 presidential election. That conversation eventually, led to Flynn's resignation. 

Kislyak also met with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (former attorney general) on at least two occasions. 

Sessions says he barely remembers what was said and that the meetings were brief. He did not disclose the meetings during his confirmation hearing in response to a question about what he would do if someone in Trump’s campaign had had contacts with Russian officials. 

Soon after he was confirmed, Sessions recused himself from any potential investigation into Russian meddling with the election or ties with Trump’s campaign.

CNN reports that Kislyak, in an October speech to the Detroit Economic Club, “denied meeting with Trump or campaign officials during the course of 2016 presidential election, but acknowledged that he met with members of Congress and others who approached him at events.”

Carter Page 

Page was a foreign policy adviser to Trump in the early days of his campaign. 

Page is the head of an investment company known as Global Energy Capital. He was publicly accused by then-Senate Minority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) of being a link between Trump and the Russian government. 

Page has also been accused of being a go-between for the Trump campaign and high-level Russian officials. 

He was in Moscow for three days in mid-July 2016, and according to reporter Michael Isikoff, intelligence sources claim he met with Igor Sechin, the head of the Russian state oil company. 

Sechin is said to have been working on a plan to have Western sanctions against the company lifted. 

Page has denied he met with any government officials while in Russia last July. He has criticized US sanctions on Russia as "sanctimonious expressions of moral superiority.”

Andrii V. Artemenko

Artemenko is a Ukrainian politician who opposes Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and claims to have evidence of Poroshenko’s corruption. 

He crafted a plan for peace in Ukraine with himself as president, and Politico has reported that Artemenko met with Cohen and businessman Felix Sater, a business partner of Trump’s, to discuss that plan. 

Felix Sater 

Sater, a Russian-born businessman, served as managing director for the New York-based real estate firm the Bayrock Group.

The Bayrock Group worked with Cohen to advance the Trump Tower Moscow real estate project.

According to The New York Times, Sater met with Ukrainian politician Artemenko and  Cohen in New York in January 2017 to discuss the sanctions that had been put on Russia. 

The story said that Sater was given a letter which proposed a deal to lift Russian sanctions by withdrawing Russian forces from eastern Ukraine. The letter was to go to Cohen to be delivered to Flynn, the then-national security adviser to the president.

According to other court filings, Cohen and someone identified as “Individual 2” — who is believed to be Sater — discussed efforts to get the Russian government to approve the Trump Tower Moscow real estate deal as late as June 2016. The filing also says it was discussed to have Cohen travel to Russia in connection with the project in 2016.

The Trump campaign said that discussions about Trump Tower Moscow had ended well before June 2016.

Igor Sechin

Sechin is the head of Russia’s state oil company, Rosneft. 

According to reporting by Isikoff, a U.S. intelligence source said that Sechin was desperate to have Western sanctions against him and Rosneft lifted, so he arranged to meet with Page. 

Isikoff reported that Sechin offered Page the brokerage of a 19 percent stake in Rosneft in exchange for the lifting of U.S. sanctions on Russia. Page has denied this report. 

Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions is a former senator and attorney general. He was the first sitting senator to endorse Trump’s campaign.

He appeared with Trump at some campaign stops and was rumored to be under consideration for vice president.

During 2016, Sessions met with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Kislyak, at least twice. Sessions said that the meetings were in line with his duties as a senator and that nothing about Russia’s potential involvement with the 2016 presidential election was discussed. 

Sessions did not disclose those meetings during his confirmation hearings in response to an indirect question about Russia’s involvement in the election. 

Sessions recused himself from any potential investigation into Russian meddling with the election and ties with Trump’s campaign. 

On Nov. 7, 2018, Sessions submitted his letter of resignation to President Trump. 

Roger Stone

Stone is a longtime friend of Trump’s and was an informal adviser to his campaign. 

Stone was investigated by the FBI over whether he had inappropriate contact with Russian officials, and on Jan. 25 2019, he was indicted for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction of an official proceeding.

Stone told CBS News before he was indicted that he suspected he was being investigated, and said, “Sure, they’ll get my grocery lists, they may get the emails between my wife and I, but here’s what they won’t get -- any contact with the Russians.” 

Despite saying in a speech that he had communicated with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, he claims did not know Wikileaks was going to publish emails stolen from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. 

The Smoking Gun reported that Stone was “in contact with the Russian hacking group that U.S. intelligence officials have accused of illegally breaching the Democratic National Committee’s computer system” and Podesta’s email account.