A Republican lobbyist who helped shape Donald Trump’s first major foreign policy speech was at the same time earning thousands of dollars to promote the construction of a natural-gas pipeline on behalf of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The firm of Richard Burt, who served in former President Ronald Reagan’s administration, was paid $365,000 for lobbying for the Russian government-controlled New European Pipeline AG, which was backing the new project, Politico reported Friday.
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The pipeline would strengthen Putin’s influence over Europe given that it would supplement the Nord Stream, allowing more Russian gas to circumvent Ukraine and Belarus to flow directly to central and western European markets. The Obama administration and the Polish government opposed the pipeline.
Burt began advocating for the pipeline, called Nord Stream II, in February when the Kremlin-owned oil company Gazprom held a 50 percent stake in New European Pipeline AG. Gazprom now owns 100 percent of the company.
Burt meanwhile had begun crafting Trump’s first major foreign policy address this past spring. Trump delivered the speech April 27, urging heightened cooperation with Russia.
"I believe an easing of tensions and improved relations with Russia–from a position of strength–is possible," Trump said at the time. "Common sense says this cycle of hostility must end. Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out."
Politico noted that the Russian ambassador to the U.S. sat in the front row during the speech despite the diplomatic norm against attending campaign events.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks said the campaign has "no knowledge" of Burt’s lobbying work with Russia.
"In fact, our team cannot verify his self-proclaimed contributions to Mr. Trump's speech, and I don’t believe Mr. Trump or our policy staff has ever met Mr. Burt," Hicks told Politico in an email. "To our knowledge he had no input in the speech and has had no contact with our policy team."
Burt also downplayed the overlap between his lobbying work and collaboration with the Trump campaign, saying he did not consider himself an adviser to the Republican nominee.
Burt is not the only Trump adviser who has been scrutinized for his friendliness toward Russia. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort has extensive ties to Russian interests. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a former Defense Intelligence Agency chief who favors closer U.S.-Russia relations, is also advising Trump on foreign policy.