19, 2016 6:00 AM In October—two days after the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declared that Russia was responsible for hacking Democratic targets to influence the 2016 election—the Trump campaign zapped out a press release claiming that Hillary Clinton was actually the candidate in the race with "close ties" to Russian leader Vladimir Putin and that she had "sold out American interests to Putin in exchange for political and financial favors." One piece of supposed evidence for this claim was that Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian billionaire oligarch and Putin ally, made a donation, through his company, to the Clinton Foundation.
(And his company did contribute between $50,000 and $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation, according to the foundation's website.) But even though Trump the candidate asserted that Clinton's association-via-foundation with Vekselberg was a problem and a sign she was too cozy with Putin, Trump the president-elect has welcomed into his administration a businessman with a much tighter and more financially significant relationship with Vekselberg: Wilbur Ross, the billionaire investor who has specialized in distressed assets and who is now Trump's pick for commerce secretary.
Vekselberg and the Renova Group have a history of close ties to the Kremlin, and Vekselberg has been publicly regarded as a Putin-endorsed oligarch.
With Trump tapping Rex Tillerson, the chief executive officer of ExxonMobil, to be his secretary of state, one issue looming over the confirmation process for Tillerson is his connection to Putin and Moscow.
(Cybersecurity experts say one possible response from the US government to the Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign is targeting oligarchs and bankers close to the Kremlin.) Just months ago, Trump and his minions were asserting that a relatively modest Vekselberg donation to the Clinton Foundation reflected poorly upon Hillary Clinton and indicated she was in cahoots with Putin.