A West Virginia man contacted a top Trump aide last summer to try to broker a meeting between campaign advisers and Russian officials that would focus on their “shared Christian values,” CNN reported Monday.
Those new details build out our understanding of a June 2016 email from Rick Dearborn, a onetime senior aide to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) who now serves as deputy White House chief of staff, to other campaign aides that was recently unearthed by congressional investigators.
There are several degrees of separation between Trump and the individual requesting the meeting, who remains unidentified. Rick Clay, a West Virginia resident and former Iraq War contractor, reached out to Dearborn on behalf of an unnamed friend asking if the campaign would be interested in sitting down with Russian officials. While those officials were not named, Clay told CNN they were “lower level” people rather than those in Russian president Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
“The thought was if there was an opportunity there to get two sides together to talk about Christian values, then that’s important,” Clay told CNN, describing his friend as a devout Christian who had worked alongside Russians at Christian aide organizations. “That was the gist of it, and it didn’t go anywhere.”
Clay told the news outlet that Dearborn did not act on the request, instead telling him it needed to be directed through the “proper channels” at the State Department.
Yet Dearborn did flag the request from Clay, who he identified as “WV, in an email to other officials on the Trump campaign, as CNN previously reported.
The White House did not respond to the network’s requests for comment. But one of Trump’s personal lawyers, Ty Cobb, said in a statement that it was “salacious speculation” to suggest that Dearborn did anything wrong. Cobb also affirmed that the White House was fully cooperating with all requests related to the various investigations into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.
Other Trump campaign aides, including national security adviser George Papadopoulus, made more direct efforts to arrange sit-downs between senior level staffers and Russian officials.
Some in-person contacts were made, though Papadopoulus did not appear to play a role in arranging them. Several Trump campaign officials met with Russia’s then-ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak, at various points over the course of the 2016 race. The President’s eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr., also hosted a rendezvous at Trump Tower with Russian operatives who promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton in June 2016, the same month that Dearborn sent his email to campaign colleagues.
Pictured above: Trump deputy chief of staff for policy, Rick Dearborn, left, and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, right, walk down the steps of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017, following a meeting. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)