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Russia Investigation

Source inside Trump campaign reported concerns to FBI, new transcript reveals

  • Senator Feinstein releases testimony from Fusion GPS boss Glenn Simpson
  • Fusion GPS compiled explosive dossier on Trump campaign and Russians
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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Source inside Trump campaign reported concerns to FBI, new transcript suggests” was written by Alan Yuhas in New York, Julian Borger in Washington and Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 9th January 2018 22.30 UTC

A source within the Trump campaign reported concerns to the FBI, according to the man behind a controversial dossier on Donald Trump, a new transcript suggests.

Senator Dianne Feinstein on Tuesday unilaterally released the transcript of a congressional interview with Glenn Simpson, whose research firm, Fusion GPS, was behind the dossier on alleged contacts between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.

The dossier – compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele – makes an allegation that there was a “conspiracy of cooperation” between Russian agents and the Trump campaign, and the president has frequently scorned it since its publication last January.

According to the transcript, Simpson told Congress that Steele, the former British spy, stopped sharing information with the FBI just one week before the US election because of concerns that the law enforcement agency was being “manipulated” by Trump insiders.

According to Simpson, Steele “severed his relationship with the FBI” after the New York Times published a story in late October 2016 that said agents had not found “any conclusive or direct link between Mr Trump and the Russian government”.

Steele was concerned “that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people and that we didn’t really understand what was going on”.

Feinstein’s decision to make the transcript public renews a fierce debate about transparency surrounding the whole Russia-collusion investigation.

Elsewhere in his 312-page testimony, Simpson told the senators that “an internal Trump campaign source” or “a human source from inside the Trump organization” had reported his or her concerns to the FBI.

Simpson said that this information was drawn from Steele after the FBI “had debriefed him” that fall.

However, a person close to the matter suggested Simpson had got some details wrong about the human source during his evidence session in August and was actually alluding to the role of George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, who shared knowledge of the Russian hacking of Democratic party emails with an Australian diplomat.

Papadopoulos is cooperating with the ongoing federal investigation into the Trump campaign as a part of a plea deal that he reached with prosecutors after admitting he lied in his first interview with the FBI.

Steele had been compiling the dossier during the 2016 presidential campaign and approached the FBI, according to Simpson, because “he thought from his perspective there was an issue – a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed”.

“He honed [sic] in on this issue of blackmail as being a significant national security issue,” Simpson said.

Simpson cautioned that he was paraphrasing Steele’s account, and added: “we did not have the detailed conversations where he would debrief me on his discussions with the FBI.”

He added: “I think it was a voluntary source, someone who was concerned about the same concerns we had. It was someone who decided to pick up the phone and report something.”

He said that Steele did not rely on this source for his work with the firm.

Beyond Mueller

Three separate congressional committees are investigating Russian tampering in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign: the Senate judiciary and intelligence committees, and the House intelligence committee.

The committees have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents. The list of witnesses to have been interviewed so far is long, and includes  Donald Trump Jr and Jared Kushner, as well as lesser figures such as former adviser Carter Page; Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, which commissioned the Steele dossier; and Ben Rhodes, the former Obama adviser.

Senate intelligence committee

The most aggressive of the three committees so far, with a reasonable appearance of bipartisanship. Republican chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina said in October that the question of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives remained open. But Burr has also said the committee was not focused on “criminal acts” but a larger picture. The committee notably heard testimony from James Comey after the former FBI director was fired.

Senate judiciary committee

Hampered early on by partisan disagreement about the scope of its investigation, the committee has interviewed top witnesses including Donald Trump Jr and has taken a particular focus on the firing of James Comey. But the committee has deferred to Mueller in the investigation of Paul Manafort and has interviewed fewer witnesses than others.

House intelligence committee

Riven by partisan conflict, the committee appears to be on track to produce two reports – one from each party. Chairman Devin Nunes recused himself from the inquiry in March after Trump tweeted that Barack Obama had “tapp[ed] my phones” and Nunes, in an apparent attempt to defend the president, revealed that some communications involving Trump aides had been intercepted by US surveillance programs.

Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, said she released the transcript because “the American people deserve the opportunity to see what he said and judge for themselves”.

“The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice,” Feinstein said in a statement. “The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.”

The Senate and House intelligence committees have also interviewed Simpson, but have not released any transcripts. Last week Simpson, a former journalist, requested in an op-ed in the New York Times that the committee release the transcript. The Republican head of the Senate judiciary committee, Chuck Grassley, declined to release the document and instead asked Simpson to testify in public.

In his 10-hour 22 August interview with the Senate committee, Simpson said that the firm’s research into Trump’s past began as “a kind of holistic examination” of his business record. “It evolved somewhat quickly into issues of his relationships to organized crime figures, but you know, really the gamut of Donald Trump,” Simpson said.

Simpson also defended Steele, saying that the well-respected former intelligence officer “has a sterling reputation as a person who doesn’t exaggerate, doesn’t make things up, doesn’t sell baloney”.

By late September 2016, Simpson said, he had asked Steele about contacts with the FBI, with whom the British researcher had spoken. “By then it was obvious there was a crime in progress,” Simpson said. “So I was curious whether he’d heard back.”

Pressed about this claim, Simpson said: “Espionage. They were hacking into the computers of Democrats and thinktanks. That’s a computer crime.”

Steele has said he reported his concerns to the FBI in the summer of 2016.

Simpson said that it was Steele’s decision to take what he had discovered to the FBI in early July, explaining that the former MI6 officer felt a sense of responsibility.

“Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and … he said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government about this information,” Simpson said. “He thought from his perspective there was an issue – a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed.”

In his testimony, Simpson repeatedly praised Steele, his skills and his reliability, pointing out that the former British intelligence officer was the “lead Russianist at MI6” who was “extremely well regarded”.

He described Steele, who he said he hired in May or June of 2016, as “basically a boy scout”.

“He worked for the government for a very long time. He lives a very modest, quiet life, and this is his specialty,” Simpson said.

“We got along very well because my speciality is public information. So he was comfortable working with me and I was comfortable working with him and, you know, we’ve both been around a lot of criminal investigations and national security stuff.”

Simpson said that while he and his colleagues at Fusion focused on the analysis of documents, Steele’s strength was his personal contacts to sources in Moscow and the Trump camp, drawing on his intelligence background. He said that at the time Steele was hired, the alleged Trump links to the Kremlin were an open secret in Moscow.

“The thing that people forget about what was going on in June of 2016 was that no one was really focused on sort of this question of whether Donald Trump had a relationship with the Kremlin. So, you know, when Chris started asking around in Moscow about this the information was sitting there. It wasn’t a giant secret,” Simpson said.

“People were talking about it freely. It was only later that it became a subject of great controversy and people clammed up, and at that time the whole issue of the hacking was also, you know, not really focused on Russia. So these things eventually converged into, you know, a major issue, but at the time it wasn’t one.”

In a statement, Grassley’s office excoriated Feinstein for the release, saying she had not consulted with him. Her decision “undermines the integrity” of the investigation, he said, and “jeopardizes its ability to secure candid voluntary testimony”, including from the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

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Russia Investigation

Robert Mueller files 32 new fraud charges against ex-Trump aides

The move marks the latest step in ratcheting up pressure on former Trump campaign aides Paul Manafort and Rick Gates

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Robert Mueller files 32 new fraud charges against ex-Trump aides” was written by Julian Borger in Washington, for The Guardian on Friday 23rd February 2018 01.21 UTC

More than 30 new charges, involving millions of dollars of bank and tax fraud, were filed on Thursday against Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his business partner.

The 32 new charges were filed by Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and a Russian intelligence operation to skew the 2016 presidential election.

The move marks the latest step in ratcheting up pressure on Manafort, and Rick Gates, his business partner who was deputy chairman of the Trump campaign. Gates has been reported to be negotiating a cooperation deal with Mueller’s office, which is in turn likely to significantly increase the pressure on Manafort to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation into collusion.

The new charges come on top of the original 12-count indictment of Manafort and Gates in October, which focused on money-laundering and failure to register as a foreign agent.

No trial date has yet been set for Manafort or Gates, and Manafort remains under house arrest, as the special counsel’s office has argued against his lawyers’ bail proposals, questioning the true value of his assets.

In a statement, Manafort’s spokesman reiterated his client’s innocence, adding: “The new allegations against Mr Manafort, once again, have nothing to do with Russia and 2016 election interference/collusion. Mr Manafort is confident that he will be acquitted and violations of his constitutional rights will be remedied.”

The new charge sheet portrays the two men as resorting to increasingly desperate efforts to keep money flowing to finance extravagant lifestyles, when contracts from their main clients, pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, dried up after 2014, when the Moscow-backed president, Viktor Yanukovych fled to Russia.

Manafort and Gates are alleged to have used elaborate schemes, starting in 2006, to hide their Ukrainian income from US tax authorities, through offshore accounts, and describing cash transfers as loans.

After the Ukrainian funds evaporated, the two men are alleged to have falsified profit and loss and asset statements so that Manafort could convince banks to make loans based on collateral that either did not exist or was grossly exaggerated. The new loans were used as spending money or to pay off older loans that had fallen due.

Paul Manafort served for five months as chairman of the Trump campaign, resigning in August 2016 after past payments he had received for work in the former Soviet bloc came to light. Investigators are believed to be scrutinizing Manafort’s contacts with Russians during the campaign, including an offer by Manafort to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska in July 2016 to provide “private briefings” on the US presidential race.

Manafort, 68, was charged on 30 October with multiple federal felonies unconnected with his campaign duties. The charges included money laundering, tax fraud and conspiracy. Prosecutors accuse Manafort of using shell companies and tax havens to launder tens of millions of dollars in payments from Kremlin-backed political parties in Ukraine and other employers.

Manafort pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Manafort brought deep political experience to the Trump campaign. He had helped incumbent president Gerald Ford beat back a challenge for the nomination by Ronald Reagan at the 1976 Republican national convention and later built a lobbying business in Washington that specialised in unsavory clients around the world. Read more about Manafort’s career here.

“Manafort and Gates fraudulently secured more than twenty million dollars in loans by falsely inflating Manafort’s and his company’s income and by failing to disclose existing debt in order to qualify for the loans,” the special prosecutor indictment said.

At one point, according to the charge sheet, Manafort’s ability to get new credit was affected by a 0,000 American Express credit card bill that was more than 90 days in arrears. Manafort got Gates to write a letter saying he had borrowed Manafort’s card and had run up the charges and would repay them.

Manafort is alleged to have made false statements about his income as recently as October last year. The charges refer on three occasions to another conspirator. It is not clear whether the same co-conspirator is being referred to in each case or whether they refer to more than one person. In one case, the co-conspirator is described as working at one of the lenders that was defrauded.

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Russia Investigation

Former Trump aide Gates to plead guilty, agrees to testify against Manafort, reports say

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WASHINGTON — A former top aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign will plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days �� and has made it clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul Manafort, the lawyer-lobbyist who once managed the campaign. The change of heart by Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, Rick Gates, who had pleaded… (more…)

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Russia Investigation

DOJ charges 13 Russian nationals with interfering in 2016 election

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Robert Mueller’s office charges 13 Russian nationals, 3 Russian entities with interfering in US political process. Indictment says Russians used fake online personas to support Donald Trump & Bernie Sanders, and to spread derogatory information about Hillary Clinton.

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