NYT: That big Russia-Trump connection story turns out to be a nothingburger

Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton hardest hit. Yesterday, Reid accused FBI Director James Comey of violating the Hatch Act by informing Congress of new activity in their investigation of Hillary Clinton, and of covering up “explosive information” about Donald Trump’s connections to Russia. Later in the day, a flurry of reporting emerged on a probe into a supposed network connecting Trump to Moscow. By late last night, though, the New York Times reported that Reid’s “explosive” was a dud:

For much of the summer, the F.B.I. pursued a widening investigation into a Russian role in the American presidential campaign. Agents scrutinized advisers close to Donald J. Trump, looked for financial connections with Russian financial figures, searched for those involved in hacking the computers of Democrats, and even chased a lead — which they ultimately came to doubt — about a possible secret channel of email communication from the Trump Organization to a Russian bank.

Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump. …

Intelligence officials have said in interviews over the last six weeks that apparent connections between some of Mr. Trump’s aides and Moscow originally compelled them to open a broad investigation into possible links between the Russian government and the Republican presidential candidate. Still, they have said that Mr. Trump himself has not become a target. And no evidence has emerged that would link him or anyone else in his business or political circle directly to Russia’s election operations.

NBC did report last night that the FBI conducted a preliminary inquiry into Paul Manafort, who left the Trump campaign in August. That turns out to be unconnected to Russia, however:

But the focus in that case was on Mr. Manafort’s ties with a kleptocratic government in Ukraine — and whether he had declared the income in the United States — and not necessarily on any Russian influence over Mr. Trump’s campaign, one official said.

The rumors surrounding Alfa Bank turn out to be just that — rumors. Instead of the complicated scheme imagined by those suspicious of Trump, the FBI found that the computer traffic between two Alfa servers and a Trump server looked more like spam initiated on the Alfa side. They might have also been a cover for penetration attempts; the FBI strongly suspects Russia of penetrating Democratic Party-linked organizations and the DNC itself, so a probing attack on the Republican nominee wouldn’t exactly be unexpected. Those “look-up” messages began in the spring, which tends to indicate that Alfa took notice of Trump, and not the other way around, when Trump clinched the GOP nomination.

All of this adds up to … nothing much, as Callum Borchers notes at the Washington Post:

The Times report lends credence to the others, yet blunts their significance at the same time. Did the FBI take the electronic communication described by Slate seriously? Sure, but the bureau “ultimately came to doubt” it. Did the FBI scrutinize Trump advisers like Manafort, as reported by NBC, and hunt for the kind of connection between Trump and the Russian government described in Mother Jones? Yes, but so far there is no “conclusive or direct link.”

Meh. The reason Comey didn’t announce the existence of this investigation wasn’t because it was it was “explosive” and could impact the election. It was because the FBI had already figured out it was a dud. Like almost every claim Harry Reid makes, it turns out to be a lie. The only explosion in this story is the manner in which it blew up in the faces of those who bought his claims.