Incoming presidential administrations like to get off to a fresh start with other powerful players on the world stage, and that includes Russia in particular.
George W. Bush famously said he found a window to Vladimir Putin’s soul. “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy,” the new president said in 2001. “We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country."
Barack Obama, through his first secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, tried to reset relations with then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. And it seemed to work for a while — at least until Vladimir Putin came back to the presidency in 2012.
Now Donald Trump will have a chance to rebuild America’s frayed relations with Russia. However, due to numerous complications — including his history of pro-Putin statements, his comments during the campaign, a former aide’s ties to Moscow, Russian attempts to disrupt the U.S. election, and more — the president-elect finds himself in a tricky place.
How did he get here? Here’s a brief history of Trump’s comments about Russia and his bromance with Putin:
June 2013 Trump, then a private businessman controlling beauty pageants, among other interests, tweets: “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow - if so, will he become my new best friend?”
March 2014 Trump tweets: "Putin has become a big hero in Russia with an all time high popularity. Obama, on the other hand, has fallen to his lowest ever numbers. SAD"
May 2014 Trump tweets: "I was in Moscow recently and I spoke, indirectly and directly, with President Putin, who could not have been nicer, and we had a tremendous success."
July 2015 Trump tells reporters: “I think I would get along well with [Putin]. He hates Obama, Obama hates him.”
December 2015 Putin calls Trump "a very lively man, talented without doubt" who is the "absolute leader in the presidential race."
Trump responds by saying: “It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond."
February 2016 Trump says at a rally: "I have no relationship with [Putin] other than he called me a genius. He said Donald Trump is a genius and he is going to be the leader of the party and he's going to be the leader of the world or something."
June 2016 Russian hackers penetrate the electronic files of the Democratic National Committee.
July 22, 2016 Wikileaks releases about 30,000 emails and attachments hacked from the DNC.
July 25, 2016 Trump tweets: “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC e-mails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.”
July 27, 2016 Trump says "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing." He later says he was joking. At the same news conference, he says: “I never met Putin. I don't know who Putin is. He said one nice thing about me. He said I'm a genius … I would treat Vladimir Putin firmly but there's nothing that I can think of that I'd rather do than have Russia friendly as opposed to the way they are right now so that we can go and knock out ISIS together with other people and with other countries. Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along with people, wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along, as an example, with Russia? I'm all for it and let's go get ISIS because we have to get ISIS and we have to get them fast.” But he declines to tell Russia not to meddle in the U.S. election, saying: "I'm not going to tell Putin what to do. Why should I tell Putin what to do?"
July 31, 2016 Trump says on a Sunday talk show that Russia will never go into Ukraine even though it already annexed Crimea in 2014. In tweets, he walks back that gaffe.
August 2016 NBC News identifies Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort as a longtime Republican political operative, as “a key player in multimillion-dollar business propositions with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs — one of them a close Putin ally with alleged ties to organized crime — which foreign policy experts said raised questions about the pro-Russian bent of the Trump candidacy.”
Manafort’s name is found on a secret ledger suggesting that he received $12.7 million for representing a pro-Russian politician in Ukraine, The New York Times reports. A short time later, Manafort is ousted from the Trump campaign and replaced by Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.
The FBI has opened “a preliminary inquiry” into Manafort’s dealings.
September 2016 Trump says Putin "has been a leader far more than our president has been."
October 7, 2016 Wikileaks releases 50,000 emails stolen from Hillary Clinton campaign chief John Podesta. The Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Michael McCaul, calls it “a direct provocation against our people and our democracy. The Russian government has now targeted members of both political parties and appears intent on undermining confidence in our electoral process.”
October 9, 2016 During a debate, Trump says: “I notice any time anything wrong happens, they like to say ‘The Russians!’… Maybe there is no hacking. But they always blame Russia and the reason they blame Russia is because they think they are trying to tarnish me with Russia."
December 9, 2016 The Washington Post reports that in a secret assessment, the CIA believes that Russian hacking was intended to undermine the electoral process and tilt the election to Trump. The New York Times reports that the Republican National Committee was hacked, too, but no data was released. The Trump transition team issues a statement saying in reference to the Central Intelligence Agency: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”
December 11, 2016 RNC Chairman Reince Prebius, slated to be chief of staff in the Trump White House, denies that the RNC was hacked. Trump says on Fox News Sunday that U.S. intelligence has no idea who was behind the hacks. "It could be somebody sitting in a bed someplace. I mean, they have no idea,” he says. Senator John McCain calls for a select committee to investigate the hacking.
December 16, 2016 President Obama says Putin must have been aware of the hacking.
December 18, 2016 Prebius says that Trump will accept the conclusion that Russia was behind the hacking if there is a consensus within the intelligence community, including the FBI. News reports have said the FBI concurs in the CIA assessment, but Prebius said Trump “would accept the conclusion if these intelligence professionals would get together, put out a report, show the American people that they are actually on the same page.” McCain and three other senators (including two Democrats) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell calling for a select committee to be appointed. McConnell has said the hacking should be investigated by standing Senate committees but hasn’t yet endorse the notion of a special tribunal.