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Robert Mueller Follows the Money by Questioning Russian Oligarchs

Illustration for article titled Robert Mueller Follows the Money by Questioning Russian Oligarchs
Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

In a quest to find out whether or not money was illegally funneled to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign—either directly or indirectly through cash donations—special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has been questioning Russian oligarchs traveling into the United States.

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Multiple sources told CNN that at least one Russian oligarch was stopped and had his electronic devices searched when his private jet landed at a New York-area airport. A second was also stopped on a recent trip to the U.S., but it is unclear whether his electronic devices were searched, too.

A third oligarch who has not recently visited the U.S. was given an informal voluntary document and interview request by Mueller’s team.

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The names of these wealthy, powerful Russians have not been revealed.

CNN posits that these inquiries indicate that the Mueller team is looking into the flow of money from Russia into the the U.S. election as it continues to investigate whether or not Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Campaign-finance laws prohibit foreign nationals from donating to U.S. political campaigns, so another angle the Mueller team is exploring is whether Russian investments were made in companies or think tanks with political action committees that donated to Donald Trump’s campaign.

It is also possible that wealthy Russians used “straw donors,” or Americans with citizenship, as another means of putting money into both the presidential campaign and the inauguration fund.

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According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Trump raised $333 million for his campaign fund and $106.8 million for his inauguration, which is more than twice as much as any of his predecessors. His inauguration committee has been criticized by watchdog groups for not fully disclosing how the inauguration funds were spent.

At this point, it is unknown whether or not Mueller’s team has uncovered any illegal campaign funding. The only thing clear is that Mueller is going to continue digging until he finds something to nail Trump to the wall with.

News Editor for The Root. I said what I said. Period.

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DISCUSSION

CNN posits that these inquiries indicate that the Mueller team is looking into the flow of money from Russia into the the U.S. election as it continues to investigate whether or not Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

I believe Mueller is not investigating whether Russia interfered - that has been confirmed plenty of times by not just our government, but also by foreign allied governments as well (the Dutch apparently have the hack of the DNC on camera?!) - and is instead investigating to what extent the Trump campaign assisted that interference. That mandate has now expanded to include whatever adjoining and relevant activity that could be discovered in the course of that investigation (Stormy/Ukraine/UAE stories are all of interest). From the limited court documents that have been made public, including that subject/target letter to Trump, it seems more likely than not that Mueller has something on Trump, but is not ready to be made public. As I type this, Maddow is reporting that Mueller has continued to execute search warrants on Manafort or Manafort-related properties (latest one was 3/9!), and Mueller is detailing that these are not related to whatever trouble Manafort is in (hi Trump). It’s not if, but when.