Undeniable: contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia

Washington (AFP) - On January 11, 2017, Donald Trump was asked in his first press conference after his shock election victory, "Did you or anyone in your campaign have any contact with Russia leading up to or during the campaign?"

"No, not at all," Trump responded.

Fact check: Senior members of his election campaign and his immediate family had repeated Russian contacts, over business and politics, during Trump's 2015-2016 battle for the White House.

Investigators have records of emails, text messages, phone calls and face-to-face meetings showing frequent contact even as Moscow actively interfered with the election boost Trump's chances to win.

The big question is, was that happenstance, or did it amount to collusion?

- Real estate -

Trump's 2015 decision to run did not stop an effort by the Trump Organization to put its real estate brand in the Russian capital. Indeed, his personal lawyer Michael Cohen and longtime business associate Felix Sater stepped up efforts through the first half of 2016.

Their contacts were a former general in Russian military intelligence, Evgeny Shmykov, and Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

It was not the only channel; there were others. In November 2015, Trump's daughter Ivanka put Cohen in touch with a well-connected Russian who promised a business and political "synergy" backed by Putin.

- The ambassador -

Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to Washington at the time, had numerous contacts with the campaign.

In April 2016, he sat in the front row at a small conservative event in Washington where Trump spoke.

He shook hands with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and spoke with senator Jeff Sessions, who led the campaign's foreign policy team and became Trump's first attorney general.

Kislyak and Sessions met again at the Republican national convention in July, and then had a private meeting in Sessions' office in September 2016.

After the election, and before Trump's inauguration, Kislyak met with and was in regular phone contact with Kushner and national security advisor Michael Flynn.

The three met in Trump Tower in Manhattan on December 1, 2016, and throughout the month they discussed communications "back channels" and ways to mitigate US sanctions on Russia.

- Setting up a Putin meeting -

The Russian who promised Cohen "synergy" in November 2015 also pitched a possible meeting between Putin and Trump. He was not the only one.

In early 2016, a Republican operative who had ties to a top Russian politician, Alexander Torshin, contacted senior campaign official Rick Dearborn offering a Trump-Putin meeting.

Shortly afterward, Torshin attended the NRA's annual convention in Louisville, Kentucky, where he made contact with Trump's son Donald Jr.

Around the same time, George Papadopoulos, a campaign foreign policy advisor, spoke with people he understood were well-connected in Moscow who proposed a Trump-Putin meeting.

- Finding dirt -

After Russians hacked the computers of Hillary Clinton's campaign, there were several direct offers to the campaign of "dirt" on Trump's rival.

In May 2016, campaign consultants Michael Caputo and Roger Stone communicated with a Russian using the name Henry Greenberg who offered to sell damaging information on Clinton.

Papadopoulos's Russia contacts likewise told him the Kremlin had documents that would hurt Clinton.

On June 9, 2016, Kushner, campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower who had offered damaging information on Clinton.

The younger Trump arranged the meeting with pop star Emin Agalarov, the son of an erstwhile Trump Organization business partner in Russia.

- Other channels -

Manafort had contacts with Russians arising from his decade working in Ukraine.

During the campaign, he offered oligarch Oleg Deripaska briefings on US politics, communicating in part via another Russian associate, suspected intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik.

Investment banker Carter Page, who advised the campaign in its early months, was being watched by the FBI over his contacts with suspected Russian intelligence.

He visited Moscow during 2016, meeting academics and officials, including Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich.

Campaign consultant Stone sought contacts with the online avatar Guccifer 2.0 and transparency group WikiLeaks, which Russian intelligence used to leak hacked Democratic documents damaging to Trump's rival Hillary Clinton.

Erik Prince, an independent advisor to Trump who runs a security company, met on January 11, 2017 in the Seychelles with a powerful Russian fund manager where they reportedly discussed an informal Trump channel to the Kremlin.