Mueller’s team is questioning Russian oligarchs over whether they illegally funneled money into Trump’s campaign or inauguration


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Robert Mueller.
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AP
  • The special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is
    questioning Russian oligarchs as it investigates whether
    Russian money was illegally funneled into President Donald
    Trump’s campaign or inauguration.
  • Mueller is also investigating whether wealthy Russians
    used Americans or American companies as conduits to funnel
    money to the US in support of Trump.
  • At least one US organization has drawn scrutiny over
    whether a wealthy Russian banker used it to channel money to
    the Trump campaign.
  • At least six Putin-allied Russians attended Trump’s
    inauguration – one of whom had two American associates who
    donated over $1 million to Trump’s inaugural
    committee.

Investigators working for the special counsel Robert Mueller are
questioning several Russian oligarchs – at times after stopping
them at the airport when they travel to the US – in connection to
the Russia investigation, CNN reported Wednesday.

In particular, prosecutors are said to be focused on whether
wealthy Russians illegally funneled money, either directly or
indirectly, into President Donald Trump’s campaign or
inauguration.

At least one wealthy Russian was stopped and searched after his
private jet landed in New York, and another was also stopped
during a recent trip to the US, according to CNN.

The special counsel’s team has also reportedly requested
documents and an interview with a third Russian oligarch who has
not recently traveled to the US. Sources did not divulge the
names of the oligarchs who have been questioned to CNN.

Campaign finance laws prohibit foreign nationals from donating to
US political campaigns, and Mueller has been interested in the
flow of Russian money into the 2016 election since at least
September.

ABC News reported at the time that
Mueller had asked witnesses about donations to the campaign from
US citizens with ties to Russia. Investigators are also said to
be interested in whether wealthy Russians used American donors or
American companies with their own political action committees to
indirectly infuse money into the election.

At least one prominent US organization has drawn scrutiny for its ties to
wealthy Russians and faced questions over whether it may have
been used as a vessel to funnel money into Trump’s campaign.

Earlier this year, it emerged that the FBI is investigating
whether Alexander Torshin, a prominent Russian banker and
politician with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin,
used the National Rifle Association to illegally send money to
the Trump campaign. The NRA said it spent a record $55
million on the election, most of which came from a sector of the
organization that isn’t required to disclose its donors.

The NRA has emphasized, and media reports have confirmed,
that Torshin, not the organization, is under FBI
investigation.

Torshin attended the NRA’s convention every year between
2012 and 2016, occasionally with longtime assistant and fellow
gun-rights activist Maria Butina at his side. He has met every
NRA president since 2012, according to NPR. When the NRA sent a
delegation to Moscow in the winter of 2015, it was Torshin who received
them on behalf of The Right to Bear Arms, a Russian gun-rights
group which is seen as the NRA’s counterpart.

Butina has been cultivating her own ties with American
gun-rights activists, like Republican strategist Paul Erickson,
with whom she has been acquainted since at least 2013.

Erickson invited scrutiny last year, when it was reported
that he tried to arrange a backdoor meeting between Trump and
Putin, with Torshin acting as “President Putin’s emissary on this
front.” Butina made a similar request to the Trump campaign
through another right-wing advocate. Neither Trump nor his
campaign are known to have entertained the request. Donald Trump
Jr. and Torshin did, however, attend a separate NRA dinner the
same night.

At least 6 Putin-allied Russians attended Trump’s
inauguration

Natalia Veselnitskaya

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Natalia Veselnitskaya, who met with Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016, is best known in the US for defending a Russian businessman accused by the US government of laundering millions.
source
Yury Martyanov/AP

Butina was later one of six Putin-allied Russians who
attended Trump’s inauguration
in January 2017. Natalia
Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, the two Russian lobbyists who
met with top Trump campaign officials in June 2016 offering dirt
on Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, was also there.

Wealthy Russian pharmaceutical executive Alexey Repik and his
wife were there, as was energy tycoon Viktor Vekselberg.
Vekselberg is said to be closely aligned with Putin, with whom he
frequently meets to discuss business.

According to federal filings reviewed by The Washington Post, two of
Vekselberg’s American associates donated a combined $1.25 million
to Trump’s inaugural committee.

Mueller is tasked with investigating Russia’s interference
in the 2016 US election, and his focus on the flow of Russian
money into the election is indicative of the wide-ranging nature
of the investigation. Among other things, it shows that the
special counsel is not just interested in whether Americans
committed any crimes in connection to the election, but whether
Russian nationals were involved as well.

In February, Mueller’s office indicted 13 Russian nationals
and three Russian entities for conspiring to meddle in the
election by mounting a social-media influence operation meant to
sway voters in Trump’s favor. Last month, it was reported that
prosecutors are homing in on the hack of the Democratic National
Committee and subsequent dissemination of stolen emails in the
run-up to the November 2016 election. The US intelligence
community concluded that the breach was carried out by
Russia-linked actors on orders from the Kremlin.

In addition to investigating whether any Americans –
including Trump – had prior knowledge of the hacks, Mueller’s
team is also reportedly scoping out the Russian operatives who
were involved.

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