The FBI in May 2017 opened an inquiry into whether Donald Trump was working on behalf of Russia, the New York Times reports.
Citing unnamed former law enforcement officials, the paper reported Friday that in the days after the president fired the former FBI director James Comey, law enforcement officials were so worried about Trump’s behavior that they began investigating whether the president was working against American interests and on behalf of Russia.
Counterintelligence investigators were reportedly considering whether Trump’s actions constituted a national security threat, an extraordinary line of inquiry against a sitting US president. They also sought to determine whether the president was knowingly working for Russia.
The White House on Friday night dismissed the New York Times report as “absurd”.
“James Comey was fired because he’s a disgraced partisan hack, and his Deputy Andrew McCabe, who was in charge at the time, is a known liar fired by the FBI,” said the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, said in a statement.
“Unlike President Obama, who let Russia and other foreign adversaries push America around, President Trump has actually been tough on Russia,” she added.
Rudolph Giuliani, one of Trump’s attorneys, also downplayed the significance of the investigation. “The fact that it goes back a year and a half and nothing came of it that showed a breach of national security means they found nothing,” Giuliani told the paper.
Friday’s remarkable report is sure to ramp up the pressure for a White House already feeling the heat from months of investigations. Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort in August 2018 was convicted of financial crisis and later pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the US and conspiring to obstruct justice. Trump’s longtime lawyer and aide Michael Cohen is set to begin a three-year prison sentence in March after pleading guilty to fraud, campaign finance violations and lying under oath.
Manafort was charged as part of the investigation by the special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, appointed Mueller shortly after Comey’s firing in May 2017 to lead the investigation into Russian meddling and ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. Mueller is reportedly also investigating whether the president tried to impede the investigation into Russia’s role in the election.
Mueller took over the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation after being appointed, the New York Times reported, just days after it was first opened. FBI spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The report may also raise new questions for congressional investigators probing Russian meddling. Newly in control of the House of Representatives, Democrats have vowed to further scrutinize Trump’s Russia ties.