Thursday, January 19, 2017

FBI, CIA, NSA and others began investigating Russia for tampering with our election in spring 2016

McKlatchey reporters Peter Stone and Greg Gordon have reported that "The FBI and five other law enforcement and intelligence agencies have collaborated for months in an investigation into Russian attempts to influence the November election, including whether money from the Kremlin covertly aided President-elect Donald Trump."

Involved along with the FBI were the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the Treasury Department, and the Director of National Intelligence.  One question is whether Kremlin money may have been used covertly to help Trump, according to two sources.  Not overt campaign contributions, however, but more likely something like giving money to intermediaries who would pass it along to hackers.

These investigations were ongoing long before the FBI obtained the information from the former British spy, which was made available to President Obama, President-elect Trump, and the leaders of Congress less than two weeks ago.

Mr. Trump has tweeted the following:  "Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA - NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING."

Nevertheless, according to the McKlatchy news story, "the U.S. intelligence agencies have been unanimous in blaming Russia for the hacking of Democrats’ computers but also have concluded that the leaking and dissemination of thousands of emails of top Democrats . . . were done to help Trump win."   They also, however, said that they did not make an assessment of the effect on the outcome of the election.   They did not, as Republicans have claimed, say that it did not affect it, only that they did not attempt to determine that.

However, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Sunday's "Meet the Press" that she believes Russia's tactics did alter the election results.   The Senate Intelligence Committee has now opened an investigation of its own into Russia’s involvement and will have subpoena power.

The former British M16 spy, Christopher Steele, who investigated this, met with an FBI official last June;  and by early December Sen. John McCain gave FBI Director James Comey a copy of a 35 page compilation of Steele's reports, which were published by BuzzFeed with a caveat that there were obvious errors and that the evidence had not been corroborated.

This is the problem when anything less than fully corroborated news is made public.   The errors are used by those hurt by the report to dismiss any truth in the report at all.  Thus, President-elect Trump and President Vladimir Putin have both dismissed the whole thing as "fake news," and accused Obama administration officials as trying to undermine Trumps legitimacy.

However, the BBC has reported independently that the FBI obtained a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to examine bank records and other evidence of money transfers related to Russia.   Others with knowledge have said that such warrants are not issued unless there is evidence of probable cause that it is likely to produce evidence incriminating a foreign power or its agent.

Given that the Stelle reports did not meet that standard, and if in fact they have obtained a FISA warrant, it indicates that additional evidence exists beyond what has been made public thus far.  That is an important fact to keep in mind.

Rather than showing concern over a foreign power influencing our electoral process, Donald Trump has continued to tweet out his lack of concern, such as:  "Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only "stupid" people, or fools, would think that it is bad!"  On another occasion, he said:  “When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now and both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!”

We have Trump's obvious admiration for Putin, calling him a stronger leader than Obama.  His comments all along have been to play down any worry, even any reason to investigate.  We have the multiple people in the Trump organization, including his National Security Adviser, his former campaign manager, and his nominee for Secretary of State -- all with strong ties to Russia.   Why did NSA Michael Flynn call the Russian ambassador five times on the day that Obama announced the sanctions against Russia for the hacking?

Why -- with all this -- does Trump only want to shut down any concerns about his ties to Russia?    Even if there is nothing there, no connections at all -- why would a president-elect not at least try to explain the seemingly obvious connections and reassure the American people, rather than just sweeping it under the rug?   Unless there's something to hide.

As he tries to imply, this lack of concern may simply signal a strategy of reaching out to Putin with the hope of establishing a new direction in U.S.-Russian relations.   On the other hand, it could be that all the suspicions about Trump and Russia are true -- and that we are about to inaugurate as president someone who either has been bought, brain-washed, or compromised by a foreign adversary.

And what t


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