It’s not just Trump and his circle that are the sole focus in the ongoing probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
It turns out, special counsel Robert Mueller and his team have also began pouring over records of financial transactions between the Russian government and people or businesses within the U.S.
Buzzfeed News reported on the story earlier Wednesday.
Those details include:
One of the people at the center of the investigation, the former Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, received $120,000 ten days after the election of Donald Trump. Bankers flagged it to the US government as suspicious in part because the transaction, marked payroll, didn’t fit prior pay patterns.
Payroll? I don’t really understand how payroll works for a foreign ambassador in our country. How often do they get paid? Who pays them? What made this payment out of the ordinary?
I imagine those are the details Mueller, as well as other U.S. authorities are investigating.
Five days after Trump’s inauguration, someone attempted to withdraw $150,000 cash from the embassy’s account — but the embassy’s bank blocked it. Bank employees reported the attempted transaction to the US government because it was abnormal activity for that account.
So, another red flag transaction.
From March 8 to April 7, 2014, bankers flagged nearly 30 checks for a total of about $370,000 to embassy employees, who cashed the checks as soon as they received them, making it virtually impossible to trace where the money went. Bank officials noted that the employees had not received similar payments in the past, and that the transactions surrounded the date of a critical referendum on whether parts of Crimea should secede from Ukraine and join Russia — one of Vladimir Putin’s top foreign policy concerns and a flash point with the West.
I’m going to assume this is meant to show that the unusual activity with these embassy accounts seems to bump around events that might be labeled as important on a global scale – like a presidential election.
The Russian embassy in Washington, DC, sent more than $2.4 million to small home-improvement companies controlled by a Russian immigrant living not far from there. Between 2013 and March 2017, that contractor’s various companies received about 600 such payments, earmarked for construction jobs at Russian diplomatic compounds. Bankers told the Treasury they did not think those transactions were related to the election but red-flagged them because the businesses seemed too small to have carried out major work on the embassy and because the money was cashed quickly or wired to other accounts.
Well, something about that does actually seem bizarre, but it’s Russia, so everything should be suspect.
Russia is not our friend.
And yes, investigators are allowing for the possibility that there are completely reasonable explanations for a series of transactions that have set off those red flags.
Each of these transactions sparked a “suspicious activity report” sent to the US Treasury’s financial crimes unit by Citibank, which handles accounts of the Russian embassy. By law, bankers must alert the government to transactions that bear hallmarks of money laundering or other financial misconduct. Such reports can support investigations and intelligence gathering — but by themselves they are not evidence of a crime, and many suspicious activity reports are filed on transactions that are perfectly legal. Intelligence and diplomatic sources who reviewed the transactions for BuzzFeed News said there could be justifiable uses for the money, such as travel, bonuses, or pension payouts.
It’s not just Mueller’s team. The Senate Intelligence Committee has also sought out transaction reports for former Ambassador Kislyak.
Of course, the Russians see it as an insult to their long, historic reputation for “integrity.”
“All the transactions which have been carried out through the American financial system fully comply with the legislation of the United States,” said Nikolay Lakhonin, a spokesperson for the Russian embassy. “We are not going to comment on any concrete names and figures mentioned in BuzzFeed articles.” He added, “We see such leaks by US authorities as another attempt to discredit Russian official missions.”
The series of questionable transactions are being explained away as being used for helping Russian nationals, living abroad.
The Buzzfeed story, of course is being labeled as “propaganda.”