5 Things You Should Know About the Trump-Russia Allegations

Expand | Collapse
(Photo: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)U.S. President Donald Trump (L-R), joined by Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Vice President Mike Pence, senior advisor Steve Bannon, Communications Director Sean Spicer and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, speaks by phone with Russia's President Vladimir Putin in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. January 28, 2017.

For months, allegations have swirled in various circles that President Donald Trump has dubious connections to Russia, especially its strong man leader, Vladimir Putin.

The efforts to tie President Trump to Putin have only continued, especially in light of the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn over his connections to Russia.

At a press conference on Thursday, Trump dismissed all accusations of a connection to Russia, labeling the various claims "fake news."

"And, you know, you can talk all you want about Russia, which was all, you know, fake news, fabricated deal, to try and make up for the loss of the Democrats and the press plays right into it," stated Trump.

"And I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don't have any deals in Russia."

Here are five important things to know about the ongoing controversy. These include Trump's past business dealings in Russia, the hacking allegation, and the lack of evidence.

1. Business Ties

Expand | Collapse
(Photo: REUTERS/Brendan McDermid)Morning commuters are seen outside the New York Stock Exchange, July 30, 2012.

Long before announcing his candidacy to become president, Trump had attempted business dealings with Russia going as far back as the 1980s.

A recent article by USA Today found that in 1987, Trump went to Moscow by invitation to speak about the possibility of developing luxury hotels in the then Soviet Union.

"While wrapping up a series of bankruptcies in New York [in 1996], Trump talked of building a replica of his Trump Tower in Moscow and traveled there to discuss renovating the Moskva and Rossiya hotels," noted USA Today.

"Dozens of condominiums in Trump World Tower in midtown Manhattan were bought by Russians in the late 1990s, said Dolly Lenz, a real estate broker who sold many of the units."

Vox.com explained that while Trump "hasn't managed to land a single major real estate deal" in Russia, his "business ties to Russia are striking nonetheless."

"Even without access to his tax returns or venturing into conjecture about hidden business interests, it's clear that Trump has an affinity for doing deals with Russians," reported Vox.

"In 2008, Trump sold a mansion in Palm Beach, Florida, to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for $95 million. On the campaign trail, Trump at one point claimed it was his only dealing with Russia, but that's not accurate."

2. Campaign Season Allegations

Expand | Collapse
(Photo: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (L) and his wife Mary Pat (R) listen as Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during Trump's five state primary night event in New York City, U.S., April 26, 2016.

Before the election, Trump weathered accusations that he was a "Siberian Candidate" due to his vocal admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"In 2007, he praised Putin for 'rebuilding Russia.' A year later he added, 'He does his work well. Much better than our Bush,'" noted a column published by Slate last July.

"When Putin ripped American exceptionalism in a New York Times op-ed in 2013, Trump called it 'a masterpiece.' Despite ample evidence, Trump denies that Putin has assassinated his opponents: 'In all fairness to Putin, you're saying he killed people. I haven't seen that.'"

When Wikileaks released about 20,000 leaked emails from the Democratic Party, many claimed that Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC and did so specifically to help Trump win against Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"First, we have known since before the election that there was a Russian effort to embarrass Democrats and undermine confidence in the election. The Russians allegedly acted primarily through (a rather simple) hacking of Democratic National Committee e-mails and a slow, steady release of those e-mails through WikiLeaks," observed David French in a National Review column published earlier this week.

"Second, we have known since before the election that at least one former member of Trump's senior campaign team was under FBI investigation for his ties to Russia."

3. The Resignations

Expand | Collapse
(Photo: REUTERS/Gary Cameron)Defense Intelligence Agency director U.S. Army Lt. General Michael Flynn testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on "Worldwide Threats" in Washington February 4, 2014.

During the presidential election season, Paul Manafort and Carter Page both had to resign from the Trump campaign over their questionable ties to Russia.

Manafort and Page are both subjects of an FBI probe into potential Russian interference in the presidential election. According to CBS News, both men deny any wrongdoing.

"Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort has flatly denied contacting anyone associated with the Russian government," reported CBS.

"And former foreign policy adviser Carter Page calls allegations that he or the campaign coordinated with Russian operatives 'completely fabricated by paid consultants and private investigators.'"

Earlier this week, Michael Flynn resigned from his post as national security adviser following the surfacing of evidence that he had misled people, including within the administration, regarding communications he had with Russia.

"Flynn is under fire for a discussion he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on the day that the U.S. announced sanctions for cyberhacking that took place during the U.S. election," reported NPR.

"White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer characterized the resignation as being about 'eroding trust' between President Trump and Flynn, rather than a legal issue, and he said it was Trump's decision to have Flynn step down."

NPR also interviewed a U.S. intelligence official who read the transcripts of Flynn's call to the Russian ambassador and determined that Flynn did nothing illegal during the call. 

4. Unconfirmed Reports

Expand | Collapse
REUTERS/Dado RuvicFile: People wearing balaclavas are silhouetted as they pose with a laptops in front of a screen projected with the word 'cyber' and binary code, in this picture illustration taken in Zenica October 29, 2014.

The whole debate over the extent of ties between the White House and Moscow remain hard to hammer down, as investigations and revelations are still pending.

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that there are multiple members of the Trump administration who had contact with Russian intelligence officials before last November.

"American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee," reported the NY Times.

"The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election. The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation."

Regarding any specific wrongdoing by Trump or his associates, David French of the National Review noted that "the smoke billows, but the fire remains hidden."

"We do not know if Trump officials had unlawful or inappropriate communications or contacts with Russian officials. We don't yet know for certain that those communications or contacts even related to Trump," wrote French.

"We do not know what, if anything, Trump knew about those contacts. Indeed, we do not know if any of the important and disturbing claims about Russian influence over Trump or his team are true. Those are the questions that demand answers."

5. Congressional Investigations

Expand | Collapse
(Photo: Reuters/Gary Cameron)The United States Capitol dome is seen down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington September 30, 2013. With a deadline to avert a federal government shutdown fast approaching, the U.S. Capitol was eerily quiet on Sunday as Republicans and Democrats waited for the other side to blink first and break the impasse over funding.

According to a USA Today story from Friday, there are five congressional committees currently investigating the questions regarding Trump and Russia: the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Senate Judiciary Committee, House Intelligence Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"Some of those probes appear to be more serious than others, with bipartisan members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee vowing aggressive inquiries," reported USA Today.

"Other panels seem more interested in finding the source of leaks leading to the resignation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who left office Monday night ..."

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook