Trump allies' secret plan to lift Russian sanctions was hatched early in the 2016 campaign: report
Trump lawyer Michael Cohen (

A new report from McClatchy reveals that a plan President Donald Trump's allies worked on that would have ceded Crimea to Russia and lifted key sanctions against the country was developed much earlier than has previously reported — in the beginning days of 2016.

This places the origination of the plan during the opening stage of Trump's run for the presidency, before he clinched the nomination and before there were any revelations about Russia's attempts to interfere in the election and support Trump's candidacy.

McClatchy notes that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the plan as part of his probe into Russian meddling and potential collusion with Trump associates.

Though it's not clear there's a direct relationship with this plan, another incident during the 2016 election may be relevant: a mysterious change in the Republican National Committee's party platform to weaken U.S. support for Ukraine following the invasion of Russia.

McClatchy learned new details of the plan from Andrii Artemenko, a former Ukrainian politician. He says he worked on the plan with former GOP Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, who has recently come under suspicion for his ties to both Trump and Russian business interests. Alexander Rovt, a prominent figure in New York real estate, was also reportedly involved.

This plan eventually ended up in the hands of Michael Cohen, Trump's fixer and former attorney. Trump's former business associate Felix Sater was also involved. Cohen has previously said that he gave the plan to Trump's ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn, though he has changed his story on that front multiple times.

After the plan was first reported on in the New York Times, it appears to have fizzled out.

Artemenko says that, based on his interviews with Mueller, he believes Cohen is among the targets of the Russia investigation.