It’s official: after months of speculation that the Feds and other US intelligence agencies are probing whether Trump has any connections to the Kremlin, financial or otherwise, this afternoon McClatchy confirmed that indeed, the FBI and five other intelligence and law enforcement agencies have collaborated for months on an investigation into whether Russia’s government secretly helped President-elect Donald Trump win the election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump.
The agencies involved in the inquiry are the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and representatives of the director of national intelligence.
According to McClatchy sources, the US investigators are examining how money may have moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump win. One of the allegations involves whether a system for routinely paying thousands of Russian-American pensioners may have been used to pay some email hackers in the United States or to supply money to intermediaries who would then pay the hackers, the two sources said. Considering that this method was first suggested by the former MI6 agent Chris Steele who was hired to develop politically damaging and unverified research about Trump, the pieces are slowly starting to fall into place. Yet according to the unsourced report, the inter-agency working group began to explore possible Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI received information from the former British spy, suggesting he may not have been the spark that launched the probe.
While the origin of the investigation remains a mystery for now, what is known is the key mission of the six-agency group: it is to examine who financed the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, both of which were released by WikiLeaks last summer and in October. McClatchy adds that the working group is scrutinizing the activities of a few Americans who were affiliated with Trump’s campaign or his business empire and of multiple individuals from Russia and other former Soviet nations who had similar connections.
While they have provided zero evidence for public consumption to date, U.S. intel agencies not only have been unanimous in blaming Russia for the hacking of Democrats’ computers but also have concluded that the leaking and dissemination of thousands of emails of top Democrats, some of which caused headaches for the Clinton campaign, were done to help Trump win.
Meanwhile, Trump and Republican members of Congress have said they believe Russia meddled in the U.S. election but that those actions didn’t change the outcome. However, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that she believes that Russia’s tactics did alter the election result. The Senate Intelligence Committee has opened its own investigation into Russia’s involvement in the campaign. That panel will have subpoena power.
Additionally, the BBC previously reported that the FBI had obtained a warrant on Oct. 15 from the highly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court allowing investigators access to bank records and other documents about potential payments and money transfers related to Russia. One of McClatchy’s sources confirmed the report.
Susan Hennessey, a former attorney for the National Security Agency who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said she had no knowledge that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant had been issued. However, she stressed that such warrants are issued only if investigators can demonstrate “probable cause” that a crime has been committed and the information in Steele’s dossier couldn’t have met that test.
Yet ironically, while Trump has yet to say whether FBI Director James Comey will be retained, the rest of Trump’s newly appointed intelligence and law enforcement chiefs will inherit the investigation, whose outcome could create national and international fallout, should the FBI “conclude” that Russia indeed funded a hacking effort.
The emergence of this informal probe just one day prior to Trump’s inauguration will likely lead to even greater opposition to the Trump presidency, and while we hope it does not, may lead to violence on Friday. It is unclear if Trump’s arrival in the Oval Office will be sufficient to put an end to such ongoing probes into Russian funding of Trump, or if the risk of an intelligence agency “coup” to topple Trump remains.
As a reminder, yesterday Vladimir Putin warned that he sees attempts in the United States to “delegitimize” Trump using “Maidan-style” methods previously used in Ukraine, and slammed the creators of the Trump report, saying “people who order fakes of the type now circulating against the U.S. president-elect, who concoct them and use them in a political battle, are worse than prostitutes because they don’t have any moral boundaries at all.” While the organizers behind this ongoing effort to deligitimize Trump remain unknown, his suggestion that Trump could be the target of a Ukraine-like coup is troubling.
Earlier today Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov turned the table on the ongoing Russian witch hunt, and lashed out at the US election scapegoating campaign, saying that leaders and top officials from the UK, Germany, and France have “grossly interfered” in US internal affairs, “campaigned” for Hillary Clinton, and openly “demonized” Donald Trump. Lavrov said his angry outburst was because Moscow “is tired” of accusations it meddled in the US election. At this rate, Russia will be even more tired over the coming weeks and months as the “informal” probe picks up pace.
Lavrov also said that it is time to “acknowledge the fact” that it was the other way around. “US allies have grossly interfered in America’s internal affairs, in the election campaign,” Lavrov said, quoted by RT. “We noticed that Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Theresa May, and other European leaders” did so. He added that official representatives of some of the European countries did not mince words, and essentially “demonized” Donald Trump during the election campaign.
For now, the covert war between US intel and Democrats on one hand, and Donald Trump and, well, Russian, shows no signs of slowing down.