Many Russian elites attended President Donald Trump's inauguration last year, anticipating improved relations with the U.S. after the Republican praised President Vladimir Putin during the campaign, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
"It was a great, amazing experience," Alexey Repik, a wealthy Russian pharmaceutical executive, told the Post of last year's festivities.
He posted a photo on Facebook of inauguration credentials arranged next to a white "Make America Great Again" hat and wrote in Russian: "I believe that President Donald Trump will open a new page in American history."
Repik also wrote on Facebook that he got close enough to Trump at a pre-inaugural event to "check the handshake strength of Donald Trump."
He and his wife, Polina Repik, saw Trump's swearing-in from ticketed seats in front of the U.S. Capitol, the Post reported.
Some Russians at Trump's festivities last year, which drew the attention of FBI counterintelligence officials, are now subjects of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Kremlin's meddling in the 2016 election.
An FBI spokesman declined to comment to the Post on inaugural security issues, while White House officials did not respond to requests seeking comment.
The Post reported that it had identified at least six "politically connected Russians who were in Washington on Inauguration Day."
In addition, "like other VIPs in town that weekend, many flocked to the lobby of the Trump International Hotel, where some encountered fellow Russian associates with surprise," the Post reported.
Some Russians attending the festivities told the newspaper that they obtained tickets through U.S. political contacts.
One source was the Presidential Inaugural Committee, which provided access to other events to contributors of at least $25,000.
Those involved Cabinet appointees, congressional leaders, Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, the Post reported.
However, only U.S. citizens and permanent residents can legally contribute to an inaugural committee.
Several U.S. executives with Moscow ties donated $2.4 million to the committee, according to campaign finance records.
Inaugural organizers told the Post that they kept proper records of contributors and followed Secret Service protocol regarding all event participants.
However, it was virtually impossible to determine who actually used tickets since so many were provided to donors.
"The Presidential Inaugural Committee for President Trump, administratively speaking, was conducted in similar, if not identical fashion to previous inaugurations," the committee said.
Repik told the Post that he came to Washington last year in hopes of improved business relations between Moscow and the United States.
"To me, it's pretty clear that we can do better together," he said. "I don’t care about the political.
"But I’m very concerned about the business part of this."
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