The FBI found no clear link between Donald Trump and Russia, despite allegations by an intelligence agent that Moscow groomed the Republican presidential nominee for years as an asset and a report that computer scientists uncovered a private line of communication between the Trump Organization and a Moscow bank owned by a Russian-Israeli businessman.
The New York Times revealed Monday that despite several investigations over many weeks into ties between Trump and Russia, the FBI found no conclusive evidence connecting Moscow to the Republican presidential nominee.
According to the report, FBI experts do believe that Russia was responsible for hacking the email accounts of senior Democrats and passing on the information to WikiLeaks, but that the motive was to interfere with the election in general, as opposed to trying to elect Trump.
The bureau also rejected the claims of various news agencies that published details on Monday of the alleged close ties between Trump and Russia.
According to Slate, the computer experts uncovered a direct communication line between a server registered to the Trump Organization on Fifth Avenue in New York and two servers registered to Russia’s Alfa Bank, founded and owned by Russian-Israeli businessman Mikhail Fridman.
Alfa is the largest private commercial bank in Russia, and has deep ties to the government and Putin. It is not known what information was sent between the two servers, but the intensity of communication increased at key points in the election campaign.
Shortly after a reporter from The New York Times met with a representative of Alfa in September to ask about the communication, the Trump domain stopped working. However, four days later the Trump Organization reportedly created a new host name and once again began communicating with the two servers in Russia, Slate reported.
Both Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization denied there has been any secret communication between the two.
Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks told Slate: “To be clear, the Trump Organization is not sending or receiving any communications from this email server. The Trump Organization has no communication or relationship with this entity or any Russian entity.”
The FBI, after investigating, accepted that there may be other explanations for the exchange of information between the servers and that there was no proven direct communication.
But perhaps more significantly, the Mother Jones website reported Monday that Trump himself was cultivated as an asset by Russia. A former senior intelligence officer claimed that he contacted the FBI in early July to warn them of the influence Putin had over Trump.
In his first memo, reviewed by Mother Jones, the agent wrote that the “Russian regime has been cultivating, supporting and assisting TRUMP for at least 5 years. Aim, endorsed by PUTIN, has been to encourage splits and divisions in western alliance.” The memo also claimed that Trump “and his inner circle have accepted a regular flow of intelligence from the Kremlin, including on his Democratic and other political rivals.”
The memo stated that Trump had been “compromised” by Russian intelligence on his visits to Moscow, making him susceptible to blackmail.
In August, the FBI reportedly asked the agent for all his information and sources. The agent told Mother Jones that “it’s quite clear there was or is a pretty substantial inquiry going on.”
The Times said that FBI officials declined to comment on the matter. But in the past six weeks, the bureau opened a broad investigation into ties between Moscow and the Republican Party. The officials stressed that Trump himself has not been the focus of the investigation, and, according to the Times, there is no evidence linking him or anyone in his inner circle directly to the Kremlin.
Trump has repeatedly denied any connection to Putin. However, he has often praised the Russian leader, and even encouraged the Russians to hack into Clinton’s servers.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said at a press conference in July. “I think you’ll be rewarded mightily by our press!”
The area where the bureau does see Russia’s hand is in the hacking of the Democratic Party emails, which were then passed on to WikiLeaks.
But while the Clinton campaign has charged that the Kremlin is trying to tilt the election in favor of Donald Trump, the FBI claims that the hacking is intended to undermine America’s democracy and its standing in the world.
“It isn’t about the election,” a senior intelligence official told the New York Times, discussing Russia’s goal. “It’s about a threat to democracy.”
The Obama administration delayed formally blaming the hacking on Russia for weeks because of sensitive negotiations about the Syrian ceasefire that were taking place with Moscow, according to people familiar with the investigation. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the hackings, which were investigated as counterintelligence cases.
Even hawkish officials within the Justice Department who were urging an announcement blaming Russia did not object to waiting for those negotiations to conclude. When the Syria talks collapsed in failure, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Homeland Security Department released a joint statement accusing Russia of the hacking.
NBC also reported on Monday that the FBI was conducting a preliminary investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his business dealings with Russia. Manafort denied any knowledge of the investigation and denied any connections to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
The Associated Press and AFP contributed to this report.