Hmmm: Russian sleeper-cell spy ring targeted Hillary Clinton
Remember Anna Chapman? The FBI arrested and deported the woman who acted as a sleeper intelligence agent in 2010 along with nine others, and Chapman’s good looks got almost all of the attention — even overshadowing the operation. As John Solomon and Alison Spann report for The Hill, that operation turned out to be a lot more effective than first thought. The FBI’s arrest and sudden deportation of the ring was triggered by a fear that one of the women had gotten too close to Hillary Clinton … and it wasn’t Chapman after all, but Cynthia Murphy who scored a position with a major Democratic fundraiser for Hillary
A female Russian spy posing as an American accountant, for instance, used a false identity to burrow her way into the employ of a major Democratic donor in hopes of gaining intelligence on Hillary Clinton’s department, records show. The spy was arrested and deported as she moved closer to getting inside the secretary’s department, agents said. …
“Murphy had several work-related personal meetings with [a prominent New York-based financier, name omitted] and was assigned his account,” one FBI record from the case read. “The message accurately described the financier as ‘prominent in politics,’ ‘an active fund-raiser’ for [a major political party, name omitted] and a ‘personal friend’ of [a current Cabinet official, name redacted].”
Multiple current and former officials confirmed to The Hill that the Cabinet officer was Hillary Clinton, the fundraiser was New York financier Alan Patricof and the political party was the Democratic National Committee. None of the Americans were ever suspected of illegalities, but the episode made clear the Russian spies were stepping up their operations against the new administration after years of working in a “sleeper” capacity, officials said.
As Solomon and Spann recall, the State Department claimed at the time that there was “no reason to think the Secretary was a target of this spy ring.” That turned out to be untrue; the FBI arrests were in fact a response to just how close Murphy got to Hillary, and a worry that she could penetrate even further:
“In regards to the woman known as Cynthia Murphy, she was getting close to Alan, and the lobbying job. And we thought this was too close to Hillary Clinton. So when you have the totality of the circumstance, and we were confident we had the whole cell identified, we decided it was time to shut down their operations,” Figliuzzi said.
At the same time, the Russians began operating their extortion and bribery operations in hopes of gaining even more connections within the administration. The opportunities from Bill and Hillary Clinton’s public speaking business and the Clinton Foundation were nearly endless, and quickly exploited. Literally the day after the arrests, Bill collected a $500,000 check for a one-hour speech to Renaissance Capital, the bank connected to the Uranium One deal that would put 20% of American uranium in Russian hands:
Other activities were perfectly legal and sitting in plain view, such as when a subsidiary of Russia’s state-controlled nuclear energy company hired a Washington firm to lobby the Obama administration. At the time it was hired, the firm was providing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in pro bono support to Bill Clinton’s global charitable initiative, and it legally helped the Russian company secure federal decisions that led to billions in new U.S. commercial nuclear business, records show.
Agents were surprised by the timing and size of a $500,000 check that a Kremlin-linked bank provided Bill Clinton with for a single speech in the summer of 2010. The payday came just weeks after Hillary Clinton helped arrange for American executives to travel to Moscow to support Putin’s efforts to build his own country’s version of Silicon Valley, agents said.
That may not have been the end of it. NBC News reports this morning that Robert Mueller’s special-counsel investigation into Russian influence has now ensnared Tony Podesta right along with Paul Manafort for possible violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA):
Manafort had organized a public relations campaign for a non-profit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECMU). Podesta’s company was one of many firms that worked on the campaign, which promoted Ukraine’s image in the West.
The sources said the investigation into [Tony] Podesta and his company began as more of a fact-finding mission about the ECMU and Manafort’s role in the campaign, but has now morphed into a criminal inquiry into whether the firm violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA. …
The Podesta Group filed a FARA registration for its work with ECMU only after the payments were reported by the media. Manafort’s firm also filed a FARA registration after media reports in June disclosed its work in Ukraine from 2012 through 2014.
It’s not the first time Manafort and Podesta have been linked together in an investigation. The Department of Justice was allegedly looking into FARA issues with Podesta in the summer of 2016, too. At the time, the Podesta Group said they had relied on assurances from the European Centre that their work had nothing to do with the government in Ukraine or Russia, but at the time Tony Podesta himself had not been the target of the probe. That has apparently changed under Mueller.
Note that none of the FARA issues come later than 2014, long before Trump began his run for the presidency. The Podestas have long ties to the Clintons and the Obamas; Tony’s brother John was Hillary’s campaign manager in the last election, but also served as Barack Obama’s White House chief of staff in 2014 and a few weeks into 2015, and was his transition chief in 2008. Manafort was mainly outside Washington circles, but both Podestas were well connected with both the Clintons and the Obamas. If the Russians wanted influence on American politics and were willing to sink their sleeper-cell operation to get it, Tony and John Podesta look a lot more promising as vehicles and Hillary Clinton as a target than $100,000 in Facebook ads.
If Mueller is chasing the Podesta chain, then he’s looking at a lot more than just the 2016 election. This could get ugly for a lot of people.