Mueller's team questioning Russian oligarchs

Special counsel Robert Mueller's team has taken the unusual step of questioning Russian oligarchs who traveled into t...

Posted: Apr 5, 2018 9:14 AM
Updated: Apr 5, 2018 9:14 AM

Special counsel Robert Mueller's team has taken the unusual step of questioning Russian oligarchs who traveled into the US, stopping at least one and searching his electronic devices when his private jet landed at a New York area airport, according to multiple sources familiar with the inquiry.

A second Russian oligarch was stopped during a recent trip to the US, although it is not clear if he was searched, according to a person briefed on the matter.

Mueller's team has also made an informal voluntary document and interview request to a third Russian oligarch who has not traveled to the US recently.

The situations have one thing in common: Investigators are asking whether wealthy Russians illegally funneled cash donations directly or indirectly into Donald Trump's presidential campaign and inauguration.

Investigators' interest in Russian oligarchs has not been previously reported. It reveals that Mueller's team has intensified its focus into the potential flow of money from Russia into the US election as part of its wide-ranging investigation into whether the Trump team colluded with Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The approach to Russian oligarchs in recent weeks may reflect that Mueller's team has already obtained records or documents that it has legal jurisdiction over and can get easily, one source said, and now it's a "wish list" to see what other information they can obtain from Russians entering the US or through their voluntary cooperation.

Foreign nationals are prohibited under campaign finance laws from donating to US political campaigns.

The sources did not share the names of the oligarchs but did describe the details of their interactions with the special counsel's team.

One area under scrutiny, sources say, is investments Russians made in companies or think tanks that have political action committees that donated to the campaign.

Another theory Mueller's office is pursuing, sources said, is whether wealthy Russians used straw donors -- Americans with citizenship -- as a vessel through which they could pump money into the campaign and inauguration fund.

The encounters with Russian oligarchs at American airports are another sign of the aggressive tactics Mueller's investigators are using to approach witnesses or people they are interested in speaking with.

"Prosecutors and investigators like the element of surprise when you can get more instinctive (and often truthful) responses," said Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor, in a text. Mueller's team is using search warrants to access electronic devices and, Goldman added, "surprise is crucial for those searches because you don't want anyone to wipe their phone."

In January, FBI agents stopped and questioned George Nader, a Middle East specialist, when he arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport. They imaged his electronic devices and subpoenaed him for testimony. Nader, who attended secret meetings during the transition between the United Arab Emirates and Trump associates, is cooperating with the investigation. Nader was in the Seychelles when Trump supporter Erik Prince met with Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive of the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund. Prince denied any wrongdoing when he spoke with congressional investigators.

Ted Malloch, a self-described informal Trump campaign adviser, last week issued a statement saying he was stopped in Boston when returning from an international trip by FBI agents who took his cellphone and questioned him about Republican political operative Roger Stone and WikiLeaks. Malloch is scheduled to appear before Mueller's grand jury on April 13.

Late last year Mueller's team asked some witnesses if they knew of Russians who made donations directly or indirectly to the Trump campaign, sources said.

Another source added that Mueller's investigators have asked about a handful of American citizens who were born in former Soviet states and maintain ties with those countries. This person said the inquiry appeared focused on Republican fundraising and how money flows into US politics. ABC News reported in September that Mueller's team has asked questions about the timing of contributions from US citizens with ties to Russia, citing a Republican campaign aide interviewed by Mueller's team.

Trump raised $333 million for his presidential campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. His inauguration committee raised a record $106.8 million, more than twice as much as any of his predecessors. Watchdog groups have criticized the committee for not fully disclosing how it spent the inauguration funds.

Another potential source of information for Mueller's investigators is Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign deputy chairman who pleaded guilty in February to financial fraud and lying to Mueller's team. Gates worked closely with Paul Manafort, who was Trump's campaign chairman for part of 2016, and stayed on as deputy chair of Trump's inaugural committee. As part of his plea agreement Gates is required to cooperate fully with Mueller's investigators and answer all their questions.

It isn't clear whether Mueller's team has identified illegal financing or if the questions are more exploratory. A spokesman for the special counsel declined to comment.

"One could say either money is fungible wherever it [ended] up," one source familiar with the inquiry said. Or Mueller's team could take the view that "you made a contribution for a purpose."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 501097

Reported Deaths: 9990
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34338538
DeSoto32117403
Hinds31939628
Jackson24494382
Rankin21995390
Lee15543235
Madison14581280
Jones13851242
Forrest13453251
Lauderdale11991317
Lowndes11050188
Lamar10521135
Pearl River9533237
Lafayette8550140
Hancock7732127
Washington7438158
Oktibbeha7146131
Monroe6777177
Warren6694176
Pontotoc6664102
Neshoba6637206
Panola6531131
Marshall6467134
Bolivar6317148
Union602894
Pike5820152
Alcorn5669101
Lincoln5436135
George496879
Scott472898
Tippah469281
Prentiss467281
Leflore4658144
Itawamba4636105
Tate4588111
Adams4587119
Copiah448592
Simpson4446116
Yazoo444187
Wayne439772
Covington428894
Sunflower4239105
Marion4226108
Coahoma4160105
Leake408288
Newton381779
Grenada3707108
Stone360364
Tishomingo359792
Attala331589
Jasper329965
Winston314291
Clay308076
Chickasaw300367
Clarke292494
Calhoun279446
Holmes267987
Smith264050
Yalobusha234047
Tallahatchie228051
Greene219348
Walthall218763
Lawrence212940
Perry205556
Amite205156
Webster202946
Noxubee186740
Montgomery179656
Jefferson Davis171743
Carroll169138
Tunica159839
Benton148838
Kemper141941
Choctaw133426
Claiborne132737
Humphreys129538
Franklin120228
Quitman106428
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94534
Sharkey64120
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 819597

Reported Deaths: 15406
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1147901924
Mobile725791338
Madison52306697
Shelby37597350
Baldwin37245552
Tuscaloosa35101612
Montgomery34106740
Lee23526246
Calhoun22225488
Morgan20941378
Etowah19825500
Marshall18361304
Houston17384412
St. Clair16054339
Cullman15443293
Limestone15343199
Elmore15241286
Lauderdale14302295
Talladega13836283
DeKalb12649261
Walker11202370
Blount10192176
Autauga10043148
Jackson9871184
Coffee9210191
Dale8897185
Colbert8860201
Tallapoosa7084198
Escambia6772134
Covington6712183
Chilton6641162
Russell636659
Franklin5959105
Chambers5607142
Marion5005127
Dallas4973200
Pike4795106
Clarke475584
Geneva4571127
Winston4516103
Lawrence4321117
Bibb425186
Barbour357776
Marengo338090
Monroe331464
Randolph329764
Butler326396
Pickens316284
Henry312666
Hale311388
Cherokee302860
Fayette292880
Washington251551
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245275
Clay243368
Macon234663
Lamar224147
Conecuh186153
Coosa180240
Lowndes175164
Wilcox168839
Bullock151644
Perry138840
Sumter133038
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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