The FBI looked into Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia over the summer and found no evidence of any direct ties between his campaign and the Kremlin, the New York Times revealed Monday. According to unnamed bureau sources, the FBI looked for any direct lines of communication between Trump Tower and the Kremlin, as well as financial links between Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and the Russian government.
The FBI’s probe also did not find any direct relationship between the Trump campaign and the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign staffers, for which U.S. security agencies identified Russia as the culprit. News of the investigation comes days after FBI Director James Comey announced a renewed investigation into the home email server Clinton used while secretary of state after discovering “pertinent emails in connection with an unrelated case.” The “unrelated case” was an investigation into former Congressman Anthony Weiner (the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin) allegedly sexting with a minor, the Times reported.
The FBI has not said publicly what specifically motivated its investigation into possible Trump-Russia ties, but unnamed intelligence sources told the Times that “apparent connections between some of Mr. Trump’s aides and Moscow originally compelled them to open a broad investigation into possible links between the Russian government and the Republican presidential candidate.”
Adding to the intrigue, Trump’s viewpoints line up with Russian interests and diverge from decades of conventional American foreign policy. He has expressed support for the Russian annexation of Crimea, threatened to pull out of NATO, and said he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia that were imposed after the annexation.
How did we get here?
Sept. 16, 2015: Early on in the primary race, Trump praised Russian President Vladimir Putin on a national stage during the second Republican debate. “I would get along with Putin,” Trump said, in response to a question about Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war.
“I would talk to him, I would get along with him,” he said. “I believe — and I may be wrong, in which case I’d probably have to take a different path — but I would get along with a lot of the world leaders that this country is not getting along with.”
Dec. 17, 2015: The affection seems to be mutual. Putin has welcomed Trump’s comments, saying at a press conference in Russia last December that he was “very talented,” and “an absolute leader of the presidential race.”
Trump returned the sentiment the same day and said it was “always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond.”
Dec. 18, 2015: In an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Trump said he has “always felt fine about Putin. He’s a strong leader. He’s a powerful leader.”
Trump also shrugged off Russia’s habit of killing journalists. “He’s running his country and at least he’s a leader,” he said, adding, “unlike what we have in this country.”
Aug. 19, 2016: Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort steps down amid increasing scrutiny of his ties to pro-Russian interests, including past work for the Ukrainian government on behalf of its president, Viktor Yanukovych, and influence American public opinion in favor of pro-Russian interests, according to reporting by the Associated Press. The FBI specifically investigated Manafort’s alleged ties to the Kremlin as a part of its broader probe last summer, law enforcement officials told the Times.
Sept. 7, 2016: Three weeks after Manafort’s resignation, Trump defended his affinity for Putin again. “If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him,” Trump said during NBC’s Commander-in-Chief Forum.
“I’ve already said he is very much of a leader,” the GOP candidate added. “The man has very strong control over his country.”
Oct. 12, 2016: Another longtime Trump ally, Roger Stone, claimed he had a “back-channel communication” to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Stone’s claim comes after WikiLeaks released thousands of hacked emails from the Clinton campaign and Democratic officials, which national security officials determined came from Russian hackers. Democrats have charged that WikiLeaks and Assange have direct ties to Russian cybersecurity actors, something WikiLeaks denies.
When reached for comment regarding the FBI investigation, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign shifted the focus to Clinton’s FBI troubles.
“The Clinton campaign has been desperately peddling Russian conspiracy theories to distract from Hillary’s criminal investigation, and once again their lies are exposed.”
Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @oliviaLbecker