Federal investigators exploring whether Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Russian spies have seized on Trump and his associates' financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward, according to people familiar with the investigation.
The web of financial ties could offer a more concrete path toward potential prosecution than the broader and murkier questions of collusion in the 2016 campaign, these sources said.
One year after the FBI opened an investigation, the probe is now managed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections, alongside the ongoing scrutiny of possible illegal coordination with Russian spy agencies and alleged attempts by President Donald Trump and others to obstruct the FBI investigation. Even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia but involve Trump associates are being referred to the special counsel to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate, according to two law enforcement sources.
In the summer of 2016, US intelligence agencies noticed a spate of curious contacts between Trump campaign associates and suspected Russian intelligence, according to current and former US officials briefed on the investigation. James Comey, in his Senate testimony, said the FBI opened an investigation into Trump campaign-Russia connections in July 2016. The strands of the two investigations began to merge.
In the months that followed, investigators turned up intercepted communications appearing to show efforts by Russian operatives to coordinate with Trump associates on damaging Hillary Clinton's election prospects, officials said. CNN has learned those communications included references to campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
A year later, the FBI is reviewing financial records related to the Trump Organization, as well as Trump, his family members, including Donald Trump Jr., and campaign associates. They've combed through the list of shell companies and buyers of Trump-branded real estate properties and scrutinized the roster of tenants at Trump Tower reaching back more than a half-dozen years. They've looked at the backgrounds of Russian business associates connected to Trump surrounding the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. CNN could not determine whether the review has included his tax returns.
CNN has learned some of the investigators involved in the probe are buying liability insurance out of concern they could become targets of lawsuits from those who are being investigated, according to one of the people familiar with the probe. The Justice Department covers legal fees for employees sued in the course of their duties, but some of the lawyers want extra protection.
The possible financial ties between Trump and Russia were part of the concerns for US intelligence and law enforcement officials from the beginning, according to one current law enforcement official and one former US intelligence official.
Investigators are looking both at whether financial laws were broken and whether there are any dealings that could put the President or his associates in a compromising position.
"There's always been a concern about his exposure to blackmail in his financial dealings," says the person briefed on the investigation.
Much more here: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/08/03/p...ssia-trump-one-year-financial-ties/index.htmlEven at the FBI, there's a measure of frustration over the investigation.
After a highly contentious year investigating Hillary Clinton's private email servers and being accused of swinging the election against her, the FBI finds itself again where officials tried not to be: amid a politically treacherous investigation that has hobbled a new President.
Worse yet, some FBI officials fear the question of whether there was any criminal coordination or collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia may never be answered.
One challenge is that tantalizing pieces of intelligence are missing key links because they did not develop long enough for investigators to determine their significance. These include intercepts monitored by US intelligence that showed suggestions of illegal coordination but nothing overt.
Those missing links mean that the FBI and Mueller's prosecution team may not have enough evidence to bring charges related to possible illegal coordination with a foreign intelligence service. Instead, prosecutors could pursue financial crime charges unrelated to the election.