In a clear signal that the investigation into collusion between the Donald Trump organization and Russia is quickly gaining intensity, a team sent by Special Counsel Robert Mueller showed up unannounced this week at the home of a Trump business associate, grilling the individual about Trump Organization deals overseas — and about Trump’s personal attorney and self-described “fix-it guy” Michael Cohen, according to an exclusive report by the McClatchy News wire service on Thursday.
The McClatchy report did not name the person questioned unexpectedly by Mueller’s investigators, but said that the Trump associate “was a party to multiple transactions connected to Trump’s effort to expand his brand abroad.” Investigators showed up at the Trump associate’s home “armed with subpoenas compelling electronic records and sworn testimony,” the report said.
While the report did not reveal what Mueller and his team may have learned from the person, or whether that individual is under investigation or merely considered a witness in the Russia case, recent developments appear to show that Mueller is not only looking into possible direct collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election, but that Mueller is also following a money trail that could connect Trump to Russia.
In addition to questioning the Trump business associate in an ambush-style interrogation earlier this week, Mueller has begun questioning Russian oligarchs about their financial connections to Trump, according to a CNN report on Wednesday.
Mueller’s investigators likely asked the Trump associate about Cohen’s involvement in numerous overseas Trump Organization business deals, including the Trump Tower Moscow deal which never came to fruition but was being actively pursued by Trump during the 2016 campaign at a time when Trump repeatedly denied in public statements that he had any business interests in Russia.
Cohen is perhaps best known recently for his involvement in the “hush money” payoff to adult video star Stormy Daniels, who says that she had a sexual relationship with Trump in 2006 and that Cohen purchased her silence about the affair just days before the 2016 election.
But Cohen was also involved with former Trump business partner Felix Sater, both in the Trump Tower Moscow deal and in a secret proposal for an off-the-books “peace plan” for Ukraine — a plan that would have directly benefited Russia by having Trump lift sanctions against the country.
Mueller is reportedly also now questioning Russian oligarchs who may have financial links to Trump. According to Wednesday’s CNN report, Mueller’s investigators conducted a separate ambush interview sometime in recent weeks with a Russian oligarch who arrived at one of the New York-area airports in his personal, private jet.
While the identity of that oligarch has not been made public, research by independent journalist Scott Stedman named 60-year-old Viktor Vekselberg as a possible candidate to be the unidentified oligarch. Vekselberg is chairman of the investment firm Renova, which holds significant shares in Rusal, Russia’s largest aluminum company. Vekselberg is the world’s 69th richest person, with a net worth estimated at $16.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index.
The oligarch who was stopped by Mueller’s team at the New York-area airport was subjected to a spontaneous search of his electronic devices — a technique used by Mueller to prevent subjects from destroying data on those devices. On Thursday, CNN reporter Shimon Prokupecz said that new court filings by Mueller reveal that “a search warrant was obtained on March 9 for information related to five AT&T numbers.”
The week of March 9 “would’ve been the same week that Mueller seized the electronics of the still unidentified Russian oligarch,” Stedman later stated on his Twitter feed.