FBI’s dilemma is our dilemma in Trump-Russia probe
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With all that has come out about Trump and Russia — and that is likely to come out as investigative reporters do their job —  one extraordinarily important point has gone unnoticed: the FBI may decide that it cannot reveal what it knows because to do so would blow a high-priority operation. 

As we report in a two-month-long, 6500-word investigation published on the Who What Why news site, the FBI has had a secret and prized informant arrangement with Felix Sater, a man with a criminal past. Sater is closely associated with Trump and tied to a network of mobsters from the former Soviet Union. That network’s reputed leader, Semion Mogilevich, is himself said to be close to Vladimir Putin.

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As we document, the Justice Department has worked assiduously to prevent this information from coming out, gagging an attorney who sought answers. Equally troubling, FBI and Department of Justice officials who protected their informant went on to take private sector positions that continue to tie them to Sater and Trump.

 

Two DOJ officials argued on behalf of leniency for Sater at his sentencing. Both went to work at the law firm representing Sater. One ex-DOJ lawyer remains at that firm, the same firm that now represents Trump with regard to his conflicts of interest. One key former FBI agent on the case retired and went on to provide private security to Trump during the campaign.

Those are extraordinary developments that must be better understood. Just as we need to get a better grip on the backstory to Trump’s association with this criminal, and the numerous ties between Trump’s personal fortune and suspect monies from the former Soviet Union.

But based on their record, the DOJ and FBI cannot be reliably counted on to reveal to the public and its elected representatives the truth and significance of these connections. Nor how they may relate to pro-Trump meddling in the election or to Trump’s enthusiasm for Putin and his corrupt authoritarian regime.

We understand that the FBI and DOJ have to protect the identity of their informants, and the secrecy of their operations. But in this case the stakes are too high to let insular concerns predominate.

Now, as never before in this country’s history, it is time for a truly independent inquiry into matters that touch on the core of democracy itself -- free and fair elections.

Speed is of the essence. The country simply cannot remain in the dark for the rest of the year, or next, uncertain whether or not the president sold out his country in order to attain the White House.

With Watergate, we saw a special investigation run by an independent prosecutor, yet much less was at stake. Nixon and his team were involved in criminal activities to assure his re-election but they were not conspiring with a foreign government in the process.

Watergate was originally described as a “third-rate burglary,” and that was more or less accurate. The true crime, and Nixon’s undoing, was the coverup.

In Trump's case, the question from the very start, stretching back to last summer when the FBI began its investigation, has been: Did the President or any of his campaign operatives engage in treasonous activities for political and personal gain?

How long can the country stare at that question without getting an answer?

Given the FBI’s inherent conflict between on the one hand its need and desire to protect operations and on the other its responsibility to report to the public, the Bureau simply cannot be counted on.

It will take an independent official inquiry — and continued unofficial inquiries by journalists — to uncover and reveal the truth to the American public.

Russ Baker is Editor in Chief of WhoWhatWhy and a former contributing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the Nation, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Village Voice and Esquire.


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