As the chief domestic intelligence agency in the United States, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has played a central role in the ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian operatives.
According to the former FBI Director James Comey, the FBI began investigating the Trump campaign’s relation to Russia’s interference in the election in July 2017. Though American intelligence had by then received multiple leads regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Kremlin-linked individuals, The New York Times has since reported that the proximate cause of the investigation was information from Australian intelligence officials regarding Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos’s drunken boast to the Australian ambassador to the United Kingdom that he had met with a Maltese professor claiming the Russian government had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.”
However, the FBI’s investigation remained a secret during the campaign. Despite public pressure, including public letters from then-Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid on August 29 and October 30, 2016, the latter claiming that the FBI was concealing “explosive information about close ties and coordination between Trump and his top advisers, and the Russian government,” the FBI did not disclose its investigation until after the election. In fact, on October 31, 2016, The New York Times reported that FBI officials had not found evidence demonstrating links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Since then, the FBI has been more forthcoming about its investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. On February 23, 2017, the FBI reportedly rejected a request from the White House that the agency “publicly knock down media reports” about its investigation into the Trump campaign.
Comey officially announced that the FBI was investigating the Trump campaign on March 20, 2017. Testifying before Congress, Comey said that “the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”
The FBI also reportedly began investigating the Trump administration’s attempts to cover up the Russia scandal. According to ABC, the FBI’s Deputy Director Andrew McCabe oversaw an investigation into whether Sessions displayed a “lack of candor” and misled Congress in his testimony during his confirmation hearings. McCabe later became a major target of Trump’s ire, with Trump repeatedly attacking McCabe due to his wife’s political affiliations, and of a Justice Department probe investigating whether McCabe had shown a lack of candor in his answers to investigators looking at the FBI’s conduct during the 2016 election. Sessions ultimately fired McCabe less than two days before he was set to retire.