Prodded by Putin, Russians Sought Back Channels to Trump Through the Business World

The Trump White House, she said, is comfortable with “all these informal ways of doing business,” including giving a heightened role to family members and friends who are not required to disclose potential conflicts of interest or abide by government ethics rules. “That’s how the Russians like to operate,” she said.

According to the Mueller report, Mr. Putin wasted no time enlisting Russian oligarchs to carry the Kremlin’s message after Mr. Trump’s election. He convened an “all-hands” meeting of the country’s top oligarchs in December to discuss the risk of the United States imposing further sanctions in retaliation for Moscow’s interference in the election.

One of those oligarchs, Petr Aven, who leads Alfa-Bank, Russia’s largest commercial bank, also met privately with Mr. Putin shortly after Mr. Trump’s election. He told the special counsel that the Russian president expected him to build inroads with the incoming administration, then repeatedly queried him on his progress in the coming months.

On the American side, a varied cast of characters was fielding overtures and proposals from Russians or pro-Russian Ukrainians during the campaign and transition, including: Mr. Gerson; George Nader, the Lebanese-American with Trump campaign connections; Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman; Michael D. Cohen, the president’s longtime fixer and lawyer; and Erik Prince, the Blackwater founder and brother of Betsy DeVos, Mr. Trump’s pick for education secretary.

Asked about his interactions with the executive at the Russian sovereign wealth fund, a spokesman for Mr. Gerson said in a statement that he engaged in no business with the fund and merely “presented personal ideas on humanitarian issues.”

Only rarely did anyone throw up a red flag, according to the report. In May 2016, after a campaign official reported that Alexander Torshin, an officer of a Russian state-owned bank, wanted to discuss an invitation from Mr. Putin to meet with Mr. Trump, Mr. Kushner, a top adviser to Mr. Trump, responded: “Pass on this. A lot of people come claiming to carry messages.” He added: “Be careful.”