Last August, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid sent James Comey a fiery letter saying the FBI chief may have broken the law and pointed to a potentially greater controversy: "In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government…The public has a right to know this information."
Reid's missive set off a burst of speculation on Twitter and elsewhere. What was he referring to regarding the Republican presidential nominee? At the end of August, Reid had written to Comey and demanded an investigation of the "connections between the Russian government and Donald Trump's presidential campaign," and in that letter he indirectly referred to Carter Page, an American businessman cited by Trump as one of his foreign policy advisers, who had financial ties to Russia and had recently visited Moscow. Last month, Yahoo News reported that US intelligence officials were probing the links between Page and senior Russian officials. (Page has called accusations against him "garbage.") On Monday, NBC News reported that the FBI has mounted a preliminary inquiry into the foreign business ties of Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chief. But Reid's recent note hinted at more than the Page or Manafort affairs. And a former senior intelligence officer for a Western country who specialized in Russian counterintelligence tells Mother Jones that in recent months he provided the bureau with memos, based on his recent interactions with Russian sources, contending the Russian government has for years tried to co-opt and assist Trump—and that the FBI requested more information from him.
"This is something of huge significance, way above party politics," the former intelligence officer says. "I think [Trump's] own party should be aware of this stuff as well."
Does this mean the FBI is investigating whether Russian intelligence has attempted to develop a secret relationship with Trump or cultivate him as an asset? Was the former intelligence officer and his material deemed credible or not? An FBI spokeswoman says, "Normally, we don't talk about whether we are investigating anything."
A key aspect of the scandal surrounding Russia and its efforts to elect Donald Trump is the hacking operation, which stole Democratic materials. But as Reuters reported, that wasn’t the only element of the broader espionage operation.
A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.
They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, after the election.
The FBI gathered intelligence last summer that suggests Russian operatives tried to use Trump advisers, including Carter Page, to infiltrate the Trump campaign, according to US officials.
The new information adds to the emerging picture of how the Russians tried to influence the 2016 election, not only through email hacks and propaganda but also by trying to infiltrate the Trump orbit. The intelligence led to an investigation into the coordination of Trump's campaign associates and the Russians.
These officials made clear they don't know whether Page was aware the Russians may have been using him. Because of the way Russian spy services operate, Page could have unknowingly talked with Russian agents.
The intelligence suggests Russia tried to infiltrate the inner-workings of the Trump campaign by using backdoor channels to communicate with people in the Trump orbit, US officials say.
Page is one of several Trump advisers US and European intelligence found to be in contact with Russian officials and other Russians known to Western intelligence during the campaign, according to multiple US officials. The scope and frequency of those contacts raised the interest of US intelligence agencies. The FBI and CIA declined to comment on Page's statement.
In 2013, Page had meetings with a Russian man who turned out to be a spy, according to federal prosecutors. Page denied knowing that the man, Victor Podobnyy, was secretly a Russian operative living in New York.
As CNN first reported, Carter Page's speech critical of US policy against Russia in July 2016 at a prominent Moscow university drew the attention of the FBI and raised concerns he had been compromised by Russian intelligence, according to US officials. They also feared that Russian operatives maintained contact with him both in the United States and Russia, US officials say.
His conversations with suspected Russian operatives are being examined as part of a large intelligence-gathering operation by the FBI and other US agencies that was set up to probe Russia's interference in the election. The officials would not say what the conversations were about.
How Page's name became associated with the campaign is a reflection of how minimal the Trump operation was last year, as establishment national security figures avoided an association with the insurgent operation.
Page wrote to the House Intelligence committee offering to testify, Page describes more interactions with the campaign. The FBI had Page on their radar for at least four years, according to court documents and US officials.
Former CIA Director James Woolsey was an adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign. He eventually quit during the transition period, diplomatically suggesting that his role had run its course. But he’s now publicly disclosing something which may have been a factor. Last summer Michael Flynn brought Woolsey along to a meeting with representatives from the Turkish government, where they discussed theoretical plans for abducting Turkish dissident Fethullah Gulen from his home in Pennsylvania and shipping him back to Turkey. During the same meeting, Flynn tried to hire Woolsey as a consultant to his firm, in the name of furthering this plot against Gulen.
April 21, 2017
This may be of some interest to the DOJ official overseeing the FBI’s ongoing counter-intelligence investigation, but as Politico reported, it turns out, she’s leaving her post.
The Justice Department official who is leading the government’s investigation into potential collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government will step down next month.
Mary McCord, who has served as acting assistant attorney general for national security since October, informed DOJ employees this week that she will be leaving in mid-May, a spokesman confirmed to POLITICO.
DOJ’s National Security Division is leading the agency’s inquiry into possible links between Trump campaign aides and Moscow, as well as the Kremlin’s alleged digital meddling campaign during the 2016 presidential race. This does not mean that the investigation is over, but Rachel spoke about this last night with Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesperson, who raised an under-appreciated point.
McCord, who’s now stepping down for reasons that haven’t been publicly disclosed, is a career Justice Department official, not a political appointee, who’s had a hands-on, day-to-day oversight role in the counter-intelligence investigation. Once she steps down, it’s possible, if not likely, that the DOJ will replace her with a political appointee, chosen by Team Trump, at least temporarily.
You see the problem: Team Trump is the subject of the investigation Mary McCord has helped lead. Indeed, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who’s been accused of lying under oath about his own communications with Russian officials, has recused himself from the investigation, but it may soon fall to him to choose McCord’s acting successor.
It’s why Matthew Miller said last night, “I think it would be hugely troubling if [the Trump administration] put a political appointee, who had not been nominated, not been confirmed by the Senate into this job to investigate the president…. Eventually, I think it has to be a special counsel, but short of that, it has to be an acting career person until someone can be confirmed by the Senate.”