As Russia Scandal Heats Up, Iowa GOP Chairman Dismisses It After Oval Office Visit

Shealah Craighead/White House

Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann visited President Trump last Thursday in the Oval Office, where, as the Des Moines Register reported Monday, “Trump discussed the ongoing Russia probe briefly with [party leaders from 10 separate swing states],” according to Kaufmann, “largely to argue it wasn’t as serious as its [sic] been made out to be.”

In an interview with the Register, Kaufmann seemed to agree with Trump, saying: “We discussed that in a very open way and I can tell you that the president reassured us, with the same reassurances he’s been giving the rest of the country, that the allegations of a collusion situation with Russia are false. I believe he welcomes a finality to this.”

The meeting took place shortly after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was leading an investigation into the possibility that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to help the president achieve his stunning upset against Hillary Clinton last November. At the time, White House officials were making the implausible claim to reporters that Comey had been fired over his handling of the Clinton private email probe. But the day after Kaufmann’s visit, Trump invited Russian officials into the Oval Office, where he slammed the ousted director as “crazy” and a “real nut job” and added, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

While the exact nature of the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russian officials remains unclear, the two entities were undoubtedly in contact before the election. On the day of Kaufmann’s meeting with the president — four days before the Register published its story with the state chairman’s comments on it — Reuters reported that Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and other campaign advisers had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russian officials.

And yesterday, during a House Intelligence Committee hearing, former CIA Director John Brennan said he had “encountered” and was “aware of information and intelligence that revealed contacts and interactions between Russian officials and US persons involved in the Trump campaign that I was concerned about because of known Russian efforts to suborn such individuals,” which “raised questions in my mind whether or not the Russians were able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

Flynn, who resigned in February over his ties to Russia, is under particular scrutiny — during the campaign, Russian officials bragged about how they could use him to influence Trump. After refusing to hand over documents detailing his contacts with Russian officials, Flynn was subpoenaed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the House plans to follow suit.

In March, Trump reportedly told the head of the National Security Agency and the director of national intelligence to deny any evidence of his campaign’s collusion with Russia.

Today the plot thickened further, with a Washington Post report suggesting that the Russian government may have used a dubious intelligence document to influence the pre-election FBI investigation into Clinton’s emails that many have argued swung the election to Trump.

Kaufmann, speaking more broadly about the GOP and the role of the Iowa Republican Party’s caucus process, told the Register about his meeting with the president, “I came home on Cloud 9 about where the Republican Party is positioned and perhaps more importantly where the state is positioned.”

Gavin Aronsen
Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.