Donald Trump Denies Alleged Ties With Russian Bank, But The Campaign Has Other Russia Problems On Its Plate
On Monday night, Donald Trump's campaign denied allegations of a Russian bank connection with the Trump Organization. A Slate article published on Oct. 31 claims that certain internet activity pointed to "a sustained relationship between a server registered to the Trump Organization and two servers registered to an entity called Alfa Bank," one of Russia's largest. That may prove to be nothing, as the Trump campaign argues, but even so, Trump has other Russia problems.
First, you should really understand what has been alleged, because the Slate report, even if ultimately disproven, could play a big role in the last week before Election Day. It includes interviews from supposed top cyber security hackers that had been hoping to stop Russian interference in the election after the initial Russian hacks at the Democratic National Committee. In order to prevent a repeat — against Hillary Clinton or Trump — the hackers started to monitor the campaigns' servers and eventually found a Trump server regularly connecting with two Alfa Bank servers.
The cyber security experts, who refused to give their real names, told Slate that the activity doesn't appear to be a bot but rather human conversations that "began during office hours in New York and continued during office hours in Moscow." Paul Vixie, an expert in such matters alleged, "The parties were communicating in a secretive fashion. The operative word is secretive." Communication spiked when there were developments in the presidential race too, like during the conventions. On top of that, once Alfa Bank was approached by reporters from The New York Times, all communication stopped.
But the Trump camp denied any sort of digital communication or relationship with the Russian bank. Here's the statement from Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks:
The email server, set up for marketing purposes and operated by a third-party, has not been used since 2010. The current traffic on the server from Alphabank's [sic] IP address is regular DNS server traffic—not email traffic. To be clear, The Trump Organization is not sending or receiving any communications from this email server. The Trump Organization has no communication or relationship with this entity or any Russian entity.
So that could be it — a false alarm. Fair enough. And yet still there would be more for Trump to worry about regarding Russia. First would be news reported by CNBC that FBI Director James Comey, the same one who just brought up Clinton's emails again, did not want to talk about Russia meddling in the election so close to Election Day. He ensured that the FBI was not included in a government release on Oct. 7 that confirmed suspicion of the Russian government's role in hacks like the one at the DNC because he "was against putting it out before the election," an official said.
Second would be the potential FBI investigation into former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's "foreign business connections," NBC News reported. No investigation has been publicly announced, and the FBI didn't comment, but law enforcement officials told the network it was in preliminary stages. Manafort denied this, telling NBC News there was no FBI investigation "that I'm aware of." Manafort was connected to a Ukrainian pro-Russian presidential campaign in Aug, having made as much as $12.7 million. He then was ousted from the campaign.
Third would be the even-worse accusations that are coming from the Democrats — but that also have seen some play in the media. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid penned a letter Sunday night to Comey in which he accused the FBI of withholding information about Trump's alleged Russia connection:
In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government — a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information.
That has been followed up by reporting from Mother Jones that could spell out a fourth Russia problem. A former spy alleged there were Russian efforts to assist or even recruit Trump for up to 5 years, while noting that Trump has claimed time again that he has nothing to do with the country.
Alone, any of these problems and allegations would be easy to write off, but for Trump, there will be a lot to deny over the coming week. He might have some help, though — The New York Times published a story that the FBI gave up their investigation into any Trump-Russia connection because there hasn't been any conclusive evidence to support the allegations.
So while much of this could be election bluster, it's going to change the race around Trump's candidacy this last week, just as the FBI letter on Huma Abedin's emails have dominated Clinton's.