Last year, Russian intelligence services directed a covert campaign aimed at courting conservative organizations, including religious groups to infiltrate the Trump campaign, US intelligence and other law enforcement officials revealed to CNN Friday.
The Kremlin reportedly employed a West Virginia man who was a former contractor in Iraq to set up a meeting with Russians and the Trump campaign to discuss their “shared Christian values,” raising new questions for investigators to explore as part of their Russia inquiry.
The man, Rick Clay, told CNN that he called Donald Trump’s top aide, Rick Dearborn, to pass along a request from a friend who wanted to set up a meeting with Russians and the Trump campaign.
Clay, 54, said his friend was a devout Christian who had come in contact with Russians through their work in Christian organizations. Clay could not recall the names of the Russians, and he did not disclose the name of his friend who sought the meeting, only saying he lives part of the year in Alaska and part of the year in Pennsylvania.
“The thought was if there was an opportunity there to get two sides together to talk about Christian values, then that’s important,” Clay said of a Russian meeting with senior-level Trump officials.
According to the report, at least one member of Congress was aware that Clay wanted to contact Dearborn about meeting with Russians: Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican.
Clay had told Capito about his desire to discuss the Russia matter with the campaign, a Republican source said, and she passed Clay’s contact information along to Dearborn because of the role he played as a campaign liaison to GOP senators. The GOP source said that was the extent of Capito’s involvement.
“Sen. Capito received a request from a constituent to pass along his contact information to the Trump campaign,” a Capito spokesperson confirmed in a statement Thursday evening. “She did so and asked the campaign to follow up.”
Clay said that he had been in contact with Dearborn before reaching out to Capito.
Last week, several news outlets reported an email turned over to multiple congressional committees as part of their classified investigations into Russia meddling in the election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. In the email, Dearborn wrote in a 2016 email about an individual only identified as “WV,” who wanted to connect the campaign with Russian President Vladimir Putin. One source said Dearborn he was skeptical of the meeting request.
The White House would not comment on this story.