Russia scandal: from ‘kompromat’ to cover up?

Could this be the real reason for President Trump’s visit to the CIA on Saturday? Trump, in CIA visit, attacks media for coverage of his inaugural crowds.

McClatchy News service reported last week that FBI, 5 other agencies probe possible covert Kremlin aid to Trump:

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.

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, 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.

The informal, 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.

McClatchy references an earlier BBC report from last week, Trump ‘compromising’ claims: How and why did we get here?

[T]he CIA believes it is credible that the Kremlin has kompromat – or compromising material – on the next US commander in chief. At the same time a joint taskforce, which includes the CIA and the FBI, has been investigating allegations that the Russians may have sent money to Mr. Trump’s organisation or his election campaign.

* * *

Last April, the CIA director was shown intelligence that worried him. It was – allegedly – a tape recording of a conversation about money from the Kremlin going into the US presidential campaign.

It was passed to the US by an intelligence agency of one of the Baltic States. The CIA cannot act domestically against American citizens so a joint counter-intelligence taskforce was created.

The taskforce included six agencies or departments of government. Dealing with the domestic, US, side of the inquiry, were the FBI, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Justice. For the foreign and intelligence aspects of the investigation, there were another three agencies: the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Security Agency, responsible for electronic spying.

Lawyers from the National Security Division in the Department of Justice then drew up an application. They took it to the secret US court that deals with intelligence, the Fisa court, named after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. They wanted permission to intercept the electronic records from two Russian banks.

Their first application, in June, was rejected outright by the judge. They returned with a more narrowly drawn order in July and were rejected again. Finally, before a new judge, the order was granted, on 15 October, three weeks before election day.

Neither Mr. Trump nor his associates are named in the Fisa order, which would only cover foreign citizens or foreign entities – in this case the Russian banks. But ultimately, the investigation is looking for transfers of money from Russia to the United States, each one, if proved, a felony offence.

A lawyer- outside the Department of Justice but familiar with the case – told me that three of Mr. Trump’s associates were the subject of the inquiry. “But it’s clear this is about Trump,” he said.

The New York Times finally reported the story on Thursday. Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates:

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies are examining intercepted communications and financial transactions as part of a broad investigation into possible links between Russian officials and associates of President-elect Donald J. Trump, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, current and former senior American officials said.

The continuing counterintelligence investigation means that Mr. Trump [who took] the oath of office on Friday with his associates under investigation and after the intelligence agencies concluded that the Russian government had worked to help elect him. As president, Mr. Trump will oversee those agencies and have the authority to redirect or stop at least some of these efforts.

* * *

The counterintelligence investigation centers at least in part on the business dealings that some of the president-elect’s past and present advisers have had with Russia. Mr. Manafort has done business in Ukraine and Russia. Some of his contacts there were under surveillance by the National Security Agency for suspected links to Russia’s Federal Security Service, one of the officials said.

Mr. Manafort is among at least three Trump campaign advisers whose possible links to Russia are under scrutiny. Two others are Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign, and Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative ratfucker.

The F.B.I. is leading the investigations, aided by the National Security Agency, the C.I.A. and the Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit. The investigators have accelerated their efforts in recent weeks but have found no conclusive evidence of wrongdoing, the officials said. One official said intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.

Counterintelligence investigations examine the connections between American citizens and foreign governments. Those connections can involve efforts to steal state or corporate secrets, curry favor with American government leaders or influence policy. It is unclear which Russian officials are under investigation, or what particular conversations caught the attention of American eavesdroppers. The legal standard for opening these investigations is low, and prosecutions are rare.

* * *

The decision to open the investigations was not based on a dossier of salacious, uncorroborated allegations that were compiled by a former British spy working for a Washington research firm. The F.B.I. is also examining the allegations in that dossier, and a summary of its contents was provided to Mr. Trump earlier this month.

Representatives of the agencies involved declined to comment. Of the half-dozen current and former officials who confirmed the existence of the investigations, some said they were providing information because they feared the new administration would obstruct their efforts. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the cases.

The F.B.I. investigation into Mr. Manafort began last spring, and was an outgrowth of a criminal investigation into his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and for the country’s former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. In August, The Times reported that Mr. Manafort’s name had surfaced in a secret ledger that showed he had been paid millions in undisclosed cash payments. The Associated Press has reported that his work for Ukraine included a secret lobbying effort in Washington aimed at influencing American news organizations and government officials.

Mr. Stone, a longtime friend of Mr. Trump’s, said in a speech in Florida last summer that he had communicated with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that published the hacked Democratic emails. During the speech, Mr. Stone predicted further leaks of documents, a prediction that came true within weeks.

* * *

The Senate intelligence committee has started its own investigation into Russia’s purported attempts to disrupt the election. The committee’s inquiry is broad, and will include an examination of Russian hacking and possible ties between people associated with Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Investigators are also scrutinizing people on the periphery of Mr. Trump’s campaign, such as Mr. Page, a former Merrill Lynch banker who founded Global Energy Capital, an investment firm in New York that has done business with Russia.

* * *

The lingering investigations will pose a test for Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama, who has been nominated for attorney general. If Mr. Sessions is confirmed, he will for a time be the only person in the government authorized to seek foreign intelligence wiretaps on American soil.

Mr. Sessions said at his confirmation hearing that he would recuse himself from any investigations involving Mrs. Clinton. [Oddly] he was not asked whether he would do so in cases involving associates of Mr. Trump.

Nancy Le Tourneau at the Political Animal blog worries, Will We See Another ‘Saturday Night Massacre?’

[T]he whole thing could unfold in ways that are similar to what is often referred to as the “Saturday Night Massacre” during the Watergate investigation when Nixon fired Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, leading to the resignation of the Attorney General.

One would think that Trump would tread carefully, knowing this history. But throughout both the campaign and the transition, he has done nothing but react to this whole controversy by doing/saying things that reinforce the allegations. On the other hand, if Trump and his campaign were not involved with Russian attempts to influence the election, they would have nothing to fear from such an investigation – which would have the possibility of exonerating him. Which will it be Mr. Trump?

I’ve said before that the key to this investigation is the same as in Watergate, “follow the money.” This is exactly what the intelligence agencies are doing. But the question remains whether Trump will follow the example of his pal Richard Nixon and engage in a cover up.

It will take an aggressive Congress (which we do not have) and an aggressive media to get to the truth.

UPDATE 1/23/17: The Wall Street Journal reports, U.S. Eyes Michael Flynn’s Links to Russia (subscription required):

U.S. counterintelligence agents have investigated communications that President Donald Trump’s national security adviser had with Russian officials, according to people familiar with the matter.

Michael Flynn is the first person inside the White House under Mr. Trump whose communications are known to have faced scrutiny as part of investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency and Treasury Department to determine the extent of Russian government contacts with people close to Mr. Trump.

It isn’t clear when the counterintelligence inquiry began, whether it produced any incriminating evidence or if it is continuing. Mr. Flynn, a retired general who became national security adviser with Mr. Trump’s inauguration, plays a key role in setting U.S. policy toward Russia.

Michael Flynn has an office in the West Wing of the White House.

UPDATE: CNN is reporting that the investigation is ongoing. US investigating Flynn calls with Russian diplomat:

US investigators are scrutinizing late December calls between Mike Flynn, President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, and Russia’s ambassador to the US as part of a broader counterintelligence investigation of Russian activities in the US, law enforcement and intelligence officials told CNN.

The calls were captured by routine US eavesdropping targeting the Russian diplomats, according to the intelligence and law enforcement officials. But the officials said some of the content of the conversation raised enough potential concerns that investigators are still looking into the discussions, amid a broader concern about Russian intelligence-gathering activities in the United States.

The officials all stressed that so far there has been no determination of any wrongdoing.

FBI and intelligence officials briefed members of the Obama White House team before President Barack Obama left office about the Flynn calls to the Russian ambassador, sources said.

One response to “Russia scandal: from ‘kompromat’ to cover up?

  1. For Sure Not Tom

    Oh, he’s into the kinky, and Putin has him on a short leash.

    “There is never going to be a tape that shows up,” Trump told “Fox & Friends” co-host Ainsley Earhardt. “There is never going to be anything that shows up. I would be very embarrassed if a tape showed up. I would be doubly embarrassed. There is no tape.”

    I personally don’t care what consenting adults do in the privacy of their Russian hotel rooms, but that is a very, very poorly worded denial.