The Trump-Russia investigation is not a “W I T C H” hunt — it is a “W H I C H” hunt! 
- Which organizations and people were key to connecting the Putin associates and Trump associates during the 2016 US Presidential election and subsequent transition?
- Which links/relationships may be the conduits of collaboration or collusion or conspiracy?
- Which network paths connected Trump to Putin? There was no direct connection between them prior to the 2017 Inauguration.
- Which network paths were used to transfer information/money/data from one side to the other?
- Which individuals and which paths were key to the whole operation?
Below is a map of 600+ nodes (people and organizations) that have been discovered to have business/political/personal contacts between Trump and Putin associates. These nodes have over 1750 links/flows between them. Nodes are colored by country of origin. A grey link connecting two nodes indicates one or more relationships between the two entities. Each link implies a two-way flow of communication.
|Figure 1 – 600+ Trump and Putin Associates: People and Organizations|
When two individuals are trying to keep their relationship covert, they will never establish a direct tie between themselves. They will use trusted intermediaries to convey information/agreements or to pass money/resources between their two groups. This allows for “plausible deniability” (i.e., claims of “no collusion”) between the two parties. Both Trump and Putin made sure the media knew that they had never met before 2017.
With all of the links in Figure 1 it is hard to understand the interaction patterns visually. By running a simple network measure that looks at links within and between large groups, we find that both the Trump associates and Putin associates were linked mostly within their own group, but they had a significant number of ties to the other group! This implies that the ties between the two groups were probably not accidental, nor random. It was not a coincidence that these two groups were connected. They had a purpose. We see similar patterns of interconnectivity in business organizations when two groups are working together on the same project. The interaction patterns in Figure 1 are also similar to the communication flows between two business organizations that have recently gone through a merger.  Many interactions remain within their home organization, but there is sufficient communication to the partner organization for coordination and collaboration. If it looks like a duck, walks a duck and talks like a duck, it might just be a duck. If it looks like a merger, talks like a merger, behaves like a merger, it might just be a merger!
How many Putin associates have interacted with Trump business and political associates before, during, and immediately after, the 2016 election? Fifty-two (52) Trump associates had links to seventy (70) Putin associates creating many possible paths for information and resources to flow in the network. These 122 individuals created 160 links/bridges between the two groups (Trump-Putin).
Figure 2 shows only those bridges where a Trump associate is connected with a Putin associate. The network in Figure 2 is a subset of the larger 600+ node network in Figure 1. There are only a few grey links in Figure 2 because we have removed the connections within each group that are seen in Figure 1. You don’t see the Trump-Trump, nor the Putin-Putin ties in Figure 2, just those connections that form bridges between the two groups.
|Figure 2 - 160 Bridges from Trump Associates to Putin Associates [Updated]|
Which blue node has the most contacts/bridges with red nodes?
In human networks, it is not only the nodes(people/organizations) and links(relationships/flows) that matter, but the paths they form to move information and resources throughout the network. As we see in Figure 1, there is no direct link/path between Trump and Putin prior to the Inauguration, but there are hundreds of indirect paths from one leader to the other. Indirect network paths have a length of two steps or more — there is at least one intermediary between the start and end of the path.
A one step path is a direct connection between two friends, colleagues, or co-conspirators. A – B is a one step or a direct relationship. Adding a new node to A – B gives us A – B – C which is a two-step path between A and C. We have the original one step path of A – B, and we have a second direct one-step path of B – C. Combined, these form a two step path, with B as the intermediary/connector. Using this process we can build paths of any length. A – B – C – D is a 3-step path involving four nodes, with B and C as the intermediaries. Count the links/dashes to get the length of a path.
In most of our networks, whether it is with colleagues or friends, we want to be as close to others as possible. We want many direct relationships, and if those are not possible, then we want to keep our network paths as short as possible. Yet, in covert networks, the schemers do not want to have direct ties between the main parties. They do not want to show an obvious and direct quid pro quo. They want indirect paths so that they can have plausible deniability, or intermediaries they can blame, when a conspiracy is exposed.
Participants in covert networks look to build an indirect quid pro quo  — paths of influence that are not obvious, and are harder to detect and prove. In networks, distance (longer paths) can deceive, and that is an advantage to the builder of the covert network. Unfortunately, distance also distorts and delays, so the covert schemer cannot build very long network paths to hide behind. They must limit their key paths of trust to one or two intermediaries, or in rare cases three. In covert networks intermediaries are either trusted or threatened — problems of obedience and understanding amongst the intermediaries arise when the network paths get too long. In addition, a large number of people with some insight to the conspiracy is dangerous if the conspiracy is ever discovered. The leaders of the conspiracy need to find a balance between long and short paths of communication to carry out their conspiracy.
The builders of the covert network will use more that one path to communicate, but they will probably limit the used paths to those that contain the most highly trusted intermediaries that have a history of prior communication. There will be multiple vectors to the conspiracy. Leaders need to trust their intermediaries, and the intermediaries need to trust each other and know how to best communicate. This usually requires some prior history, or common ground, between the two parties on each side of a link. The message flow will be faster, smoother and more accurate between people that have experience/context communicating with each other. The Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016, is a good example of using trusted intermediaries via indirect paths to arrange/coordinate an important meeting.
Having the data of who is connected to whom, allows us to do all sorts of network analysis.  We can find all of the indirect paths from Trump to Putin or vice versa. Running our network algorithms we find over 500 indirect paths (with one to three intermediaries) between Trump and Putin. Of course all of these paths are not used to communicate/conspire between the two sides, but it does give us an indicator of what is possible. With all of these possible paths of interaction between the two groups, this much communication is not a coincidence! The 500+ indirect paths contained many intermediaries — dozens of which showed up again and again. Who are the repeating intermediaries — the most trusted nodes in the network — used by both sides? They were probably both trusted and well-located — the right person(s) in the right place at the right time. Of the 500+ possible paths between Trump and Putin, less than 20% were probably utilized, or attempted — and of those, less than 5% were likely to be relied upon.
We looked at the collection of indirect paths and found 72 intermediaries that appeared most often on all network paths between Putin and Trump. Those people show up in the map below. Figure 3 shows just the network paths between Trump and Putin that contain these 72 trusted intermediaries. Figure 3 is a subset of the larger network in Figure 1 — just showing the important indirect paths between Trump and Putin before the Inauguration. This map is colored the same as the first map — red nodes are Putin associates, blue are Trump associates, yellow nodes are Ukrainians and the green nodes are European/Other.
|Figure 3 – Trusted Intermediaries Between Putin and Trump [Updated]|
These 18 individuals are key in the network because they are on many paths of information flow— they form the best bridges in the network — they know what flows. As is evident in Figure 3, and the list above, Paul Manafort is on many key pathways between Trump and Putin. He has sabotaged his own decision to cooperate with the federal investigators. What really happened with this critical node?
Roger Stone’s recent indictment  shows us his involvement in getting the hacked Democratic emails. Stone’s main interaction was with Guccifer 2.0 (a cut-out for the Russian GRU) and direct and indirect contacts with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, who were distributing the hacked emails shared by Unit 26165 and Unit 74455 of the Russian Intelligence Service: GRU. Stone’s indictment was not for conspiracy, but his case is related to the indictment of the 12 GRU members for hacking and theft. In a new court filing  the SCO states that they have, in their possession, communications between Stone and both Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0. This means the "dots have been connected" between Trump and Putin, as we can see in Figure 4 following the light blue hi-lighted links.
|Figure 4 – Roger Stone as possible intermediary of hacked Democratic emails [Updated]|
So, what have we learned from these maps of connections during the 2016 campaign?
- Maps show the big picture of what is known about Trump-Russia interactions, before the 2017 Inauguration, based on data gathered by journalists and federal/state investigators.
- Denials by Trump and his associates that they had nothing to do with Russia before and during the 2016 election are visibly false. Figure 2 makes that explicit.
- Communication patterns between Trump & associates and Putin & associates match communication patterns/frequency found in many corporate mergers where two organizations are coming together and actively coordinating and working on common goals. These two groups exhibit communication patterns of collaborating organizations.
- If the interactions and communication between the Trump and Putin camps were just “normal business ties," why were they constantly denied, hidden, minimized, and lied about? Patterns in the network reveal that this was not a normal business project.
- Pattern of interaction shows typical pattern found in covert/corruption networks that is trying to hide its true intent. Leaders do not interact, while their underlings do. Leaders maintain unexpected distance and seek plausible deniability. Their aim is to execute an indirect quid pro quo. In a normal business project, leaders first interact to create agreement and set objectives, and then their staffs execute the project. The leaders are never visibly excluded as participants in the project. There is a direct tie between the leaders during the project.
- In Figure 2 Trump has more connections with Russians than any one of his associates!
- Once he became the official Republican party candidate, and started receiving regular intelligence briefings, Trump was warned that the Russians may try to infiltrate his campaign. Trump did not report, nor seek assistance, with the many Russian direct and indirect interactions with his 2016 campaign. Trump kept praising Wikileaks though it had been already reported that the source of the Democratic emails was the Russian GRU.