Other Agencies Probe Possible Covert Kremlin Aid
Peter Stone and Greg Gordon
McClatchy Washington Bureau
19, 2017 "Information
The FBI and five other law enforcement and
intelligence agencies have collaborated for
months in an investigation into Russian attempts
to influence the November election, including
whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided
President-elect Donald Trump, two people
familiar with the matter said.
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, the sources said.
Investigators are examining how money may have
moved from the Kremlin to covertly help Trump
win, the two sources said. 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.
inter-agency working group began to explore possible
Russian interference last spring, long before the FBI
received information from a former British spy hired to
develop politically damaging and unverified research
about Trump, according to the sources, who spoke on the
condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature
of the inquiry.
On Jan. 6, the
director of national intelligence released a
declassified report that concluded Russian President
Vladimir Putin had ordered an influence campaign to
“undermine faith in the U.S. democratic process,” damage
Hillary Clinton’s election prospects and bolster
Trump’s. The campaign included the hacking of top
Democrats’ emails and fake news distributed by Russian
president-elect, who will be inaugurated Friday, has
said he believes Russia was involved with the hacking,
and he has called allegations that he or his associates
were involved a “political witch hunt” and a “complete
and total fabrication.”
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.
presidential transition team did not respond to a
request for comment about the inquiry.
A key mission
of the six-agency group has been to examine who financed
the email hacks of the Democratic National Committee and
Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The London-based
transparency group WikiLeaks released the emails last
summer and in October.
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, the sources said.
intelligence 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.
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.
Intelligence Committee has opened its own investigation
into Russia’s involvement in the campaign. That panel
will have subpoena power.
FBI Director Comey refused
at a recent Senate hearing to comment on whether the
bureau was investigating Russia’s hacking campaign for
possible criminal prosecutions. Spokespeople for the
FBI, the Justice Department and the national
intelligence director declined to comment.
The BBC reported last week
that the joint inquiry was launched when the CIA learned
last spring, through a Baltic ally, of a recording
indicating the Russian government was planning to funnel
funds aimed at influencing the U.S. election.
of information was the former longtime British
Christopher Steele, who was hired to gather
opposition research about Trump for a Republican client
and later a Democrat. Early last summer, Steele became
alarmed about information he was receiving from a
network of Russian sources describing a web of Trump’s
business relationships with wealthy Russians and alleged
political ties to the Kremlin, according to two people
who know him. These sources also declined to be
identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
reports also alleged that Russian consulates in New
York, Washington and Miami were used to deliver “tens of
thousands of dollars” to Kremlin-hired operatives using
fictitious names as if they were legitimate
Russian-American pensioners. That “ruse” was designed to
give Russia “plausible deniability,” Steele’s reports
suggested. However, Russia does not operate a consulate
Steele, who had
worked previously with the FBI and was well regarded,
fed the bureau information in July and September
suggesting collusion between Trump associates and Moscow
in the hacking of Democratic computers, they said.
Eventually, he met in Italy with an FBI official to
share more information alleging that a top Trump
campaign official had known about the hacking as early
as last June, the sources said. About a month after the
election, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona gave
FBI Director Comey a copy of a 35-page compilation of
BuzzFeed posted the 35 pages
of allegations online, acknowledging the report had
obvious errors and had not been corroborated. Several
news organizations, including McClatchy, had the
document earlier but had resisted publishing any of the
allegations because of the lack of verification.
Trump and Putin
have branded Steele’s dossier as “fake news.” On Jan.
11, at his only news conference as president-elect,
Trump dismissed it as “nonsense” and “crap.” On Tuesday,
Putin accused soon-to-depart Obama administration
officials of trying to undermine Trump’s “legitimacy,”
suggesting that the White House had released Steele’s
dossier. The Russian leader said those who had prepared
the dossier were “worse than prostitutes.”
information has been treated as unverified intelligence
by the working group because most of it came from
purported Kremlin leaks and virtually all of it is
extremely difficult to corroborate, the people familiar
with the investigation said.
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.
a former attorney for the National Security Agency who
is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution, said she
had no knowledge as to whether a Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act warrant had been issued in the
investigation of Russian influence. However, she said
such warrants were issued only if investigators could
establish “probable cause” that the target was a foreign
power or its agent and that the surveillance was likely
to produce foreign intelligence. She said the
information in Steele’s dossier couldn’t have met that
“If, in fact,
law enforcement has obtained a FISA warrant, that is an
indication that additional evidence exists outside of
the dossier,” she said.
that Steele’s reports described from multiple sources
referred to a late-summer meeting in Prague between
Russian government representatives and Michael Cohen, a
lawyer for the Trump Organization, the president-elect’s
vast business operation. But the FBI has been unable to
establish that Cohen was in Prague during that period,
the two sources familiar with the working group said.
denied ever traveling to the Czech Republic, although he
The Wall Street Journal that he did so in 2001.
Trump has voiced positive sentiments toward Putin. In
early January, he tweeted that “only ‘stupid’ people, or
fools” would think it’s bad to have good relations with
“When I am
President, Russia will respect us far more than they do
now and both countries will, perhaps, work together to
solve some of the many great and pressing problems and
issues of the WORLD!” he tweeted last week.
campaign in July, he
displayed ignorance that Russian-backed separatists
had invaded Crimea in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and he
Russia to hack away to uncover thousands of emails
that Clinton had never made public after using a private
server while secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
Republican National Convention in Cleveland last July,
Trump’s campaign associates successfully changed the
Republican Party’s platform
to weaken a provision advocating more military
support for the Ukrainian government in its fight to
defend itself against the Russian-backed incursion
earlier version of this story misstated the standard for
obtaining a FISA warrant.
Stone is a
McClatchy special correspondent.