FBI opened in­quiry into whether Trump was se­cretly work­ing on be­half of Russia

Miami Herald - - NATION - BY ADAM GOLD­MAN, MICHAEL S. SCH­MIDT, AND NI­CHOLAS FAN­DOS The New York Times

In the days after Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump fired James Comey as FBI direc­tor, law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials be­came so con­cerned by the pres­i­dent’s be­hav­ior that they be­gan in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether he had been work­ing on be­half of Russia against Amer­i­can in­ter­ests, ac­cord­ing to for­mer lawen­force­ment of­fi­cials and oth­ers fa­mil­iar with the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence in­ves­ti­ga­tors had to con­sider whether the pres­i­dent’s own ac­tions con­sti­tuted a pos­si­ble threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. Agents also sought to de­ter­mine whether Trump was know­ingly work­ing for Russia or had un­wit­tingly fallen un­der Moscow’s in­flu­ence.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion the FBI opened into Trump also had a crim­i­nal as­pect, which has long been pub­licly known: whether his fir­ing of Comey con­sti­tuted ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

Agents and se­nior FBI of­fi­cials had grown sus­pi­cious of Trump’s ties to Russia dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign but held off on open­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into him, the peo­ple said, in part be­cause they were un­cer­tain how to pro­ceed with an in­quiry of such sen­si­tiv­ity and mag­ni­tude. But the pres­i­dent’s ac­tiv­i­ties be­fore and after Comey’s fir­ing in May 2017, par­tic­u­larly two in­stances in which Trump tied the Comey dis­missal to the Russia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, helped prompt the coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence as­pect of the in­quiry, the peo­ple said.

Special coun­sel Robert Mueller took over the in­quiry into Trump when he was ap­pointed, days after FBI of­fi­cials opened it. That in­quiry is part of Mueller’s broader ex­am­i­na­tion of how Rus­sian oper­a­tives in­ter­fered in the 2016 elec­tion and whether any Trump as­so­ciates con­spired with them. It is un­clear whether Mueller is still pur­su­ing the coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence mat­ter, and some for­mer law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials out­side the in­ves­ti­ga­tion have ques­tioned whether agents over­stepped in open­ing it.

The crim­i­nal and coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence el­e­ments were cou­pled to­gether into one in­ves­ti­ga­tion, for­mer lawen­force­ment of­fi­cials said in in­ter­views in re­cent weeks, be­cause if Trump had ousted the head of the FBI to im­pede or even end the Russia in­ves­ti­ga­tion, that was both a pos­si­ble crime and a na­tional-se­cu­rity con­cern.

The FBI’s coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence di­vi­sion han­dles na­tional-se­cu­rity mat­ters.

No ev­i­dence has emerged pub­licly that Trump was se­cretly in con­tact with or took di­rec­tion from Rus­sian govern­ment of­fi­cials. An FBI spokes­woman and a spokesman for the special coun­sel’s of­fice both de­clined to com­ment.

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