Ever wondered whether President Trump seemed too cozy with Russia? You weren’t alone: the F.B.I. had the very same concern. Even before Robert Mueller began looking into potential obstruction of justice and Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, a formal inquiry sought to determine if President Trump had been working to undermine American interests on Russia’s behalf.
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The New York Times reveals that Trump’s May 2017 dismissal of then-F.B.I. director James Comey triggered both criminal and counterintelligence investigations into the president, days before special counsel Robert Mueller took them over. Senior F.B.I. officials had previously resisted a full investigation of Trump’s relationship with Russia, given the sensitive political climate, but were convinced to act by Trump repeatedly tying Comey’s dismissal to the Russia investigation.
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In the days after Comey’s firing, Trump intervened in deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein ’s efforts to avoid mentioning the Russia investigation in a letter explaining the dismissal. Not only did Trump publicly emphasize that Comey said he was not a subject of the F.B.I.’s Russia investigation—but the president also explicitly told NBC News’ Lester Holt that his feelings on Russia pushed him to fire Comey. “I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it,” he said in a May interview after the firing. “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”
It is unclear whether Robert Mueller has continued pursuing the counterintelligence angle of the F.B.I.’s investigation. Following the Times report, an incensed Trump repeated many of his Russia talking points on Twitter:
Former F.B.I. general counsel James A. Baker testified before House investigators in October, saying that firing Comey explicitly linked both criminal and counterintelligence aspects of the agency’s inquiry. “Not only would it be an issue of obstructing an investigation, but the obstruction itself would hurt our ability to figure out what the Russians had done, and that is what would be the threat to national security,” said Baker. He apparently didn’t acknowledge the official investigation, though Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani , emphasized Friday that little had come of it (yet). “The fact that it goes back a year and a half and nothing came of it that showed a breach of national security means they found nothing,”said Giuliani.
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The F.B.I. already had its eyes on Trump’s Russia ties before the spring of 2017, given his public suggestion in 2016 that hackers investigate Hillary Clinton ’s emails, as well as allegations in the now-infamous Steele dossier. At the time, officials were also concerned the existence of an investigation into the president could be leaked to the news media. Those apprehensive of the inquiry were reportedly validated days later, when Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
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