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.

News Roundup: Protecting the Right to Vote During a Pandemic

May 1, 2020
Like many things in today’s politics, mail-in voting has become a political flashpoint as the November election gets closer.

News Roundup: Corruption and Coronavirus

April 10, 2020
Trump is apparently counting on the public to be too distracted by the coronavirus to pay much attention to his continuing dictator-like purges of government officials and his brazen rejection of oversight. 

Lawsuit over Administration’s Unlawful Seizure of Trump-Putin Meeting Notes Moves Forward

December 11, 2019
A federal judge rejected the government’s attempt to dismiss a lawsuit alleging that the administration had committed a serious violation of federal records laws after a 2017 meeting between Trump and Putin.

Groups Sue Pompeo for Refusing to Address Trump’s Unlawful Efforts to Hide Putin Meeting Notes

June 18, 2019
The president seized the notes illegally — federal law requires the secretary of state to preserve agency records and refer illegal conduct to the Justice Department.

A Guide to Barr’s Redactions to the Mueller Report

April 18, 2019
We explain Barr's justifications for his redactions, whether he should go further to release information — and what Congress can do next.

Lying to Congress Rarely Results in Charges — Until Now. Here’s How Others in Trump’s Circle Could Be in Trouble

February 27, 2019
Cohen’s conviction could signal a new way of doing business in prosecutions of those who lied to Congress.

The Nunes Memo Declassified the Carter Page FISA Applications – So We’re Suing to Release Them

March 7, 2018
American Oversight and Dominique Bravo went to court today to compel the Department of Justice (DOJ) to release the secret warrant applications that they filed to conduct surveillance of former Trump campaign staffer Carter Page.  The warrant applications established probable cause that an individual associated with the Trump campaign was engaged in a crime or was a foreign agent.

FBI Records Call Into Question Sessions’ Claims About Security Clearance Instructions

December 7, 2017
Email released by the FBI in response to a FOIA lawsuit brought by People for the American Way seeking any advice that the FBI may have given to Attorney General Sessions regarding how to complete his SF-86 security clearance application. In the email, the FBI agent who assisted with Sessions’ clearance states that they do not recall advising Sessions to omit his Russian contacts from the form.

More Evidence Flynn Concealed Payments

November 22, 2017
The Department of Defense has confirmed in writing that it has no record that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn sought permission before accepting payments from foreign government sources, including Russia. 

Congressional Russia Investigations Must be Transparent and Credible

October 20, 2017
Following investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, it's critical that congressional investigations are conducted properly to get the truth and inform the public. American Oversight recently joined with a bipartisan group of experts in congressional investigations to develop a set of benchmarks for evaluating the various investigations and to help Americans determine if the committee inquiries are credible.

Russia Investigation Benchmarks

October 19, 2017
A bipartisan group of fifteen experts on congressional investigations and national security released a set of benchmarks for evaluating ongoing congressional investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 federal elections and related matters. 

New Lawsuit: Did the FBI Really Advise Sessions to Omit Russian Contacts?

September 12, 2017
On behalf of People For the American Way, American Oversight sued DOJ and FBI over Sessions’ failure to disclose Russian contacts on his security clearance application.

DOJ Confirms Trump Lied in “Wiretap” Tweets

September 2, 2017
The Department of Justice confirmed in a court filing on Friday evening that neither the DOJ nor the FBI have any records supporting President Trump's tweeted assertion that Trump Tower was "wiretapped."

American Oversight Obtains Attorney General Sessions SF-86 Signature Page

August 1, 2017
American Oversight has obtained and released the page of Attorney General Sessions's security clearance application on which he signed his name below a certification that a "knowing and willful false statement on this form can be punished by fine or imprisonment or both."

American Oversight Calls for Resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions

July 21, 2017
"Attorney General Sessions knowingly lied to the FBI about his Russian contacts, and he can no longer serve as our nation’s top law enforcement officer."

DOJ Releases Redacted Page of Sessions’s SF-86 to American Oversight

July 13, 2017
On Thursday morning, DOJ released a single, heavily-redacted page of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s SF-86 security clearance application form to American Oversight following a lawsuit from the watchdog group.

After American Oversight Lawsuit, DOJ Confirms that Sessions Lied about Russian Contacts

May 24, 2017
Hours after a federal judge ordered the Department of Justice (DOJ) to appear in court to defend against American Oversight’s lawsuit seeking the release of Attorney General Sessions’s security clearance application form, the DOJ confirmed that Sessions had lied to federal investigators about his contacts with Russian officials.

American Oversight Demands Release of Comey-Trump Memos

May 16, 2017
Following yesterday’s startling disclosure of direct interference by President Trump in an ongoing investigation of his administration, American Oversight is seeking records of any attempts by the president to obstruct the FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the election.

Letter to Burr and Warner: Senate Should Request Trump-Comey Tapes

May 12, 2017
American Oversight sent a letter to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr and Vice Chairman Mark Warner urging them to request any recordings of conversations between President Trump and former FBI Director Comey – and to issue subpoenas if the president does not comply.

Statement on the Firing of FBI Director Comey

May 10, 2017
“President Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey – on the thin pretext of objecting to actions that the president and Attorney General had previously praised – sends a clear message that his greatest concern is preventing scrutiny of himself or his associates."

Ethics Watchdog Calls for IG Investigation of Sessions for Violating Recusal

May 10, 2017
American Oversight today demanded that the Department of Justice release documents related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey. American Oversight also called for the DOJ Inspector General to conduct an independent investigation into whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions violated his recusal from matters relating to the 2016 election.

American Oversight Sues DOJ for Release of Trump Tower Wiretap Records, Russia Investigation Documents

April 19, 2017
American Oversight today sued the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for the release of records related to any wiretaps of Trump Tower and for other documents related to the investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia.

Statement on Intelligence Committee Chairman Nunes’ Actions

March 22, 2017
"The job of Congress is to provide thoughtful, responsible oversight of the executive branch. Chairman Nunes' decision to brief the subject of multiple ongoing intelligence investigations is not only unprecedented, it's unethical."
Show all updates

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