The parallels between Russian interference in the 2016 U.S presidential election and in the Brexit campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union are uncanny and raising suspicions that Russia’s cyberwar on the members of the NATO alliance was more widespread and effective than anyone has yet to admit.
The suspicious links between the Trump campaign, the senior members of the Brexit push, and Russian diplomats were augmented today with the report on CNN that two major British political operatives involved in the pro-Brexit campaign were in regular contact with the Russian ambassador to the UK while they campaigned for, and met with, Donald Trump in the United States in 2016, according to a review of emails and social media posts.
Arron Banks and Andy Wigmore were both heavily involved in the successful effort to get Britons to vote to leave the EU, with Banks donating more than 8 million pounds (nearly $11 million) to the pro-Brexit campaign. That donation is now being investigated by Britain’s Electoral Commission amid concerns of Russian involvement.
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Once the Brexit vote was won, the two men traveled to the U.S. where they attended several Trump rallies and the final pre-election presidential debate, at least once along with Nigel Farage from the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a leading pro-Brexit politician.
After the election, Banks and Wigmore met with Trump at Trump Tower during the transition phase. Throughout this entire period, the two men kept in steady contact with the Russian ambassador in London. CNN reviewed emails that show dozens of correspondences between the Russian embassy officials and the two men, including lunch and embassy event invitations.
Some of the contacts could be explained by an investment that Banks was considering with a company part-owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s former deputy chief of staff, Kirill Androsov, to invest in a $3 billion consolidation of six Russian gold mines. Banks says he declined the investment opportunity but nonetheless an associate of his requested a Moscow meeting with Sberbank, a Russian bank under sanctions by the U.S. and the E.U. after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
Only four days after Banks, Wigmore, and Farrage met Trump in New York after the election in an “unplanned” meeting, Banks and Wigmore had another meeting with the Russian Ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko.
With the accusations of “reporting back” to the Russians after their Trump meeting being leveled at the pair, Banks responded with this statement:
“We had a really pleasant lunch with him that lasted six hours and of course he saw a picture of us in front of the golden doors of Trump’s apartment and of course he got in touch with Andy because he had seen us splashed all over the newspaper.”
Oh, for the life a Russian diplomat must lead with time for a six-hour lunch with regular acquaintances for no other reason than having seen them in a photo op in the newspaper!
CNN goes onto report another possible reason for the leisurely lunch:
“Wigmore said the only thing they provided the ambassador with was a phone number for the Trump transition team after the ambassador asked if they knew how to get in contact with Trump. Wigmore claimed the ambassador said he didn’t know how to contact the incoming administration.”
“I was concerned that the information I saw was suspicious to say the least,” Wylie told CNN in London on Monday. “I would hope that there was an inquiry to what happened and what relationships were cultivated here in Britain and whether that impacted the American election.”
“Given Mr Banks’s extensive interaction with the Russian government and the fact that the origins of his £9 million pounds donation remain unknown, I urge the Metropolitan Police to make formal inquiries to clarify the nature of Mr Banks’s ambiguous relations with the Russian government,” Kinnock wrote.
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