It took a few months, but we've gone from having scant evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign -- and likely Donald Trump himself -- to an overwhelming amount of evidence. And yet despite this happy circumstance, which certainly must have Special Counsel Robert Mueller secretly smiling, Trump meanwhile continues to destroy America and degrade our lives a little more each day while showing no sign of going away.
Former CIA Director Michael Hayden calls the Russian plot to help elect Trump by interfering in the 2016 presidential election through sabotaging Hillary Clinton's campaign "the most successful covert influence campaign in history. It took a mature Western democracy. It turned it on its head."
Indeed. And it may well not have succeeded without the ample assistance of campaign and candidate.
As my comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal reveals, much of the most damning evidence of collusion stems from a flurry of events over an eight-week period in June and July of 2016.
By June 1, Trump had become the presumptive Republican nominee after beating the odds -- or at least the conventional wisdom -- by savaging a large field of GOP establishment candidates in the most rancorous primary campaign in modern history. Clinton led him in all head-to-head polls and by formidable double-digit margins in several of them.
While Trump's campaign's collusion with Moscow was being merely hinted at, Vladimir Putin's cyberplot to disrupt the election had been well established by the U.S. intelligence community, which had become aware of Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) beginning in July 2015. The initial wave of Kremlin-orchestrated fake news was beginning to reach voters whose support for Clinton was determined to be soft, while WikiLeaks, which soon would be revealed as an eager mouthpiece for Putin's hackers, was preparing to release the first batch of hacked DNC emails.
Paul Manafort was soon to become the campaign's manager while Michael Flynn was its leading national security expert and Carter Page its leading Russia expert. The campaign brain trust was rounded out by Trump's eldest son, Donald Jr. and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who was to take over the campaign's digital operations in June.
Kushner's digital team subsequently was suspected to have worked with Russians in their voter targeting efforts with the help of Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm bankrolled by major Trump donor Robert Mercer, who was a leading investor in Breitbart News, which along with Fox News would become the major alt-right and conservative mouthpieces in Trump's seemingly improbable bid to become president.
On June 2, Clinton gave her first major speech on national security and questioned Trump's longstanding affection for Putin and "bizarre fascination with dictators and strongmen who have no love for America."
On June 3, Rob Goldstone, a publicist representing Trump acquaintance Emin Agaralov, a Russian pop star, emailed Donald Jr. that he had met with "his father Aras this morning and . . . [he] offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary . . . and would be very useful to your father."
Donald Jr. replied, "If it's what you say I love it."
On June 6, Trump reportedly spoke by phone with Emin Agalarov.
On June 7, Trump not coincidentally promised "big news" on Clinton's "crimes" in a forthcoming "major
On June 9, as a result of the email exchange, Donald Jr. convened a meeting at Trump Tower with Goldstone, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, who both had Russian intelligence agency ties. Manafort and Kushner also attended.
Donald Jr. and Veselnitskaya were to insist that the meeting was to discuss lifting a ban on Americans adopting Russian children should Trump be elected, but it was later revealed that Veselnitskaya was not acting as a private lawyer, as she claimed, but had a close working relationship with Yuri Y. Chaika, Russia's prosecutor general, who had given her documents asserting that an investment company owned by two Clinton donors had evaded paying tens of millions of dollars of Russian taxes.
On June 12, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange promised a "very big year ahead" because of the imminent release of emails "related to Hillary Clinton."
On June 13, Trump failed to give the "promised" major speech, ostensibly because of the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub. It is more likely the speech was never rescheduled because the campaign brain trust found the "dirt" delivered by Veselnitskaya to be disappointing.
On June 15, a hacking group with the online persona Guccifer 2.0. claimed credit for the DNC hack. U.S. intelligence later determined that the group was affiliated with the FSB and the GRU, Russian intelligence agencies.
On June 22, Trump excoriated Clinton and warned that emails she deleted from her private server while secretary of state could make her vulnerable to "blackmail" from unspecified countries hostile to the U.S.
It was about this time that U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted communications revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political operatives were discussing how to influence the campaign through Manafort and Flynn.
On July 6, another batch of hacked DNC emails appeared on the Guccifer 2.0 site, while Page began a three-day visit to Moscow, where he gave a pro-Russian speech at a university graduation.
Page had long been in the sights of U.S. intelligence agencies because of his many Russian contacts and efforts in 2013 by three Russian spies to recruit him.
He insisted he was traveling as a private person, but reportedly met twice with former spy and close Putin aide Igor Sechin and with Igor Diveykin, a senior Putin administration official. Sechin reportedly told Page that if a future Trump administration dropped Obama-imposed economic sanctions on Russia, there could be an associated move to offer lucrative contracts to U.S. energy firms.
On July 7, Manafort emailed aluminum magnate and Putin friend Oleg Deripaska offering to provide private campaign briefings to him.
On July 14, another batch of hacked DNC emails appeared on the Guccifer 2.0 website.
On July 15, meeting in Cleveland and working behind the scenes, Manafort and other campaign operatives dramatically watered down the Republican National Convention platform on Ukraine in an obvious nod to Putin.
The original platform draft stated that Russian sanctions should be toughened because of its takeover of Crimea and aid should be increased to the "embattled" Ukrainian army, but both provisions were deleted and replaced with a vague assurance of "appropriate assistance" from the U.S.
Meanwhile, during the convention, Page and two other campaign advisers met with Russian U.S. ambassador Sergey Kislyak, while Manafort aquaintance Konstantine Kilimnik, a Ukrainian businessman with strong ties to Russian intelligence and Deripaska, boasted to friends in Kiev that he was involved in the successful effort to water down the Ukraine campaign platform.
On July 19, Trump was formally nominated.
On July 22, WikiLeaks began releasing hacked DNC emails.
On July 27, Trump called on Russia to hack 30,000 so-called "missing" Clinton emails, and by month's end, the FBI obtained a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court warrant allowing it to monitor Page. The warrant was later renewed.
During those eight weeks of infamy, the Trump campaign never made contact with the governments or representatives of any other countries -- not Britain, France, Germany or other allies -- while initiating and never spurning multiple contacts with Russians with close ties to Putin. No campaign adviser spoke out or quit in protest over these contacts; in fact, they all eventually would be revealed as unscrupulous bottom feeders. And while Trump repeatedly vilified Clinton and others, he had only praise for Putin while secretly working to neuter his own party's tough stand on America's greatest foe.
The events of June and July 2016 collectively -- and dramatically -- illustrate why the evidence of collusion has become overwhelming. It is a big reason -- if not the deciding factor -- as to why Donald Trump became president.