Why We Still Don’t Know If Trump Is a Russian Asset

The president shut down the counterintelligence investigation. That’s not how an innocent man behaves.

As chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff is attempting to meet the Supreme Court’s guidelines for gaining access to Donald Trump’s financial records. In a memorandum to committee members on counterintelligence risks posed by the president’s financial ties, he included this footnote:

Based on the Committee’s review, it does not appear that Special Counsel Mueller issued any grand jury subpoenas to obtain the President’s financial records. The Committee also has reason to believe, based on its oversight work, that the FBI Counterintelligence Division has not investigated counterintelligence risks arising from President Trump’s foreign financial ties.

That points to a question Schiff has been asking since the Mueller probe was completed in March, 2019.  Here’s how he explained it to the Washington Post‘s Philip Bump a few weeks after Mueller wrapped up his work :

Just as a reminder, this all began as an FBI counterintelligence investigation into whether people around then-candidate Trump were acting as witting or unwitting agents of a foreign power. So it began as a counterintelligence investigation, not as a criminal investigation. Now obviously a criminal case — many criminal cases — were spun off of this but we don’t know what happened to the counterintelligence investigation that James Comey opened.

Schiff told Bump that once FBI Director James Comey was fired in May 2017, intelligence briefings on this matter ended and he had not been able to determine if the counterintelligence investigation had been closed. Apparently it had, which is what Michael Schmidt just reported in the New York Times.

The Justice Department secretly took steps in 2017 to narrow the investigation into Russian election interference and any links to the Trump campaign, according to former law enforcement officials, keeping investigators from completing an examination of President Trump’s decades-long personal and business ties to Russia…

[L]aw enforcement officials never fully investigated Mr. Trump’s own relationship with Russia, even though some career F.B.I. counterintelligence investigators thought his ties posed such a national security threat that they took the extraordinary step of opening an inquiry into them. Within days, the former deputy attorney general Rod J. Rosenstein curtailed the investigation without telling the bureau, all but ensuring it would go nowhere.

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said that Rosenstein led him to believe that such a counterintelligence investigation would be handled by Mueller. But sources told Schmidt that “privately, Mr. Rosenstein instructed Mr. Mueller to conduct only a criminal investigation into whether anyone broke the law in connection with Russia’s 2016 election interference.” So when Mueller appeared before congress, he told them that a counterintelligence probe would be under the purview of the FBI.

This should raise even more flags about Rosenstein’s time as acting Attorney General. Not only did he facilitate the firing of James Comey, but it also appears that he did everything he could to ensure the short-circuiting of an investigation into Trump’s financial ties to Russia.

Just to review, it has been well documented that by the 1990s, Trump had run through his inheritance and, due to his business failures, U.S. banks refused to loan him any money. But then all of a sudden, the self-proclaimed “king of debt” went on a buying spree with cash. Both Don, Jr. and Eric made public statements that the Trump Organization was flush with capital from Russia. As Trump biographer, Gwenda Blair, put it: “Trump was on the Titanic heading down. Everyone’s drowning around him. … Suddenly he gets saved. It’s almost like a spaceship landed right next to where he was in the water.” Here’s why that is important:

“Russian efforts either to recruit somebody as an asset or effectively coerce them into becoming an asset historically typically rely on compromise of either a financial nature or a sexual nature,” said David Kris, a former assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “Or some other nature by which they can gain leverage. Either induce somebody voluntarily to cooperate or blackmail them.”

In addition to the above, we know that:

  • The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election to support Trump.
  • The president has not only refused to release his financial records, he has consistently lied about why he hasn’t done so.
  • As a counterintelligence investigation was launched, the three FBI officials at the center of the probe—Comey, McCabe, and Strzok—were all fired and smeared.
  • While in office, Trump has consistently supported Putin’s foreign policy goals.

All of that evidence demands a counterintelligence investigation into whether the president is acting as a Russian asset and poses threat to this country’s national security. But one way or another, he’s managed to shut down that possibility. That is not how an innocent man behaves.

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.