Despite the lack of evidence to support such an outlandish allegation, Robert Mueller’s team of FBI investigators have continued to scrounge for proof that President Donald Trump — or his associates — had any illegal contact with Russian officials prior to his election victory in November 2016. Now, the special counsel is taking his investigation to the next level.
Instead of merely examining the now-president’s 2016 campaign dealings, Mueller has now expanded his investigation to include Trump’s pre-2016 business dealings in Moscow.
Mueller will reportedly be examining exactly when Trump chose to begin his campaign, and whether or not this decision had any link to the fate of the Moscow-based Trump Tower.
Timing seems to be key in Mueller’s investigation, which apparently now seeks to learn when Trump made his final decision to pursue the presidency. According to Fox Business, “Trump officially announced he was running for president in June 2015 at a lavish ceremony at Trump Tower in New York City.”
According to sources within the investigation who spoke anonymously to reporters, this part of the probe has focused — and will continue to focus — mainly on “failed efforts to brand a Trump Tower in Moscow” that “were cut off in early 2016,” and on Trump’s 2013 visit to Moscow for that year’s Miss Universe pageant. Investigators have asked witnesses about possible meetings between Trump and “Russian business leaders or government officials” during that 2013 trip.
This is of interest to the investigation, according to the left-leaning Vox, because “the Russian financiers who helped bankroll the pageant helped arrange the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting with [Donald Trump] Jr. regarding promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.”
According to Fox Business, investigators are hoping that this expanded probe determines whether or not “the future president entered the race at about the same time Russian agents began to expand efforts to influence the election in his favor,” including first the Republican primaries, and later, the national win.
However, one witness reportedly told the FBI that “his impression was that Trump was serious about running back in 2014,” well before any tanked business dealings in Moscow. The FBI then “wanted to know if Russians had visited Trump Tower in New York before 2015,” but the witness denied any knowledge of this occurring.
While the White House has not made an official statement regarding the recent developments in the FBI investigation, the president is surely not too keen on the new direction Mueller’s probe is taking. Trump has previously called the investigation a “witch hunt,” but has been willing to testify under oath with Mueller, despite his lawyers’ warnings.
“Trump’s attorneys are weighing options for an interview that will protect the president from potentially perjuring himself,” The Hill reported on Tuesday. “Possibilities include a limited verbal interview or responding to Mueller’s questions in writing.”
In the meantime, the investigation continues to earn a bad reputation among conservatives, who have noticed that this new line of questioning from Mueller “echoes some of the allegations made in the unverified [Christopher] Steele dossier,” which has been a constant source of contention in Washington since its release in January 2017.
Still, the probe has so far indicted former Trump aides Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, and Richard Gates — all of whom have pleaded guilty — as well as 13 Russian officials and 3 Russian companies, who were charged somewhat symbolically earlier this month for conspiring to “sow discord in the U.S. political system, including during the 2016 election.”
Trump has denied that these 13 most recent indictments had any relation to his own campaign, “because the charges show that the efforts began in 2014, ‘long before’ he decided to run.”
A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment in regard to this expanded probe.