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REPORT: FBI Probing Russian Intel Contacts With Trump Campaign Officials

Win by the leak … live with the leak? Democrats still blame the FBI for its very public investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail system for her loss to Donald Trump in the presidential campaign, claiming that the constant leaks damaged her standing while leading to no prosecutable charges. The shoe may well and truly be on the other foot now, according to the New York Times report from last night about an FBI investigation into alleged contacts between Russian intelligence and Trump’s campaign:

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

That sounds pretty bad — but so far, at least, the investigation hasn’t found much other than the contacts:

The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.

The probe started with the FBI concern over Russian hacking of the DNC and John Podesta as an attempt to sway the election. So far, though, the investigation can’t even determine if the contacts were about the election at all:

The officials would not disclose many details, including what was discussed on the calls, the identity of the Russian intelligence officials who participated, and how many of Mr. Trump’s advisers were talking to the Russians. It is also unclear whether the conversations had anything to do with Mr. Trump himself.

The problem for the FBI in this case is that at least one of their investigative targets, Paul Manafort, has done business in Russia and Ukraine for some time — a point that did arise during the campaign, too. That undoubtedly put Manafort in contact with Russian intelligence operatives, and even Manafort concedes that probability, because Russian intelligence embeds itself much more broadly in private-sector commerce. That’s why Manafort quipped to the NYT that “It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer,’” likely out of frustration over the continuing questions.

If Trump campaign officials cooperated with Russian intelligence contacts, that’s obviously a very big deal. However, as the Times points out fairly close to the top of the story, the FBI hasn’t found any evidence to suggest it, or that the contacts related to the election at all as opposed to other intelligence gathering or potential grooming. If these officials simply had unknowing contact with Russian intelligence agents, that’s amateurish and careless, but not actionable. Having this probe’s details leak out like this looks at least as careless, and potentially the start of a whispering campaign against the Trump administration from the FBI. Given the leaks that went in the other direction in 2015-16, though, it’s going to be difficult for the Trump White House and Republicans to gripe about it.

That won’t stop them from trying, though:

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