A West Virginia man who worked as a contractor during the Iraq War has been identified by CNN as the man who reached out to the Trump campaign last year to try to set up a meeting between high-level aides and a group of Russians.
Rick Clay, 54, said the aim of the potential meeting was for the campaign and the Russians to discuss their “shared Christian values,” CNN reports.
Clay told CNN he reached out to the Trump campaign on behalf of a “devout Christian” friend who had come into contact with the Russians through his work in Christian organizations. Clay told the news network he couldn’t recall the names of the Russians and he would not disclose the name of the friend who sought the meeting, only saying he lives par tof the year in Alaska and part of the year in Pennsylvania.
The Charleston man told CNN, “The thought was if there was an opportunity there to get two sides together to talk about Christian values, then that’s important. That was the gist of it, and it didn’t go anywhere.”
Clay told CNN he didn’t think the meeting request was part of a Russian intelligence operation. “The context of the thing is this was before even the Russian collusion thing was even talked about,” he told the news network.
Clay’s efforts were first reported last week by CNN, after reporters Manu Raju and Marshall Cohen learned that a Trump aide had sent an email to campaign officials saying a person identified as “WV” had contacted him about a possible meeting with the Russians. The email was uncovered by Congressional investigators, CNN reports.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Clay Told CNN He Reached Out to a Trump Aide & a West Virginia Senator to Try to Set Up the Meeting With the Russians
Rick Clay told CNN he reached out to Rick Dearborn, then a campaign aide and now President Donald Trump’s deputy chief of staff, in 2016 to tell him about the potential meeting. Clay told CNN that Dearborn didn’t act on the request, calling it “inappropriate” and told him such matters must go through “proper channels” of the State Department.
Clay also reached out to West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito after he had talked to Dearborn, CNN reports. Clay told the Republican senator that he wanted to talk about the Russia matter with the campaign, and Capito passed on his contact information to Dearborn, because he was the campaign liaison to GOP senators.
“Sen. Capito received a request from a constituent to pass along his contact information to the Trump campaign,” a Capito spokesperson said in a statement to CNN. “She did so and asked the campaign to follow up.”
Sources told CNN that Dearborn made a brief mention of his contact with Clay in a June 2016 email to campaign staff, saying that a person identified as “WV” wanted to connect the campaign with Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to CNN, Dearborn suggested in the email that he was skeptical of the meeting request. Clay told CNN that the meeting request wasn’t with Putin himself, but unspecified “lower level” people.
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Ty Cobb, the president’s special counsel, told CNN that Dearborn was “vindicated by the actual facts” and any belief he did anything wrong was because of “salacious speculation” by the media.
“The relevant congressional committees and special counsel are receiving full cooperation from the White House, and we are respecting their respective processes,” Cobb told CNN.
Clay told CNN he doubts the meeting was part of a Russian intelligence operation.
“I mean you never know about that,” said Clay, who worked as a contractor during the Iraq war and was severely injured there. “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. I think you’re stretching that. But, you never know,” Clay said.
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Steve Hall, a retired CIA chief of Russia operations, told CNN, the Russians have in the past tried to “use right-wing religious parts of the American right to find common ground with Russian orthodoxy.”
2. In Online Comments, Clay Has Bashed the Media for Creating Hysteria Over Russia ‘Fake News’
Clay is a prolific commenter on several news websites, including Breitbart News, The Daily Caller, The Hill, InfoWars and The Washington Times, according to his Disqus account. In many of his comments, Clay has attacked Democrats, bashed the media and come to the defense of President Donald Trump.
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“While the Dems and the Media Focus on Russia Fake News Trump keeps his promises. MAGA,” he wrote after Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord.
After Michael Flynn was fired, Clay wrote that Trump made the right move, but that Flynn did nothing wrong in meeting with the Russians.
“The media is only discrediting itself further with this hysteria. Flynn did nothing wrong in the conversation with the Russians. He was wrong in lying to the VP and Trump about it and for that he deserves to be fired. Trump did the right thing and responsible thing,” Clay wrote.
He wrote about Vladimir Putin, “American white males or alpha males admire Putin for being an alpha male only we Have No Illusion to what he is and represents but we admire the fact that he acts like a man who loves his country and is not ashamed of being a man. that is the only redeeming Factor we see in him.”
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3. Clay Is a Marine Veteran Who Worked as a Contractor in Iraq Until He Was Wounded in a 2009 Convoy Attack
Rick Clay served in the U.S. Marine Corps, joining in 1981 after graduating from DuPont High School in West Virginia, according to a Facebook post he wrote about overcoming learning disabilities.
“I entered West Virginia Tech on an athletic scholarship and majored in the emerging field of computer science. Seeking more direction in life, I withdrew from college to enter the United States Marine Corps and became a Combat Engineer. I excelled and learned to build bridges, roads, and fix structures,” he wrote. “I learned explosives, leadership skills and weapons systems.”
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After leaving the Marines, Clay studied at Marshall University, graduating in 1989 with a degree in political science and government, according to his Linkedin profile.
“I went on to become a legislative aide in the WV State Senate; the youngest city manager in the United States; a business owner; and executive vice president of site acquisitions in the wireless industry. Along the way, I earned my realtors’ license and an insurance license, just for the fun of it, and have driven, flown, and operated many of the weapons systems in the U.S. inventory,” he wrote.
Clay has also worked as a contractor in Iraq.
“Today, I am the Program Manager of Public Buildings in Iraq for the CPA with 2700 projects, 32,000 employees, and a $1.9 billion dollar budget. Before that I was the Program Manager for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq,” he wrote in 2009. “I’ve been stationed in the Presidential Palace in Baghdad and overseen the reconstruction and new construction of all schools, hospitals, police stations, military bases, and public administration buildings throughout the Iraqi Theater of Operations. My new position will be asset development for many of the prominent Iraqi families and tribal leaders, assisting them in transitioning into the global market economy.”
Clay was injured in 2009 in a convoy attack while in Iraq, according to WSAZ-TV.
4. He Has Worked With Organizations Supporting Veterans & Was Involved in a Still-Unfinished Plan to Bring an Ammo Plant to West Virginia
After his injury in Iraq, Clay has worked with organizations that provide support to veterans in West Virginia, according to WSAZ-TV. In 2015, he was won of five veterans to present the Kentucky Derby winner with the “Garland of Roses.”
Clay works with Military Warrior Support Foundation as a field operations volunteer, according to his Linkedin profile. He is also involved in the Regional Contracting Assistance Center, Employers in Support of Guard and Reserve, the International City Managers Association and the West Virginia Learning Disabilities Association.
Clay was also involved in a highly touted plan to bring an ammunition factory for Ranger Scientific to Kanahwa County, West Virginia, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. A year after the proposal was announced, nothing had been built and Clay was no longer associated with the project, the newspaper reported.
5. Clay Has Been a Vocal Critic of the Iran Nuclear Deal, Creating a Group Called ‘West Virginia Veterans Against the Deal’
Rick Clay has also been a vocal critic of the Iran nuclear deal, creating a group called “West Virginia Veterans Against the Deal.”
Clay wrote several op-eds about the topic.
“Iran has called for the destruction of Israel and death of all Jews and Americans. They now come to the world bodies saying they are seeking a peaceful accord but in the same breath chant “Death to America”, “Death to Israel” and produce recruitment videos showing Iranian Quds Force fighters looking over the nuclear destruction of Jerusalem,” he wrote in a 2015 op-ed published by the Gazette-Mail.
Clay concluded, “Ratify the agreement or go to war is a false argument. Israel has destroyed and crippled two nuclear weapons programs already in Iraq and in Syria, yet no war resulted. Even if the U.S. were to conduct an airstrike or missile strike on Iran’s nuclear weapons facilities, that is not necessarily war. … This so called agreement should have been presented to the U.S. Senate as a treaty. I implore Senator Manchin to vote no on this agreement and press for a verifiable agreement, and not reward a regime that has killed many of our nation’s heroes, a number of whom hail from West Virginia.”