VOL. 41 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 31, 2017
No sign probes into Russia, Trump campaign will die down
WASHINGTON (AP) — An FBI investigation and congressional probes into the Trump campaign and contacts with Russia continue to shadow the administration, each new development a focus of White House press briefings and attention on Capitol Hill.
President Donald Trump has dismissed the story as "fake news" and raised allegations of politically inspired spying by the Obama administration, but the investigations show no sign of abating anytime soon.
Here's a look at some key details:
FBI Director James Comey told Congress last month that an investigation examining Russian interference in the presidential election, and potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, began in late July.
The probe followed revelations that Russian hackers broke into the computer network of the Democratic National Committee, a hack U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts have publicly tied to Russian intelligence services. Stolen emails to and from top Democratic Party officials, including then-DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were released to the public last summer on the secret-sharing website WikiLeaks, followed in the fall by the hacked messages of John Podesta, the campaign chairman of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
U.S. intelligence agencies have been blunt in their assessment that the hacks of Democratic email accounts were intended to benefit Trump and harm Clinton, his Democratic opponent.
The FBI is conducting a counterintelligence investigation exploring how Russia, in the last year, covertly sought to influence the American presidential election on Trump's behalf.
Investigations like this one that examine the operations of foreign intelligence services on U.S. soil are heavily classified, historically time-consuming and rarely result in criminal charges. It's not clear when this one will end or whether anything criminal will be found, though Comey has said the investigation is being done with an eye on whether any laws were broken.
The House and Senate intelligence committees are conducting their own, simultaneous investigations. Republicans in Congress are concerned that classified material was improperly leaked to the news media and that communications of Trump associates had been improperly disseminated throughout government agencies.
The House probe has been riven by discord, with the top Democrat seeking the recusal of the Republican chairman, Devin Nunes of California, after Nunes said he had met with a secret source at the White House to review classified material that he said indicated that communications of Trump associates were captured in "incidental" surveillance of foreigners.
Numerous figures in the Trump orbit have come under scrutiny for communications with Russians, though each has denied doing anything improper — and no one has been charged with any crime.
Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was interviewed by the FBI in the early days of the Trump administration about communications he had with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the transition period. The White House fired him in February after concluding that he had not been truthful about those conversations.
Republican strategist Roger Stone has said he communicated with Guccifer 2.0, the unnamed hacker that has taken credit for breaking into the DNC servers. But Stone has denied that he worked with Russian officials to influence the presidential election.
Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, met with a Russian intelligence operative in 2013 and provided him documents about the energy industry, according to court documents from a 2015 prosecution alleging a Cold War-style spy ring in New York. Page, referred to in the filing as "Male-1," is not accused of wrongdoing and said in a statement that he shared "basic immaterial information and publicly available research documents."
Meanwhile, Justice Department officials have scrutinized the business dealings of Paul Manafort, who was fired in August as Trump's campaign chairman. The Associated Press has reported that Manafort worked for Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2005 and proposed an ambitious plan to promote the interests of "the Putin government" and undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics.
Trump has sought to dismiss the story as "fake" and has countered with his own allegations of politically motivated spying by the Obama administration. The White House has also tried to publicly minimize the contributions either to the campaign or administration of some of the individuals whose names have surfaced as part of the investigation, such as Manafort and Flynn.
Trump took to Twitter last month to accuse President Barack Obama of having wiretapped him at Trump Tower, his New York skyscraper, during the campaign. Law enforcement, congressional and intelligence officials have called that allegation untrue.
The latest flare-up came this week amid revelations that Susan Rice, Obama's national security adviser, had asked spy agencies to give her the names of Trump associates who surfaced in intelligence reports she was regularly briefed on.
In an interview with MSNBC, Rice acknowledged that she had sometimes asked for the names of Americans who were referenced in reports, but denied that she or anyone else in the administration had used those reports for political intelligence purposes. Trump said the following day that he believed Rice had committed a crime.
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