Exclusive: How a request about Russians made its way from West Virginia to Trump’s team – CNN International
Current and former US intelligence and law enforcement officials, as well as other intelligence experts, say that Russians sought to employ covert tactics to find entry points into the Trump campaign. And more broadly, experts say, Russian intelligence services have sought to court conservative organizations, including religious groups, to build alliances in the United States.
It’s unclear whether this attempted meeting amounted to such a tactic, or if it was simply an innocent request.
The Trump campaign appears to have rejected the meeting request — and seemed to believe it was serious enough to suggest that the matter should be handled by the State Department, CNN has learned.
The West Virginia man, Rick Clay, told CNN Friday that he called one of then-candidate Donald Trump’s top aides, Rick Dearborn, to pass along a request from a friend who wanted to set up a meeting with Russians and the Trump campaign.
“The thought was if there was an opportunity there to get two sides together to talk about Christian values, then that’s important,” Clay said of a Russian meeting with senior-level Trump officials. “That was the gist of it, and it didn’t go anywhere.”
Dearborn, who is now the White House deputy chief of staff, did not act on the request and told Clay it was “inappropriate,” saying such matters needed to go through the “proper channels” of the State Department, according to Clay.
At least one member of Congress was aware that Clay wanted to contact Dearborn about meeting with Russians: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican.
Clay had told Capito about his desire to discuss the Russia matter with the campaign, a Republican source said, and she passed Clay’s contact information along to Dearborn because of the role he played as a campaign liaison to GOP senators. The GOP source said that was the extent of Capito’s involvement.
“Sen. Capito received a request from a constituent to pass along his contact information to the Trump campaign,” a Capito spokesperson confirmed in a statement Thursday evening. “She did so and asked the campaign to follow up.”
Clay said that he had been in contact with Dearborn before reaching out to Capito.
The matter burst into public view last week when CNN reported about an email turned over to multiple congressional committees as part of their classified investigations into Russia meddling in the election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
According to sources with direct knowledge of the matter, Dearborn made brief mention in a 2016 email about an individual only identified as “WV,” who wanted to connect the campaign with Russian President Vladimir Putin. One source said Dearborn suggested in the email he was skeptical of the meeting request.
Clay told CNN that the meeting request was not with Putin himself but with “lower level” people, though he did not specify whom.
The White House would not comment on or confirm Clay’s account, or respond to questions about the Russian contacts with whom Clay was seeking to connect the campaign.
But the President’s special counsel, Ty Cobb, told CNN that Dearborn has been “vindicated by the actual facts” and any suggestions that the senior White House aide did anything wrong amounted to “salacious speculation” by the media.
“The relevant congressional committees and special counsel are receiving full cooperation from the White House, and we are respecting their respective processes,” said Cobb, who is handling the Russia investigations for the White House.