Former United States President Donald Trump’s defense of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 only breathed new life into the ongoing suspicions regarding his loyalty toward Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The former president called into the right-wing Fox network, linking the invasion to his own lie about his loss in the 2020 presidential election and salting the rambling interview with well-debunked conspiracy theories about the U.S.-Mexico border.
“It happened because of a rigged election,” Trump said on February 23 2022. “That includes inflation and that includes millions of people pouring in on a monthly basis, far more than three million people, they are coming from 129 different countries. We have no idea what’s happened and they are destroying our country.”
Trump had also used the right-wing channel to cheer on Putin in another attack on the country in April 2014.
“You look at what he’s doing. And so smart,” he said at that time. “When you see the riots in a country because they’re hurting the Russians, okay, ‘We’ll go and take it over.’ And he really goes step by step by step, and you have to give him a lot of credit.”
In that same 2014 interview, Trump gushed over Putin being “so nice” to him during the presentation of the Miss Universe pageant in the Russian capitol of Moscow.
“You have to give him credit that what he’s doing for that country in terms of their world prestige is very strong,” he told Fox.
That event is supected of being a key moment in the relationship between Trump and Putin. As WNYC-FM reported in 2018:
As far back as 1987, Trump was entertaining the idea of building a Trump Tower in the country, when it was still the Soviet Union. His numerous attempts failed, including an effort in 2014 with Aras Agalarov, a Russian oligarch with close ties to Putin. Agalarov collaborated with Trump in 2013 to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Russia.
Though he failed to build a skyscraper in Moscow, Trump relied on Russian money for his businesses. He sold countless apartments to wealthy Russians in places like Manhattan, and his Atlantic City casinos were popular were with Russian-Americans.
“All that activity brought him into contact with a huge number of people from the former Soviet Union,” said Ilya Marritz, co-host of the Trump Inc podcast from WNYC and ProPublica.
Speculation on that relationship intensified in January 2017, just before Trump was sworn in as president; BuzzFeed News published a document that would come to be known as the “Steele dossier,” noting that while it contained both errors and unverified speculation, it pointed to Russia having “compromising information” on Trump.
Though many of the dossier’s specific claims were later discredited, Trump was still the subject of a federal investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
That investigation determined that Putin’s government “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion” on behalf of Trump in violation of U.S. law but that even though Trump’s campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts,” it did not coordinate that interference with Russian elements.
Additionally, leaked documents verified by The Guardian in July 2021 indicated that even though Russian officials found Trump to be “impulsive, mentally unstable and unbalanced,” he had the support of Putin’s government:
The key meeting took place on 22 January 2016, the papers suggest, with the Russian president, his spy chiefs and senior ministers all present.
They agreed a Trump White House would help secure Moscow’s strategic objectives, among them “social turmoil” in the US and a weakening of the American president’s negotiating position.
Russia’s three spy agencies were ordered to find practical ways to support Trump, in a decree appearing to bear Putin’s signature.
By this point Trump was the frontrunner in the Republican party’s nomination race. A report prepared by Putin’s expert department recommended Moscow use “all possible force” to ensure a Trump victory.
Months after the 2016 meeting described in those documents, operatives working for Trump reportedly acted against Ukraine at that year’s Republican National Convention. As ABC News reported:
On July 18, party insiders took the unusual step of watering down its formal position on whether the U.S. should help protect Ukraine from Russian incursions – a move viewed as a surprising concession to the Russian government at a time of tension in Ukraine.
The platform change took place during the Republican convention organized by then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Manafort had previously worked for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.
Trump later reportedly told special counsel Robert Mueller — who conducted the investigation into Russian interference supporting Trump’s campaign that year — that he was not aware of that change. But Diana Denman (a delegate for Sen. Ted Cruz at that convention) later came forward with claims that the Trump campaign was directly involved in the change. As the Daily Beast reported:
During the meeting, pro-Cruz delegate Diana Denman proposed language that called for “providing lethal defensive weapons” to Ukraine.
Her amendment was put on hold so that Republican staff could work with Denman on the language. What followed was a back and forth between Denman and the Trump campaign, according to Denman.
“They were over sitting in chairs at the side of the room,” Denman said of two men who said they working for the Trump campaign, one of whom was Gordon. “When I read my amendment, they got up and walked over and talked to the co-chairmen and they read it. That’s when I was told that it was going to be tabled.”
Denman says the two men took a copy of her amendment back to their chairs, then made calls on their cellphones. Later, she said the two members of Trump’s team claimed to have called the campaign’s New York headquarters, and that her amendment needed to be changed.
Trump went on to be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives on October 31 2019 for abusing his power after withholding $400 million in aid that had already been allocated to Ukraine. He did so in order to attempt to use that money to pressure officials in Ukraine to launch an investigation against Hunter Biden, whose father defeated Trump — despite his insistence otherwise — in the 2020 election.
While the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate would vote against removing Trump from office, the Government Accountability Offic, a non-partisan group, found that Trump had indeed broken the law in withholding the aid from Ukraine.
On February 2 2022, former U.S. Army officer Alexander Vindman, who first reported Trump’s actions to federal officials, sued the former president as well as former White House Aides Julia Hahn and Daniel Scarvino and Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani.
“President Trump and his aides and other close associates, including Defendants, waged a targeted campaign against Lt. Col. Vindman for upholding his oath of office and telling the truth,” the lawsuit read.
Update 2/24/2022, 3:40 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. -ag