Over 12 weeks, beginning last Spring, the Trump campaign and Putin’s emissaries sealed a deal which could unravel his presidency.
When it comes to Washington scandals, all roads lead to The Mayflower Hotel. JFK romped there in a permanent private suit, Bill Clinton taped his testimony in the Lewinsky scandal in the Presidential Suite, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry was busted for cocaine possession there and Elliot Spitzer hired high-end prostitutes in room 871. So it seems fitting the biggest scandal in our nation’s history finds a setting in the hotel’s sumptuous Senate Room.
It was Jared Kushner who made the first approach to National Interest editor Jacob Heilbrunn about hosting an event at which Kushner’s father-in-law, then presidential candidate Donald Trump, could provide contours to his fuzzy foreign policy. Whether the meeting succeeded in its goal, remains an open question but it has become a significant nexus of inquiry for FBI investigators probing the Trump-Russia scandal.
As the National Interest editor tells it, everything about the meeting was arranged by the magazine. “The menu, the venue, the seating,” to borrow a lyric from Hamilton. The Mayflower was chosen in favor of the originally-booked National Press Club perhaps because the Press Club doesn’t offer hotel rooms on location where personal or political business can take place in complete privacy, behind closed doors.
The April 27 event included an interesting mix of Trump loyalists, interested observers and a handful of ambassadors, including Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Kislyak’s presence was not likely coincidental, considering one of Trump’s main talking points was about lessening Russian sanctions and building an alliance with Moscow.
After the speech, two dozen high profile guests attended a small reception at the hotel. “Trump certainly knows how to put everyone at ease,” recalls Heilbrunn.
“He bounded into the room with a hearty ‘Hello, everybody!’ A kind of impromptu receiving line formed in deference to the man—as though he were already president. Trump doesn’t work the room. You come to him.”
Senator Jeff Sessions was there too. Not much is publicly known about what Sessions did at the Mayflower. We do know however, the FBI intercepted Ambassador Kislyak’s communications reporting a sideline meeting with Sessions at the hotel to his Moscow overlords.
Despite a plethora of photos showing Kislyak in close proximity to Sessions at the Mayflower, the now-Attorney General denies any meeting took place. “I did not have any private meetings, nor do I recall any conversations, with any Russian officials at the Mayflower hotel,” Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence committee. When pressed by Senators, he adjusted his language to say “it’s conceivable” a conversation occurred but has “no recollection”.
SENATOR ROY BLUNT (R-MO): You didn’t have a room at that event where you had private meetings, did you?
SESSIONS: No, I did not.
BLUNT: So when you said you possibly had a meeting with Mr. Kislyak, did you mean you possibly met him?
SESSIONS: I didn’t have any formal meeting with him. I’m confident of that, but I may have had an encounter during the reception.
BLUNT: Alright, so you were there. You’ve read since he was there, you may have seen him, but you had no room where you were having meetings with individuals to have discussions at the Mayflower Hotel that day.
SESSIONS: No, that is correct.
All of this seems strikingly inconsistent with Sessions’ role as chairman of the Trump Campaign national security advisory board. Why wouldn’t he talk to the Russian ambassador? Time will tell if Sessions’ senate testimony stands the test of time and FBI scrutiny.
To Moscow, with love.
It was in his capacity as chair of Trump’s advisory board that Sessions introduced Donald Trump to Carter Page in March 2016. At the time of their meeting, Page was a little-known energy consultant with deep ties to Russia’s oil and energy sector. He quickly became a trusted adviser for the campaign.
Some 6 weeks after the Mayflower event, and 10 weeks after joining the campaign, Carter Page traveled to Moscow as a guest of the New Economic School. He gave an address blisteringly critical of “hypocritical” US policies. Page arrived on Friday July 9 and by that Sunday he reportedly had a secret meeting with the CEO of Russian oil and energy giant, Rosneft, Igor Sechin.
The secret meeting between Page and Sechin is now publicly verified, its content is still a matter of open speculation based on the findings of former MI-6 spy Christopher Steele. An informed source told Steele a quid-pro-quo was arranged. If Trump drops sanctions, he’ll get 19.5% of Rosneft (or a portion of that). Steele’s source is believed to have been Sechin’s former Chief of Staff who was gunned down in December in Moscow.
It’s also speculated in Russiagate circles that there was another leg to the Trump-Russia deal. Page is believed to have asked Russian officials for hacking help on behalf of the Trump campaign. This seems to line-up with an FBI sourced report by CNN: “The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”
Page was only in Moscow for three day. He returned in time to join fellow Republicans at the GOP’s platform planning week which began on July 11, a week before the Republican National Convention. One of the first orders of business was a surprising plank proposal to water down support for Ukrainian troops fighting Russian-backed rebels. Instead of sending the Ukrainians “lethal weapons”, the GOP pledged “appropriate support”.
The following week, as the convention got underway in Cleveland, Page, Sessions and Trump advisor JD Gordon met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Global Partners in Diplomacy event staged by the Heritage Foundation on July 19. “Much of the discussion focused on Russia’s incursions into Ukraine and Georgia,” according to delegate Victor Ashe. Russia’s crippling sanctions are largely a result of their incursion into the Ukraine. Under oath, Sessions originally also denied this meeting took place but later admitted meeting Kislyak when confronted by media reports to the contrary.
So let’s thread this needle. Sessions has a meeting he can’t recall with the Russian ambassador at the Mayflower on April 27th. A member of his National Security Advisory Board, Carter Page, heads to Moscow in July and takes a top-level meeting with the CEO of Russia’s state-run oil company, Rosneft. A deal is allegedly struck: a piece of Rosneft in exchange for dropping sanctions and, in order to grease the wheels, some hacking help from Russia’s state authorized team of cyber-criminals to help Trump get elected.
That hacking help came on July 22 – three days after Sessions met Kislyak in Cleveland. Wikileaks published the first hacked DNC emails which they obtained from Russian hackers. As Trump got a boost in the polls, he publicly asked Moscow for even more help. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Clinton] emails that are missing,” Trump said at a press conference. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens. That’ll be nice.”
All of this happened under the watch of then Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, who received $12.7M in kickbacks from Ukraine’s former Russian-backed President and was paid $10M a year on behalf of Putin’s ally, oligarch Oleg Deripaska, to further Russian interest around the world.
If the walls of the Mayflower could talk, they’d spill some of Washington’s seediest secrets. That may not be necessary in today’s world of electronic surveillance. After all, any meeting involving Kislyak could well have been in earshot of the FBI, who had been surveilling him for quite some time.