Washington, Jan 12 (IANS) The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had opened an inquiry in 2017 into whether US President Donald Trump was secretly working on behalf of Russia after he fired the agency’s Director James Comey, the media reported.
The New York Times, citing unnamed sources familiar with the investigation, reported on Friday that counterintelligence officials weighed whether Trump’s actions were undermining national security and whether he was knowingly working for Russia or had “unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence”.
Trump has repeatedly denied that he colluded with Russia and called special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt”.
Reacting to the report, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said: “This is 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.
“Unlike President (Barack) Obama, who let Russia and other foreign adversaries push America around, President Trump has actually been tough on Russia.”
In 2016, US intelligence agencies concluded that Russia had launched cyberattacks and planted fake news stories on the social media in a bid to boost Trump and damage his rival Hillary Clinton’s chances for the presidency.
The investigation the FBI opened into Trump also had a criminal aspect that whether his firing of Comey constituted obstruction of justice, the report said.
The FBI investigation was later folded into Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow, the paper said, adding that it was unclear if the counterintelligence aspect was still being pursued.
The Times said that the FBI had been suspicious of Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign. But it held off on opening an investigation till the President sacked Comey, who refused to swear his allegiance and roll back the Russia investigation.
Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the daily that he had no knowledge of the inquiry but said that since it was opened a year and a half ago and they hadn’t heard anything, apparently “they found nothing”.
Nonetheless, the inquiry put some of the President’s closest associates in the dock. His former personal lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for campaign finance and fraud crimes, while his campaign chief Paul Manafort was convicted of financial fraud.
Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his Moscow ties.