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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."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 581335

Reported Deaths: 7267
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1206301710
Ramsey50221865
Dakota44921441
Anoka40688432
Washington26275278
Stearns21864220
St. Louis17475302
Scott16941123
Wright15685135
Olmsted1308297
Sherburne1136784
Carver1029545
Clay806892
Rice7920104
Blue Earth736041
Crow Wing650687
Kandiyohi646681
Chisago579751
Otter Tail565877
Benton558897
Goodhue469972
Mower459432
Douglas458774
Winona447350
McLeod416558
Itasca416253
Morrison412660
Isanti407062
Nobles406348
Beltrami386258
Steele379115
Polk378567
Becker374049
Lyon356850
Carlton340152
Freeborn338929
Pine323321
Nicollet320243
Brown302740
Mille Lacs297252
Le Sueur284722
Todd277131
Cass264828
Meeker249638
Waseca234821
Martin227131
Roseau204519
Wabasha20293
Hubbard182941
Dodge18073
Renville177543
Redwood170636
Houston166915
Cottonwood161921
Fillmore153710
Pennington153219
Wadena152121
Chippewa151238
Faribault149419
Kanabec141824
Sibley140610
Aitkin132836
Watonwan12979
Rock126819
Jackson120911
Pipestone113626
Yellow Medicine113420
Pope10766
Murray10529
Swift103818
Stevens88011
Marshall87417
Clearwater85416
Koochiching80914
Lake80519
Wilkin79612
Lac qui Parle74822
Big Stone5924
Lincoln5723
Grant5638
Mahnomen5408
Norman5369
Unassigned51793
Kittson48222
Red Lake3947
Traverse3675
Lake of the Woods3173
Cook1550

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 364143

Reported Deaths: 5900
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57127619
Linn20675333
Scott19714239
Black Hawk15734307
Woodbury15078228
Johnson1438283
Dubuque13308207
Dallas1108797
Pottawattamie11021166
Story1052948
Warren571488
Clinton550792
Cerro Gordo534689
Sioux511674
Webster510892
Marshall480775
Muscatine472999
Des Moines450366
Wapello4278122
Buena Vista423940
Jasper412770
Plymouth399979
Lee371955
Marion360075
Jones296457
Henry290237
Carroll284352
Bremer282360
Crawford264140
Boone262334
Benton254955
Washington252250
Dickinson247343
Mahaska228850
Jackson220642
Clay214625
Kossuth214564
Tama208871
Delaware208040
Winneshiek196333
Page191921
Buchanan190331
Cedar188623
Hardin184443
Fayette184341
Wright183136
Harrison179073
Hamilton178949
Clayton168456
Butler163734
Mills161321
Madison159719
Floyd159442
Cherokee158338
Lyon157541
Poweshiek154533
Allamakee150251
Iowa147924
Hancock146534
Winnebago140631
Cass137654
Grundy136032
Calhoun135313
Emmet133040
Jefferson132135
Shelby130337
Sac129819
Appanoose127847
Louisa127849
Union127332
Mitchell125642
Chickasaw123515
Guthrie120629
Humboldt118726
Franklin116221
Palo Alto112123
Howard104122
Montgomery102437
Unassigned9990
Clarke99324
Keokuk95431
Monroe95028
Ida90234
Adair86032
Pocahontas85422
Monona82830
Davis81324
Osceola77716
Greene77310
Lucas76823
Worth7338
Taylor65612
Fremont6209
Decatur6059
Van Buren55618
Ringgold54424
Wayne53123
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