Special Counsel Robert Mueller is ramping up his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and possible Trump campaign collusion by stopping some Russian oligarchs as they arrive at American airports and reaching out to others seeking voluntary cooperation, according to CNN.
One Russian oligarch who landed his private plane at a New York City area airport was detained and his phone and other electronic devices were checked for information.
He was asked, according to CNN, if he or other wealthy Russians had made cash donations directly or indirectly to Trump’s presidential campaign and inauguration.
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“It reveals that Mueller’s team has intensified its focus into the potential flow of money from Russia into the US election as part of its wide-ranging investigation into whether the Trump team colluded with Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election,” reports CNN.
Experts tell CNN that Mueller would not take this step if he and his team did not already have some records or documents pertaining to such donations which give them legal jurisdiction over the matter.
“Now it’s a ‘wish list’ to see what other information they can obtain from Russians entering the U.S.” reports CNN, “or through their voluntary cooperation.”
Foreigners are not allowed under U.S. campaign finance law to donate to U.S. political campaigns but there are ways around that.
One method is the use of “straw donors,” who are American citizens that will take money from the Russians and then pass it along into campaigns as if it was their own funds.
Mueller’s investigators have also been looking at people born in Russia who are now U.S. citizens but have retained ties to the mother country.
The focus, according to CNN, is on Republican fundraising and ways that money may flow into campaigns directly or through various committees and Super PACs.
CNN: Mueller's office wants to know if wealthy Russians used US straw donors to steer $ to the Trump campaign and inaugural fund. We reported last year that the American cousin of Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg gave $250K to the Trump inaugural fund. https://t.co/AayXmRjBGT pic.twitter.com/WOpXsVqmW5
— Dan Friedman (@dfriedman33) April 4, 2018
This new approach of stopping Russians who don’t expect to be stopped at an airport is something smart prosecutors do, Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor, told CNN in a text.
“Prosecutors and investigators like the element of surprise when you can get more instinctive (and often truthful) responses,” said Goldman, adding that, “surprise is crucial for those searches because you don’t want anyone to wipe their phone.”
As always, Mueller and his team are proving to have the experience, knowledge, and ability to push their investigation forward in ever more innovative ways, which provides them a stream of leads that then become the path to gaining even more evidence.