Russian Interference & Trump Administration Actions

President Trump and many senior officials in the administration have consistently worked to cast doubt on the intelligence community's finding that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election to benefit Trump. In early 2017, we opened an investigation into the administration's actions to undercut — or simply paper over — the facts about Russian interference in the election. While the Special Counsel investigation and multiple subsequent inquiries have again confirmed the basic facts, the White House disinformation campaign is ongoing.

Background

American Oversight launched an investigation to get straight answers to some of the most pressing, non-classified questions about how the Trump administration has conducted itself in the face of the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions about Russian interference.

Durham’s Investigation into the Russia Probe

In May 2019, Attorney General William Barr directed U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut John Durham to investigate the origins of the FBI’s probe into Russian interference during the 2016 election. In a Fox News interview in April 2019, when asked about the progress of Durham’s investigation, Barr called the FBI’s Russia probe “one of the greatest travesties in American history.”

Sudden Halt of Sanctions Against Russian Oligarch 

In 2018, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and his associated companies were sanctioned for their involvement with Russian interference in the 2016 election. Although the Treasury eventually lifted sanctions against some of the targeted companies, the agency was also reportedly planning to deliver new sanctions at the end of 2019 but unexpectedly backed off.

ODNI Departures and Dismissals

In February, several senior officials at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), including then-Acting Director Joseph Maguire, announced that they would be stepping down from their leadership roles at the agency. Reporting at the time indicated that Trump removed Maguire after learning that the intelligence community had briefed Congress on Russian interference on his behalf in the 2020 election. Richard Grenell, U.S. ambassador to Germany, subsequently replaced Maguire as acting director despite Grenell’s minimal intelligence experience. For more on our investigation into the president’s purges of government officials for “disloyalty,” go here.

Trump Tower Wiretapping Allegations

On Sept. 1, 2017, the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation officially confirmed that President Donald Trump had lied when he tweeted that former President Obama had “wiretapped” him at Trump Tower. The admission came in a DOJ filing in response to American Oversight’s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking any records related to the alleged wiretapping.

The controversy began when Trump tweeted on March 4, 2017, that former President Barack Obama had placed wiretaps on Trump and entities or associates in Trump Tower for improper purposes during the course of the 2016 presidential campaign.

When asked about the basis for Trump’s assertions, the White House stated, “He’s the president of the United States. He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not.”

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s Russian Contacts & Recusal

American Oversight sued the FBI to obtain the page of Sessions’s security clearance application on which he was required to list any foreign government contacts. The form showed that Sessions failed to disclose his contacts with the Russian government — and that he signed the form attesting that he understood the penalty for making false statements.

American Oversight represented People For the American Way in its lawsuit to find out if the FBI really advised Sessions to omit his Russian contacts from his security clearance application, submitted in preparation for his role as attorney general, as the DOJ claimed. The suit was voluntarily dismissed following the FBI’s production of a single email indicating that an FBI employee did not recall providing Sessions advice on excluding any foreign contact from his application. 

Separately, American Oversight sought documents related to Sessions’s decision to recuse himself from matters related to the 2016 campaign. On March 2, 2017, the Washington Post reported that Sessions would recuse himself from investigations related to the campaign, but apart from Sessions’s initial statement to the press, we don’t know exactly what this recusal includes, as the formal document has never been released to the public. Sessions left his position as attorney general in November 2018.

Firing of FBI Director James Comey

On May 9, 2017, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, ostensibly over Comey’s actions during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump administration officials gave multiple, conflicting explanations for the firing — culminating with Trump explicitly stating that he made the decision to fire Comey because of the FBI’s continuing investigation of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Political Interference at the FBI

According to news reports, former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had contacted the FBI in February 2017 to ask the agency to knock down reports about communications between Trump’s associates and Russians during the 2016 campaign. Such a request would be in violation of longstanding principles preventing political interference with law enforcement proceedings — and American Oversight sued the DOJ and FBI to release any records of Priebus’s communications regarding this issue.

Updates

Investigations Update: DHS Intelligence Efforts in Portland, the Politicization of Key Government Agency, and the Pandemic’s Impact on Census

August 4, 2020
Our latest investigations into the federal response to nationwide protests, political interference in the 2020 census, and other issues.

News Roundup: One Firing, Multiple Scandals

May 22, 2020
Trump's firing of the State Department's inspector general has unearthed a series of concerning stories about the conduct of the very person who pressed for the firing — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Documents We Obtained Show Barr Met with Prosecutor Examining Mueller Investigation — Immediately After Mueller Investigation Ended

May 20, 2020
The frequency of the meetings — including during the week Mueller finished his investigation — reveal the importance the attorney general placed on U.S. Attorney John Durham's investigation.
Show all updates

Related Documents

August 4, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Senior ODNI Officials’ Emails

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
August 4, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Kash Patel’s Communications with Congress

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
August 4, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Records of Kash Patel Communications and Calendars

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
August 4, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Grenell’s Decision Memoranda and Directives

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
July 29, 2020

EAC Email Communications in Response to Request for Emails About Foreign Interference in U.S. Elections

U.S. Election Assistance Commission
Agency Record
June 2, 2020

Glomar Response from Treasury Regarding Records About Freezing Sanctions Against Russian Oligarch

Department of the Treasury
Agency Reply
May 21, 2020

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Records Reflecting Expended Resources on Durham’s Investigation into the Russian Investigations

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
May 20, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking External Communications, Calendars, and Travel Records of Senior Advisor Kash Patel

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
May 20, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Correspondence of Advisor Kash Patel with Congressional Staff and Members

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
May 20, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Correspondence of Senior Advisor Kash Patel with National Security Council officials

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
May 20, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Correspondence of Acting DNI Grenell or Senior Advisor Patel Regarding Unmasking, Ukraine Matters

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
May 1, 2020

EAC Records Regarding Foreign Interference in U.S. Elections

U.S. Election Assistance Commission
Agency Record
April 29, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Resignation Letters, Formal Memoranda Regarding Departures of Senior Leadership

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
April 29, 2020

FOIA to ODNI Seeking Grenell’s Communications Regarding Dismissals of Senior Leadership

Office of the Director of National Intelligence
FOIA Request
April 29, 2020

FOIA to Treasury Seeking Communications Concerning Sanctions on Russian Oligarch

Department of the Treasury
FOIA Request
April 29, 2020

FOIA to Treasury Seeking Communications Regarding Sanctions on Russian Oligarch

Department of the Treasury
FOIA Request
April 29, 2020

FOIA to Treasury Seeking Records About Freezing Sanctions Against Russian Oligarch

Department of the Treasury
FOIA Request
April 29, 2020

FOIA to Treasury Seeking Interagency Meeting Records Regarding Sanctions on Russian Oligarch

Department of the Treasury
FOIA Request
April 21, 2020

FOIA to State seeking Reports on Foreign Election Interference

Department of State
FOIA Request
April 21, 2020

FOIA to State seeking Global Engagement Center Coordinator’s Sent External Emails and Calendars

Department of State
FOIA Request
April 7, 2020

FOIA to DOJ for Communications with U.S. Attorney John Durham

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 26, 2020

EAC and Congressional Task Force on Election Security Reports for Congress

U.S. Election Assistance Commission
Agency Record
March 4, 2020

Complaint: American Oversight v. EAC – Foreign Interference in U.S. Elections

U.S. Election Assistance Commission
Litigation
November 20, 2019

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Communications Regarding Efforts to Investigate Theories Related to Ukraine’s Involvement in the 2016 Presidential Election

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
November 20, 2019

FOIA to DOJ Seeking External Communications With Personal Attorneys of President Trump

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
October 18, 2019

FOIA to EAC Seeking White House Records Regarding Foreign Interference in U.S. Elections

U.S. Election Assistance Commission
FOIA Request
October 18, 2019

FOIA to EAC Seeking White House Communications on Foreign Interference In U.S. Elections

U.S. Election Assistance Commission
FOIA Request
October 18, 2019

FOIA to EAC Seeking Directives and Guidance on Foreign Interference in U.S. Elections

U.S. Election Assistance Commission
FOIA Request
June 21, 2019

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Communications with Maria Butina, Paul Erickson, and Alexander Torshin

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
June 21, 2019

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Communications With Congress and the White House Regarding Investigations into the President

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
June 20, 2019

FOIA to DOJ Seeking the Legal Analysis Attorney General Barr Has Relied on in Disagreeing with the Mueller Report

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
May 23, 2019

DHS Records Regarding Florida County Governments Breached by Russian Intelligence in 2016

Department of Homeland Security
Agency Record
May 16, 2019

FOIA to State Seeking Russia-U.S. Reconciliation Plan Provided by Individuals with Ties to Russia and Putin

Department of State
FOIA Request
May 14, 2019

FOIA to State Seeking Communications Between State and Kirill Dimitriev or Rick Gerson

Department of State
FOIA Request
March 15, 2019

No Records Response from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia Regarding Trump Tower Wiretapping

Department of Justice
Agency Reply
August 2, 2018

DOJ Communications Regarding Allegations of Trump Tower Wiretapping

Department of Justice
Agency Record
May 4, 2018

FBI Notice About Comey Memos

Federal Bureau of Investigation
Agency Reply
March 7, 2018

Complaint: American Oversight v. DOJ – Carter Page FISA Applications

Department of Justice
Litigation
March 6, 2018

No Records From DOJ Regarding Yates Testimony

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
February 21, 2018

DOJ IG Letter to Congress Regarding Strzok Page Texts

Department of Justice
Agency Record
January 31, 2018

FOIA Regarding Sessions’ Recusal

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
January 29, 2018

No Records Response Regarding Then FBI Director Comey

Department of Justice
Agency Reply
December 19, 2017

FOIA to DOJ/OLC Regarding Decision to Release Text Messages to Reporters

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
December 14, 2017

DOD Final Response Regarding Michael Flynn

Department of Defense
Agency Reply
October 27, 2017

Status Conference in PFAW v. DOJ

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Litigation
September 28, 2017

FBI Records of Communications with Media Regarding Russia Investigation in Early 2017

Department of Justice
Agency Record
September 12, 2017

Complaint: People For the American Way v. FBI and DOJ

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Litigation
September 12, 2017

Withheld Records From DOJ Regarding Sessions’ SF-86

Department of Justice
Agency Reply
September 11, 2017

Withheld Records from DOJ Regarding Jeff Sessions’ Security Clearance

Agency Reply
September 1, 2017

DOJ Motion for Summary Judgment – Wiretapping Lawsuit

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Litigation
August 11, 2017

DOJ Internal Communications Regarding AG Session’s Recusal

Department of Justice
Agency Record
August 11, 2017

FBI Records of Preibus Communications about Russia Investigation

Department of Justice
Agency Record
August 8, 2017

Order: Extension of Deadline

Department of Justice
Litigation
August 1, 2017

Attorney General Sessions’s SF-86 Signature Page

Department of Justice
Agency Record
July 28, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Records about Possibility of Removing Mueller

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
July 28, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Russian Interference and Appointment of Special Counsel

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
July 28, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Sessions Recusal

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
July 13, 2017

Redacted Page of Attorney General Sessions’s SF-86

Department of Justice
Agency Record
July 12, 2017

Notice of Production – Sessions SF-86 Lawsuit

Department of Justice
Litigation
July 6, 2017

Order: Vaughn Index

Department of Justice
Litigation
July 6, 2017

Court Order in American Oversight’s Wiretap Lawsuit

Department of Justice
Litigation
June 20, 2017

DOJ FBI Response Neither Confirms Nor Denies Comey Briefing Book

Department of Justice
Agency Reply
June 16, 2017

DOJ Records Exempt Response to Request for Comey Memos

Department of Justice
Agency Reply
May 22, 2017

No Records Response Regarding Sessions’ Recusal Terms

Department of Justice
Agency Reply
May 16, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Communications Regarding Firing of Comey

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
May 16, 2017

FOIA Request to FBI Seeking Comey Memos Memorializing Trump Conversations

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
May 16, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Communications Between Rosenstein and Comey regarding conversations with Trump

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
May 12, 2017

FOIA Request to FBI Meetings Between Comey and White House

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
May 11, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Communications from Rosenstein about firing Comey

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
May 11, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Sessions and Rosenstein Records April 30 through May 11 2017

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
May 10, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Communications About Decision to Fire Comey

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
May 10, 2017

FOIA Request to FBI Communications with DOJ and Media Regarding Comey Firing

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
May 10, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Sessions Involvement in Comey Firing Terms of His Recusal

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
April 21, 2017

DOJ Acknowledgement of FOIA Request

Department of Justice
Agency Reply
April 19, 2017

Complaint: American Oversight v. DOJ and FBI – Wiretapping

Department of Justice
Litigation
April 19, 2017

Complaint: American Oversight v. DOJ and FBI – Sessions and Priebus

Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Litigation
April 12, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Seeking Communications with Congress Regarding Sessions Contact with Russian Officials

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
April 12, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Seeking Communications with DC U.S. Attorney’s Office Regarding Sessions Contact with Russian Officials

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
April 12, 2017

FOIA Request to FBI Seeking Communications with Congress Regarding Sessions Contact with Russian Officials

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 31, 2017

FOIA Request to DOD Seeking Communications between Michael Flynn and Russian Govt or Russia Today Officials

Department of Defense
FOIA Request
March 29, 2017

FOIA to DOJ Seeking Jeff Sessions’ Communications Regarding Sally Yates Testimony

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 29, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Seeking Legal Analysis Provided to the White House about Sally Yates Testimony

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 29, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Seeking Communications with White House about Potential Sally Yates Testimony

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 29, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Seeking Communications with Congress about Potential Testimony of Sally Yates to Congress

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 24, 2017

No Records Response Regarding Communications Between Sessions and Russian Ambassador

Department of Justice
Agency Reply
March 20, 2017

FOIA Request to FBI Seeking Background Investigation Materials for Sessions Russian Contacts

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 20, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Seeking Communications Regarding Allegations of Trump Tower Wiretapping

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 20, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Seeking Warrants or Court Orders Regarding Interceptions of Communications at Trump Tower

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 14, 2017

No Records Response From DOJ Regarding Communications Between Sessions and Kislyak

Department of Justice
Agency Reply
March 13, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Regarding Sessions’ Formal Recusal Document for 2016 Presidential Campaign

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 9, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Seeking Communications between Reince Priebus and the FBI Regarding Investigation into Trump Campaign

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 8, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Correspondence with News Media Regarding Any Communications Between Sessions and Russian Ambassador

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 8, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Seeking Communications Between Sessions and Russian Ambassador

Department of Justice
FOIA Request
March 8, 2017

FOIA Request to DOJ Seeking Records Relating to Any Communications Between Sessions and Russian Ambassador

Department of Justice
FOIA Request