FBI investigations into Trump-Russia ties yield little

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WASHINGTON – The FBI has been conducting multiple investigations of alleged connections between Russia and Donald Trump, his presidential campaign or its backers. But none so far has yielded proof of criminal connections between the parties.

The view of US law enforcement and intelligence officials investigating various hacks of Democratic Party organizations remains that the Russian spy agencies are trying to sow chaos and confusion in the US elections, not necessarily trying to help a particular candidate.

As CNN first reported, the FBI has been examining for well over a year allegations about former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his firm and their connections to pro-Putin figures in Ukraine. That probe has also touched on other lobbying firms in Washington that were involved in Ukraine political work — including the Podesta Group, the firm of Tony Podesta, brother of Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

The FBI also has looked into alleged meetings former Trump adviser Carter Page had in Russia related to individuals under US sanctions. Among those who suggested the FBI investigate this possible connection was Sen. Harry Reid, the chamber’s Democratic leader, who has made public a letter he sent to the FBI on the matter. So far the investigation hasn’t yielded much beyond the initial claim.

The FBI is also looking into allegations against Roger Stone, a Trump supporter, about a possible connection to WikiLeaks, which has been undergoing a complex six-year investigation.

The accusations against Stone hinge on Democrats’ claims that he conspired with WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange to coordinate the distribution of hacked emails from Democratic Party officials.

Stone told NBC News in October that he and Julian Assange have a “mutual friend” and said he has “back-channel communications with WikiLeaks” but denied accusations he’s conspiring or coordinating with WikiLeaks.

“They certainly don’t clear or tell me in advance what they’re going to do,” he said.

The FBI and Justice Department have encountered difficulties with the WikiLeaks investigation in part because of First Amendment protections for the website’s publication of emails it has received. Receiving and disseminating hacked materials is similar to what news organizations do.

The FBI so far hasn’t been able to prove that WikiLeaks is conspiring with Russian intelligence to steal materials.

By Evan Perez, CNN Justice Correspondent