A former Iraq contractor reportedly tried to set up a meeting last year, with help from a Republican senator, between the Trump campaign and Russian agents to discuss their “shared Christian values.”
Rick Clay, a 54-year-old from West Virginia, contacted Rick Dearborn, one of Donald Trump’s top campaign aides, last year to pass along a request from a friend seeking to set up a meeting between the campaign and Russia, reported CNN.
Russian intelligence services have courted American conservative and religious groups for years, and Clay told CNN that his friend had met Russians while working together with Christian organizations.
“The thought was if there was an opportunity there to get two sides together to talk about Christian values, then that’s important,” Clay told the network. “That was the gist of it, and it didn’t go anywhere.”
The Trump campaign appears to have rejected Clay’s request, which Dearborn told him was “inappropriate,” and referred the matter to the U.S. State Department, the network reported.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) was aware of Clay’s efforts, according to a GOP source, and helped put him in touch with Dearborn, although the source said the West Virginia Republican had no other involvement in the situation.
A spokesperson for Capito confirmed the senator passed along Dearborn’s contact information to a constituent who asked, but Clay told CNN he had already been in contact with the Trump aide before contacting his senator.
Dearborn briefly mentioned Clay, who he identified only as “WV,” in June 2016 emails revealed last week about efforts to set up a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The president’s special counsel, Ty Cobb, told CNN that Dearborn — now the White House deputy chief of staff — had done nothing wrong and would be vindicated by the facts.
Clay said he wasn’t sure if his friend’s request was part of a broader effort by Russia to infiltrate the Trump campaign.
“I mean you never know about that,” said Clay, who was badly injured while working as a contractor in Iraq “I mean how can anybody ever know about that? You kind of look at people you know — when you meet Russians and people come from other countries, and I travel all over the world. You try to trust them, and if you are dealing with someone from the government, or the Russian government or from another form of government, you got to be careful because you never know.”
“I think you would be stretching it to say it was an intelligence effort to infiltrate the Trump administration,” he added. “I think you’re stretching that. But you never know.”