Criminal Justice

Russia probe began with FBI's secretive 'Crossfire Hurricane' investigation

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The probe of Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election began in the summer of that year when an Australian ambassador in London met with FBI agents.

Ambassador Alexander Downer revealed that Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told him during a night of drinking that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton, the New York Times reports. The story is based on interviewes with a dozen current and former officials, many of whom spoke anonymously, as well as a review of documents.

Papadopoulos had his information before online publication of the hacked Democratic emails. The FBI opened an investigation with the code name “Crossfire Hurricane,” a reference to a Rolling Stones lyric.

Meanwhile, retired British spy named Christopher Steele told an FBI official in July 2016 about suspected links between Trump campaign officials and Russia. He had learned the information while preparing a report for a company gathering information for Trump opponents. According to the Times, his documents “meandered around the FBI organizational chart” and did not reach Crossfire Hurricane agents until mid-September. FBI agents went to Europe to meet with Steele in October.

Steele was frustrated with the FBI’s slow response, and began giving his findings to journalists before the meeting. The Times contacted the FBI about his claims, which acknowledged the investigation in late October but urged restraint because there was no proof of involvement in Russian hacking.

The Oct. 31 article reported the FBI had opened an investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign, but it didn’t appear until the 10th paragraph of the story. The Times also says its headline, “Investigating Donald Trump, FBI Sees No Clear Link to Russia,” gave “an air of finality to an investigation that was just beginning.”

From the start, the FBI was trying to keep a lid on the investigation. The agency had calculated that Clinton would win the election, and any actions affecting Trump would add fuel to his claims that the election was rigged against him.

The FBI was so secretive about the investigation that it initially alerted only five Justice Department officials about the case because the agency feared leaks, according to the Times. Usually about a dozen people in the Justice Department would be notified.

The FBI didn’t quickly interview key Trump associates because of fears it would reveal the investigation. It wasn’t until January 2017 that the FBI interviewed Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty last October to lying to the FBI in connection with the probe.

The probe became a special counsel investigation one year ago.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told the Times he saw no evidence of political motivation in the opening of the investigation and no evidence that the FBI wanted to undermine Trump.

“There might have been individual agents that had views that, in hindsight, have been problematic for those agents,” Rubio said. “But whether that was a systemic effort, I’ve seen no evidence of it.”

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