On Monday, The Hill published a bombshell report that raises legal questions for special counsel Robert Mueller and, the Daily Wire said, “provides evidence of a possible conflict of interest in his role overseeing the Russia investigation.”
According to The Hill:
In 2009, when Mueller ran the FBI, the bureau asked Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska to spend millions of his own dollars funding an FBI-supervised operation to rescue a retired FBI agent, Robert Levinson, captured in Iran while working for the CIA in 2007.
Yes, that’s the same Deripaska who has surfaced in Mueller’s current investigation and who was recently sanctioned by the Trump administration.
John Solomon said officials told him the mission was “confirmed by more than a dozen participants inside and outside the FBI, including Deripaska, his lawyer, the Levinson family and a retired agent who supervised the case. Mueller was kept apprised of the operation.”
Officials also said Mueller’s FBI courted the billionaire in 2009 in a series of secret meetings and persuaded him to finance the operation, the Daily Wire reported.
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“We knew he was paying for his team helping us, and that probably ran into the millions,” a U.S. official directly involved with the mission reportedly said.
One of those who reportedly helped court Deripaska was Andrew McCabe.
A lawyer representing the Russian billionaire is said to have spent “approximately $25 million to assemble a private team that worked with Iranian contacts to try to rescue Levinson before then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton killed the deal,” the Daily Wire report adds.
“Deripaska’s efforts came very close to success,” said David McGee, a former federal prosecutor who represents Levinson’s family. “We were told at one point that the terms of Levinson’s release had been agreed to by Iran and the U.S. and included a statement by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointing a finger away from Iran. At the last minute, Secretary Clinton decided not to make the agreed-on statement.”
The Hill added:
The FBI had three reasons for choosing Deripaska for a mission worthy of a spy novel. First, his aluminum empire had business in Iran. Second, the FBI wanted a foreigner to fund the operation because spending money in Iran might violate U.S. sanctions and other laws. Third, agents knew Deripaska had been banished since 2006 from the United States by State over reports he had ties to organized crime and other nefarious activities. He denies the allegations, and nothing was ever proven in court.
The FBI rewarded Deripaska for his help. In fall 2009, according to U.S. entry records, Deripaska visited Washington on a rare law enforcement parole visa. And since 2011, he has been granted entry at least eight times on a diplomatic passport, even though he doesn’t work for the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Former FBI officials confirm they arranged the access.
Deripaska said in a statement through Adam Waldman, his American lawyer, that FBI agents told him State’s reasons for blocking his U.S. visa were “merely a pretext.”
This, the Daily Wire said, is where things get interesting.
Ryan Saavedra explains:
Over the past two years, evidence allegedly surfaced tying Deripaska to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was charged by Mueller’s team with money laundering and illegal foreign lobbying pre-dating the campaign. Deripaska had previously hired Manafort as a political adviser and then later sued him after a business venture turned sour, claiming that Manafort stole money from him. The Hill adds:
Mueller’s indictment of Manafort makes no mention of Deripaska, even though prosecutors have evidence that Manafort contemplated inviting his old Russian client for a 2016 Trump campaign briefing…
…The U.S. government in April imposed sanctions on Deripaska, one of several prominent Russians targeted to punish Vladimir Putin — using the same sort of allegations that State used from 2006 to 2009. Yet, between those two episodes, Deripaska seemed good enough for the FBI to ask him to fund that multimillion-dollar rescue mission and to allow him into the country eight times.
The Hill’s John Solomon was alerted about Deripaska’s past relationship with the FBI by U.S. officials who are suspicious that Mueller may have left him out of Manafort’s indictments due to his previous work with the FBI.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz apparently thinks there’s a serious conflict here.
“The real question becomes whether it was proper to leave [Deripaska] out of the Manafort indictment and whether that omission was to avoid the kind of transparency that is really required by the law,” he said.
Former Clinton Justice Department lawyer Melanie Sloan went even further, suggesting the FBI operation involving Deripaska may have been illegal.
“It’s possible the bureau’s arrangement with Mr. Deripaska violated the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits the government from accepting voluntary services,” Sloan said.
“Now that sources have unmasked the Deripaska story, time will tell whether the courts, Justice, Congress or a defendant formally questions if Mueller is conflicted,” Solomon said.
“In the meantime, the episode highlights an oft-forgotten truism: The cat-and-mouse maneuvers between Moscow and Washington are often portrayed in black-and-white terms. But the truth is, the relationship is enveloped in many shades of gray,” he concluded.
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