FBI probing whether Trump aides helped Russian intel in early 2016

CBS News reports: CBS News has learned that U.S. investigators are looking into whether Trump campaign representatives had a role in helping Russian intelligence as it carried out cyberattacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political targets in March 2016.

This new information suggests that the FBI is going back further than originally reported to determine the extent of possible coordination. Sources say investigators are probing whether an individual or individuals connected to the campaign intentionally or unwittingly helped the Russians breach Democratic Party targets.

In March 2016, both Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton had emerged as their parties’ most likely nominees.

According to a declassified intelligence assessment, it was in March when Russian hackers “began cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election.” In May, U.S. officials say the Russians had stolen “large volumes of data from the DNC.” [Continue reading…]

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Paul Manafort’s finances, alliance with Trump draw Treasury, Justice, FBI eyes

McClatchy reports: The man who headed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign last summer is in a squeeze.

Paul Manafort is not only a key figure in the FBI investigation of whether Trump associates knew of or colluded in Russia’s cyber meddling in last year’s U.S. elections, but he also faces legal issues about his business and personal finances that could give investigators leverage to compel his cooperation.

The FBI, Justice Department and Treasury Department are examining whether any of Manafort’s millions of dollars in consulting income from pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs were laundered from corrupt sources, whether he properly disclosed all his foreign bank accounts each year to the U.S. government and whether he paid taxes on all foreign income, two sources familiar with the inquiry said.

Also at issue is whether Manafort needed to register as a foreign agent on behalf of Ukraine or Russia and failed to do so, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the sprawling inquiries are secret and ongoing. [Continue reading…]

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Fmr. FBI agent says Russia, Trump collusion worries him

 

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Is the Trump White House spying on the FBI?

Barton Gellman writes: If Nunes saw reports that named Trump or his associates, as he said, the initiative for naming names did not come from the originating intelligence agency. That is not how the process works. The names could only have been unmasked if the customers—who seem in this case to have been Trump’s White House appointees—made that request themselves. If anyone breached the president’s privacy, the perpetrators were working down the hall from him. (Okay, probably in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door.) It is of course hypocritical, even deceptive, for Nunes to lay that blame at the feet of intelligence officials, but that is not the central concern either.

If events took place as just described, then what exactly were Trump’s appointees doing? I am not talking only about the political chore of ginning up (ostensible) support for the president’s baseless claims about illegal surveillance by President Obama. I mean this: why would a White House lawyer and the top White House intelligence adviser be requesting copies of these surveillance reports in the first place? Why would they go on to ask that the names be unmasked? There is no chance that the FBI would brief them about the substance or progress of its investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections to the Russian government. Were the president’s men using the surveillance assets of the U.S. government to track the FBI investigation from the outside? [Continue reading…]

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FBI visits office of Saipan casino run by Trump protege

Bloomberg reports: Agents from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation visited an office belonging to the operator of a casino on the remote U.S. island of Saipan that has attracted attention for its huge revenues, according to a local legislator and residents.

FBI personnel, accompanied by uniformed police officers, arrived Thursday morning at a local office used by Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd., the Hong Kong-based company that owns the Best Sunshine Live casino, local residents said. They stayed for several hours, with local police blocking access to the building.

“There definitely was some kind of investigation or raid being done,” said Ed Propst, a member of the territorial legislature. “It appears to be a joint effort between local and federal authorities.” [Continue reading…]

In November, Bloomberg reported: On a tiny island in the western Pacific, at the end of a duty-free mall wedged between a one-story laundromat and a cell-phone shop, you’ll find what may be the most successful casino of all time.

The awkwardly named Best Sunshine Live hardly looks like a high-roller hub. Construction workers bet $5 or $10 at a time on roulette and baccarat in a fug of nicotine. Clustered in a far corner are a handful of tables for so-called VIP gamblers, which at 8:30 p.m. on a September Saturday are almost empty. A nearby bar has just a couple of patrons.

Nothing about the facility, which opened last year on the U.S. island of Saipan, hints at the money flowing through it—table for table, far more than at the biggest casinos in Macau, the world’s number-one gambling capital. Nor is there any sign of the connections of its owner, Hong Kong-listed Imperial Pacific International Holdings Ltd., which has a market value of $2.4 billion.

It’s a power list that includes a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and three former U.S. governors, including past chairmen of both the Democratic and Republican National Committees. Behind them all: a Donald Trump protege, Mark Brown, who ran the Republican president-elect’s Atlantic City casino empire and is now Imperial Pacific’s chief executive officer.

With that backing, Best Sunshine is posting numbers that stagger industry veterans. The daily reported revenue for each of its VIP tables in the first half of the year, about $170,000, is almost eight times the average of Macau’s largest casinos. Its 16 VIP tables alone generate revenue that’s more than half of the receipts from 178 high-stakes tables at Wynn Resorts Ltd.’s flagship casino in the Chinese territory, a 20-story palace with three Michelin-starred restaurants.

The revenue figures, or actual wins by the house, are just a fraction of total bets. In September, Imperial Pacific reported a record $3.9 billion in bets at its casino—meaning the 100 or so high-rollers who it says come through its doors monthly each wagered an average of $39 million. [Continue reading…]

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Flynn and Trump’s views on immunity, crimes, and FBI investigations

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Flynn offers to testify in Trump-Russia probe in exchange for immunity

The Wall Street Journal reports: Mike Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, has told the Federal Bureau of Investigation and congressional officials investigating the Trump campaign’s potential ties to Russia that he is willing to be interviewed in exchange for a grant of immunity from prosecution, according to officials with knowledge of the matter.

As an adviser to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, and later one of Mr. Trump’s top aides in the White House, Mr. Flynn was privy to some of the most sensitive foreign-policy deliberations of the new administration and was directly involved in discussions about the possible lifting of sanctions on Russia imposed by the Obama administration.

He has made the offer to the FBI and the House and Senate intelligence committees though his lawyer but has so far found no takers, the officials said. [Continue reading…]

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Trump Russia dossier key claim ‘verified’

BBC News reports: The BBC has learned that US officials “verified” a key claim in a report about Kremlin involvement in Donald Trump’s election – that a Russian diplomat in Washington was in fact a spy.

So far, no single piece of evidence has been made public proving that the Trump campaign joined with Russia to steal the US presidency – nothing.

But the FBI Director, James Comey, told a hushed committee room in Congress last week that this is precisely what his agents are investigating.

Stop to let that thought reverberate for a moment.

“Investigation is not proof,” said the president’s spokesman.

Trump’s supporters are entitled to ask why – with the FBI’s powers to subpoena witnesses and threaten charges of obstructing justice – nothing damning has emerged.

Perhaps there is nothing to find. But some former senior officials say it is because of failings in the inquiry, of which more later.

The roadmap for the investigation, publicly acknowledged now for the first time, comes from Christopher Steele, once of Britain’s secret intelligence service MI6.

He wrote a series of reports for political opponents of Donald Trump about Trump and Russia.

Steele’s “dossier”, as the material came to be known, contains a number of highly contested claims.

At one point he wrote: “A leading Russian diplomat, Mikhail KULAGIN, had been withdrawn from Washington at short notice because Moscow feared his heavy involvement in the US presidential election operation… would be exposed in the media there.”

There was no diplomat called Kulagin in the Russian embassy; there was a Kalugin. [Continue reading…]

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Why the FBI can’t tell all on Trump, Russia

WhoWhatWhy reports: It will take an agency independent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to expose Donald Trump’s true relationship with Moscow and the role Russia may have played in getting him elected.

Director James Comey recently revealed in a congressional hearing for the first time that the FBI “is investigating … the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

However, a two-month WhoWhatWhy investigation has revealed an important reason the Bureau may be facing undisclosed obstacles to revealing what it knows to the public or to lawmakers.

Our investigation also may explain why the FBI, which was very public about its probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails, never disclosed its investigation of the Trump campaign prior to the election, even though we now know that it commenced last July.

Such publicity could have exposed a high-value, long-running FBI operation against an organized crime network headquartered in the former Soviet Union. That operation depended on a convicted criminal who for years was closely connected with Trump, working with him in Trump Tower — while constantly informing for the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and being legally protected by them.

Some federal officials were so involved in protecting this source — despite his massive fraud and deep connections to organized crime — that they became his defense counsel after they left the government.

In secret court proceedings that were later unsealed, both current and former government attorneys argued for extreme leniency toward the man when he was finally sentenced. An FBI agent who expressed his support for the informant later joined Trump’s private security force.

In this way, the FBI’s dilemma about revealing valuable sources, assets and equities in its ongoing investigation of links between the Trump administration and Russian criminal elements harkens back to the embarrassing, now infamous Whitey Bulger episode. In that case, the Feds protected Bulger, a dangerous Boston-based mobster serving as their highly valued informant, even as the serial criminal continued to participate in heinous crimes. The FBI now apparently finds itself confronted with similar issues: Is its investigation of the mob so crucial to national security that it outweighs the public’s right to know about their president? [Continue reading…]

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Senate intelligence leaders pledge bipartisan Trump-Russia inquiry

Reuters reports: The Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday promised a thorough investigation into any direct links between Russia and Republican Donald Trump during his successful 2016 run for the White House.

Committee Chairman Richard Burr and Mark Warner, its top Democrat, pledged at a joint news conference that they would work together, in contrast with the partisan discord roiling a similar probe by the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

Burr was asked if the Senate panel wanted to determine if there was anything suggesting a direct link to Trump, and responded: “We know that our challenge is to answer that question for the American people.”

Trump’s young presidency has been clouded by allegations from U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia sought to help him win, while connections between his campaign personnel and Russia also are under scrutiny. Trump dismisses such assertions and Russia denies the allegations.

The Senate committee intends to begin interviewing as many as 20 people, including Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and one of his closest advisers, beginning as early as Monday.

Burr served as a security adviser to Trump’s campaign but said he had not coordinated with him on the scope of the committee’s investigation. He insisted he could remain objective.

Burr declined to go along with the White House’s denial of collusion between the campaign and Russian hackers, who U.S. intelligence officials believe favored Trump in last year’s campaign at the expense of Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton.

Warner and Burr both stressed the importance of exposing the activity of Russian hackers, which Warner said included reports of “upwards of 1,000 paid Internet trolls” who spread false negative stories about Clinton. [Continue reading…]

Aaron Blake writes: Americans live in two realities when it comes to the Russia investigation. On one side is the intelligence community, and on the other is a Republican Party that very much believes President Trump’s alternative facts.

Including, apparently, that Trump’s offices were wiretapped during the 2016 presidential campaign.

A new CBS poll shows that three in four Republicans believe it’s at least “somewhat likely” that Trump’s offices were wiretapped or under some kind of surveillance during the race. Although 35 percent think it’s “very likely,” 39 percent say it’s “somewhat likely.” About half (49 percent) of independents also say it’s at least “somewhat likely.” [Continue reading…]

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FBI Director Comey tried to reveal Russian tampering months before election

Newsweek reports: FBI Director James Comey attempted to go public as early as the summer of 2016 with information on Russia’s campaign to influence the U.S. presidential election, but Obama administration officials blocked him from doing so, two sources with knowledge of the matter tell Newsweek.

Well before the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence accused the Russian government of tampering with the U.S. election in an October 7 statement, Comey pitched the idea of writing an op-ed about the Russian campaign during a meeting in the White House’s situation room in June or July.

“He had a draft of it or an outline. He held up a piece of paper in a meeting and said, ‘I want to go forward, what do people think of this?’” says a source with knowledge of the meeting, which included Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Department of Homeland Security secretary Jeh Johnson and the national security adviser Susan Rice. [Continue reading…]

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What Cold War intrigue can tell us about the Trump-Russia inquiry

The New York Times reports: It began with evidence of a breach of the Democratic National Committee’s computers and has now evolved into a sprawling counterintelligence investigation to determine whether there was any coordination between members of Donald J. Trump’s presidential campaign staff and the Russian government, perhaps even influencing the 2016 election.

When James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director, went before Congress on March 20 and confirmed the existence of the Trump-Russia investigation, it echoed of the Cold War investigations in which the bureau and the C.I.A. searched for agents hidden in the government who had spied for Moscow.

A look back at those Cold War cases may reveal lessons for today’s investigators. Above all, those past cases show it could take years before the new investigation uncovers any answers.

Spy hunts usually begin with an unexplained incident. In the Trump-Russia case, there was the hacking of the D.N.C.’s computers. In 1985, there was an arrest on the streets of Moscow.

In June 1985, Burton Gerber, the chief of the Soviet-East European division of the Central Intelligence Agency, was about to sit down to dinner at his home in Washington when he received devastating news. Paul Stombaugh, a C.I.A. case officer, had just been arrested by the K.G.B. in Moscow. Mr. Stombaugh had been caught while he was on a clandestine mission to meet the C.I.A.’s most important Russian spy, Adolf Tolkachev, a scientist at a secret military design facility who had been providing the Americans with top-secret information about Soviet weapons systems. Mr. Gerber knew that Mr. Stombaugh’s arrest meant that Mr. Tolkachev, an agent the C.I.A. had code-named GTVANQUISH, had certainly been arrested as well.

The arrest and subsequent execution of Mr. Tolkachev was the most damaging of a series of mysterious spy losses suffered by the C.I.A. in 1985. In fact, there was so much espionage activity between the C.I.A. and the K.G.B. that burst into public view in 1985 that it became known as the Year of the Spy.

But why?

Debate swirled inside the cloistered world of American counterintelligence. Could all the spy losses be blamed on C.I.A. incompetence? Or had they resulted from something more sinister, like a Russian mole inside the agency?

That 1985 debate has in some ways been mirrored in the public debate about the hacking of the D.N.C. during the 2016 presidential campaign. Did some hacker simply take advantage of the committee’s cyber-incompetence, or was an American political party the specific and premeditated target of Russian intelligence? [Continue reading…]

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Devin Nunes says he will continue to lead Russia inquiry

The New York Times reports: The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee rebuffed calls on Tuesday to recuse himself from the panel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election, as Democrats accused him of stalling the inquiry by canceling the committee’s meetings.

Representative Devin Nunes of California, the chairman, said he would continue to lead the House investigation despite accusations from Democrats — including his committee’s ranking member, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California — that he is too close to President Trump to conduct an impartial inquiry.

“Why would I not?” Mr. Nunes told reporters on Tuesday morning. Pressed about concerns from Democrats, he added, “That sounds like their problem.”

The announcement that the committee would not hold a closed-door meeting on Tuesday as expected with James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director; and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency — a briefing Mr. Nunes insisted needed to happen before the committee could move forward with its public hearings — startled some Democrats. They added that the cancellations went further, including a regular meeting later in the week.

“Effectively, what has happened is the committee’s oversight, the oversight of our national intelligence apparatus, has come to a halt because of this particular issue,” he said. [Continue reading…]

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Boris Epshteyn named in July FISA application; did Nunes obstruct justice?

Louise Mensch writes: On November 7th, I reported at Heat Street that the FBI had obtained a FISA warrant covering the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

I reported that the FISA warrant had been granted after an earlier, failed application to the court in the summer named Trump and “at least three other men, who have either formed part of his campaign or acted as his media surrogates“.

Those names, sources said, were Donald Trump, with Paul Manafort and Carter Page (two men that had formed part of Trump’s campaign) and Boris Epshteyn, who at the time I reported, the eve of the election itself, had only acted as Mr. Trump’s media surrogate.

Since that time, Mr. Epshteyn has become a part of government as a Transition Team official and now at the White House and I feel able to be explicit as to the names sources gave me as forming part of the summer application to the court. [Continue reading…]

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Has Flynn made a deal with the FBI?

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Following the Russian money

Tim Weiner writes: Counterintelligence is long, hard work. Investigators need time to string along suspects — seeking the who, what, when, where and why of the case. The Federal Bureau of Investigation tries to build 3-D chronologies of who did what to whom. Agents usually follow the money, the best evidence. That’s how the feds got Al Capone: for tax evasion.

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, is running the most explosive counterintelligence case since Soviet spies stole the secrets of the atom bomb more than 70 years ago. Some of those atomic spies didn’t speak Russian: They were Americans. We now know that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia attacked American democracy by meddling in the 2016 election. Did he enlist American mercenaries?

A tantalizing clue came at the House Intelligence Committee hearing on Monday.

First, Democrats named names: the former Trump campaign director, Paul Manafort, dismissed shortly after the F.B.I.’s investigation started in late July; then the former Trump national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, who lost his job last month. Both appear to have had pecuniary ties to Mr. Putin’s allies — in Mr. Manafort’s case, a politician and an oligarch; in Mr. Flynn’s case, RT, the news and propaganda network.

Then Mr. Comey was asked to explain the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

“Sure,” the director said.

The act, known as FARA, is intended to prevent espionage or illicit foreign influence on American public opinion, policy and laws. It requires Americans acting as agents of a foreign government to register with the Justice Department. A willful failure to register can be a crime. [Continue reading…]

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