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Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team are pouring over hundreds of checks totaling many thousands of dollars that have been sent to Russian officials and Russian nationals in the U.S. in recent years seeking clues for their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US. presidential election, reports BuzzFeed.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating the Russian campaign connection to the 2016 election, has also requested copies of the checks and related documents, most of which have been turned over the FBI by U.S. banks reporting suspicious activity or at the request of investigators.
The Russians so far are insisting these were normal transactions, but there are reasons for investigators to suspect they are related to the Russian election hacking campaign.
The suspicious transactions include a check for $120,000 to Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. (who has since resigned that post), ten days after the election of Donald Trump.
Kislyak has come up during the investigation several times because of meetings he had with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House counsel (and Trump son-in-law) Jared Kushner, (former NSA head) Michael Flynn and even Trump himself, some under suspicious circumstances.
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) January 17, 2018
The investigators are also probing why five days after Trump’s inauguration someone attempted to take $150,000 cash from the embassy bank account. The embassy’s bank blocked it and reported the attempt to the U.S. government because it was not the normal activity for that account.
Embassy bankers also flagged to the U.S. government nearly 30 checks for a total of about $370,000 cashed by embassy employees as soon as they arrived between March 8 and April 7, 2014.
It was noted that there had never been similar activity before, and the checks were received around the time of a critical referendum on whether parts of Crimea should secede from Ukraine and become part of Russia.
Eventually, Russia did take over Crimea, which was a major initiative by Russian President Vladimir Putin, and a major point of contention with the new democratic government of Ukraine as well as with the U.S. under President Obama.
There is also suspicion concerning about $325,000 in checks sent by the Russian Cultural Centre in Washington, D.C. that bankers flagged and notified the U.S. government about.
Also in Washington, the Russian Embassy sent more than $2.4 million to a small home improvement company owned by a Russian immigrant between 2013 and 2017.
“Bankers told the Treasury they did not think those transactions were related to the election,” reports BuzzFeed, “but red-flagged them because the businesses seemed too small to have carried out major work on the embassy and because the money was cashed quickly or wired to other accounts.”
The Treasury Department, in turn, passed all of the suspicious activity notices and copies of checks to the FBI in case they were relevant to their investigation.
“Authorities appear to be digging into the entire Russian diplomatic corps operating in the U.S., with bank records dating back 10 years that show financial conduct flagged as suspcious,” reports BuzzFeed.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has also requested on a number of other Russians, many of them very wealthy individuals who have strong connections to Putin, but it unclear if they have received any of it yet.
None of this proves anything by itself – yet – but in the hands of trained investigators they could emerge was part of a pattern or provide leads to other activities that are of even greater interest to the investigators.
What is clear is that the investigators are following the longtime police and FBI motto to “follow the money: to find out the truth about any situation.
It shows that Mueller and the Senate investigators are all working to pin down details that could be part of gaining a full picture of how the Russians interfered in the U.S. election and to what extent Trump and his campaign colluded with them.
WATCH: Sen. @JeffFlake calls Trump's repeated claims that the Russia investigation is a 'hoax' the "white noise of Washington."
"The destructive effect of this behavior on our democracy cannot be overstated." pic.twitter.com/zPitjb4DO2
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) January 17, 2018