Story Analyzer Dashboard

  Russian Government Links to and Contacts with the Trump Campaign

      A. Campaign Period (September 2015 - November 8, 2016) - 4. Dimitri Simes and the Center for the National Interest

4. Dimitri Simes and the Center for the National Interest

Members of the Trump Campaign interacted on several occasions with the Center for the National Interest( CNI), principally through its President and Chief Executive Officer, Dimitri Simes.
CNI is a think tank with expertise in and connections to the Russian government. Simes was born in the former Soviet Union and immigrated to the United States in the 1970s. In April 2016, candidate Trump delivered his first speech on foreign policy and national security at an event hosted by the National Interest, a publication affiliated with CNI. Then-Senator Jeff Sessions and Russian Ambassador Kislyak both attended the event and, as a result, it gained some attention in relation to Sessions 's confirmation hearings to become Attorney General. Sessions had various other contacts with CNI during the campaign period on foreign-policy matters, including Russia. Jared Kushner also interacted with Simes about Russian issues during the campaign. The investigation did not identify evidence that the Campaign passed or received any messages to or from the Russian government through CNI or Simes.

a. CNI and Dimitri Simes Connect with the Trump Campaign

CNI is a Washington-based non-profit organization that grew out of a center founded by former President Richard Nixon.
CNI describes itself" as a voice for strategic realism in U.S. foreign policy,'' and publishes a bi-monthly foreign policy magazine, the National Interest. CNI is overseen by a board of directors and an advisory council that is largely honorary and whose members at the relevant time included Sessions, who served as an advisor to candidate Trump on national security and foreign policy issues.

Dimitri Simes is president and CEO of CNI and the publisher and CEO of the National Jnterest.
Simes was born in the former Soviet Union, emigrated to the United States in the early 1970s, and joined CNI ' s predecessor after working at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Simes personally has many contacts with current and former Russian government officials, as does CNI collectively. As CNI stated when seeking a grant from the Carnegie Corporation in 2015, CNI has" unparalleled access to Russian officials and politicians among Washington think tanks,'' in part because CNI has arranged for U.S. delegations to visit Russia and for Russian delegations to visit the United States as part of so-called" Track 11'' diplomatic efforts.

On March 14, 2016, CNI board member Richard Plepler organized a luncheon for CNI and its honorary chairman, Henry Kissinger, at the Time Warner Building in New York.
The idea behind the event was to generate interest in CNI 's work and recruit new board members for CNI. Along with Simes, attendees at the event included Jared Kushner, son-in-law of candidate Trump. Kushner told the Office that the event came at a time when the Trump Campaign was having trouble securing support from experienced foreign policy professionals and that, as a result, he decided to seek Simes 's assistance during the March 14 event.

Simes and Kushner spoke again on a March 24, 2016 telephone call, three days after Trump had publicly named the team of foreign policy advisors that had been put together on short notice.
On March 31, 2016, Simes and Kushner had an in-person, one-on-one meeting in Kushner 's New York office. During that meeting, Simes told Kushner that the best way to handle foreign-policy issues for the Trump Campaign would be to organize an advisory group of experts to meet with candidate Trump and develop a foreign policy approach that was consistent with Trump 's voice. Simes believed that Kushner was receptive to that suggestion.

Simes also had contact with other individuals associated with the Trump Campaign regarding the Campaign 's foreign policy positions.
For example, on June 17, 2016, Simes sent J.D. Gordon an email with a" memo to Senator Sessions that we discussed at our recent meeting'' and asked Gordon to both read it and share it with Sessions. The memorandum proposed building a" small and carefully selected group of experts'' to assist Sessions with the Campaign, operating under the assumption" that Hillary Clinton is very vulnerable on national security and foreign policy issues.'' The memorandum outlined key issues for the Campaign, including a" new beginning with Russia.''

b. National Interest Hosts a Foreign Policy Speech at the Mayflower Hotel

During both their March 24 phone call and their March 31 in-person meeting, Simes and Kushner discussed the possibility of CNI hosting a foreign policy speech by candidate Trump.
Following those conversations, Simes agreed that he and others associated with CNI would provide behind-the-scenes input on the substance of the foreign-policy speech and that CNI officials would coordinate the logistics of the speech with Sessions and his staff, including Sessions 's chief of staff, Rick Dearborn.

In mid-April 2016, Kushner put Simes in contact with senior policy advisor Stephen Miller and forwarded to Simes an outline of the foreign-policy speech that Miller had prepared.
Simes sent back to the Campaign bullet points with ideas for the speech that he had drafted with CNI Executive Director Paul Saunders and board member Richard Burt. Simes received subsequent draft outlines from Miller, and he and Saunders spoke to Miller by phone about substantive changes to the speech. It is not clear, however, whether CNI officials received an actual draft of the speech for comment; while Saunders recalled having received an actual draft, Simes did not, and the emails that CNI produced to this Office do not contain such a draft.

After board members expressed concern to Simes that CNl 's hosting the speech could be perceived as an endorsement of a particular candidate, CNI decided to have its publication, the National Interest, serve as the host and to have the event at the National Press Club.
Kushner later requested that the event be moved to the Mayflower Hotel, which was another venue that Simes had mentioned during initial discussions with the Campaign, in order to address concerns about security and capacity.

On April 25, 2016, Saunders booked event rooms at the Mayflower to host both the speech and a VIP reception that was to be held beforehand.
Saunders understood that the reception at which invitees would have the chance to meet · candidate Trump-- would be a small event. Saunders decided who would attend by looking at the list of CNI ' s invitees to the speech itself and then choosing a subset for the reception. CNI 's invitees to the reception included Sessions and Kislyak. The week before the speech Simes had informed Kislyak that he would be invited to the speech, and that he would have the opportunity to meet Trump.

When the pre-speech reception began on April 27, a receiving line was quickly organized so that attendees could meet Trump.
Sessions first stood next to Trump to introduce him to the members of Congress who were in attendance. After those members had been introduced, Simes stood next to Trump and introduced him to the CNI invitees in attendance, including Kislyak. Simes perceived the introduction to be positive and friendly, but thought it clear that Kislyak and Trump had just met for the first time. Kislyak also met Kushner during the pre-speech reception. The two shook hands and chatted for a minute or two, during which Kushner recalled Kislyak saying," we like what your candidate is saying... it 's refreshing.''

Several public reports state that, in addition to speaking to Kushner at the pre-speech reception, Kislyak also met or conversed with Sessions at that time.
Sessions stated to investigators, however, that he did not remember any such conversation. Nor did anyone else affiliated with CNI or the National Interest specifically recall a conversation or meeting between Sessions and Kislyak at the pre-speech reception. It appears that, if a conversation occurred at the pre-speech reception, it was a brief one conducted in public view, similar to the exchange between Kushner and Kislyak.

The Office found no evidence that Kislyak conversed with either Trump or Sessions after the speech, or would have had the opportunity to do so.
Simes, for example, did not recall seeing Kislyak at the post-speech luncheon, and the only witness who accounted for Sessions 's whereabouts stated that Sessions may have spoken to the press after the event but then departed for Capitol Hill. Saunders recalled, based in part on a food-related request he received from a Campaign staff member, that Trump left the hotel a few minutes after the speech to go to the airport.

c. Jeff Sessions 's Post-Speech Interactions with CNI

In the wake of Sessions ' s confirmation hearings as Attorney General, questions arose about whether Sessions 's campaign-period interactions with CNI apart from the Mayflower speech included any additional meetings with Ambassador Kislyak or involved Russian-related matters.
With respect to Kislyak contacts, on May 23, 2016, Sessions attended CNI 's Distinguished Service Award dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C. Sessions attended a pre-dinner reception and was seated at one of two head tables for the event. A seating chart prepared by Saunders indicates that Sessions was scheduled to be seated next to Kislyak, who appears to have responded to the invitation by indicating he would attend the event. Sessions, however, did not remember seeing, speaking with, or sitting next to Kislyak at the dinner. Although CNI board member Charles Boyd said he may have seen Kislyak at the dinner, Simes, Saunders, and Jacob Heilbrunn-- editor of the National Interest-all had no recollection of seeing Kislyak at the May 23 event. Kislyak also does not appear in any of the photos from the event that the Office obtained.

In the summer of 2016, CNI organized at least two dinners in Washington, D.C. for Sessions to meet with experienced foreign policy professionals.
The dinners included CNI -affiliated individuals, such as Richard Burt and Zalmay Khalilzad, a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq and the person who had introduced Trump before the April 27, 2016 foreign policy speech. Khalilzad also met with Sessions one-on-one separately from the, dinners. At the dinners and in the meetings, the participants addressed U.S. relations with Russia, including how U.S. relations with NATO and European countries affected U.S. policy toward Russia. But the discussions were not exclusively focused on Russia. Khalilzad, for example, recalled discussing" nation-building'' and violent extremism with Sessions. In addition, Sessions asked Saunders( of CNI) to draft two memoranda not specific to Russia: one on Hillary Clinton 's foreign policy shortcomings and another on Egypt.

d. Jared Kushner 's- Continuing Contacts with Simes

Between the April 2016 speech at the Mayflower Hotel and the presidential election, Jared Kushner had periodic contacts with Simes.
Those contacts consisted of both in-person meetings and phone conversations, which concerned how to address issues relating to Russia in the Campaign and how to move forward with the advisory group of foreign policy experts that Simes had proposed. Simes recalled that he, not Kushner, initiated all conversations about Russia, and that Kushner never asked him to set up back-channel conversations with Russians. According to Simes, after the Mayflower speech in late April, Simes raised the issue of Russian contacts with Kushner, advised that it was bad optics for the Campaign to develop hidden Russian contacts, and told Kushner both that the Campaign should not highlight Russia as an issue and should handle any contacts with Russians with care. Kushner generally provided a similar account of his interactions with Simes.

Among the Kushner-Simes meetings was one held on August 17, 2016, at Simes ' s request, in Kushner 's New York office.
The meeting was to address foreign policy advice that CNI was providing and how to respond to the Clinton Campaign 's Russia-related attacks on candidate Trump. In advance of the meeting, Simes sent Kushner a" Russia Policy Memo'' laying out" what Mr. Trump may want to say about Russia.'' In a cover email transmitting that memo and a phone call to set up the meeting, Simes mentioned" a well-documented story of highly questionable connections between Bill Clinton'' and the Russian government," parts of[ which]''( according to Simes) had even been" discussed with the CIA and the FBI in the late 1990s and shared with the[ Independent Counsel] at the end of the Clinton presidency.'' Kushner forwarded the email to senior Trump Campaign officials Stephen Miller, Paul Manafort, and Rick Gates, with the note" suggestion only.'' Manafort subsequently forwarded the email to his assistant and scheduled a meeting with Simes.( Manafort was on the verge of leaving the Campaign by the time of the scheduled meeting with Simes, and Simes ended up meeting only with Kushner).

During the August 17 meeting, Simes provided Kushner the Clinton-related information that he had romised.
Simes told Kushner that,[ REDACTED-PERSONAL PRIVACY]. Simes claimed that he had received this information from former CIA and Reagan White House official Fritz Ermarth, who claimed to have learned it from U.S. intelligence sources, not from Russians.

Simes perceived that Kushner did not find the information to be of interest or use to the Campaign because it was, in Simes 's words," old news.''
When interviewed by the Office, Kushner stated that he believed that there was little chance of something new being revealed about the Clintons given their long career as public figures, and that he never received from Simes information that could be" operationalized'' for the Trump Campaign. Despite Kushner 's reaction, Simes believed that he provided the same information at a small group meeting of foreign policy experts that CNI organized for Sessions.
Highlighted Information
Narrative Web
Times Cloud
Places Cloud
Subjects Cloud
Actions Cloud
Objects Cloud
Contexts Cloud