For months, F.B.I. agents have scrutinized Donald Trump for possible connections to Russia. Officials say no direct link has been found between Trump and the Russian government, not even regarding the hacking of DNC emails.
Clinton supporters demanded these investigations, insisting that F.B.I. director James Comey, reveal their findings publicly.
Clinton supporters argued that Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin is evidence that Russia has taken sides in the election. Comey refused to confirm the existence of any investigation into Trump’s aides when he appeared before Congress.
Senator Harry Reid responded with an angry letter, accusing the F.B.I. of holding back info about Mr. Trump’s alleged connections with Moscow. “It’s clear that you have incendiary information about ties between Donald Trump, his advisers, and Russian officials- an openly hostile foreign interest, which Trump praises at each opportunity,” Mr. Reid wrote.
F.B.I. officials declined to comment.
Intelligence officials have said that apparent connections between Trump’s aides and Moscow prompted them to investigate. They said Trump himself has never been a target, and no evidence links him to Russia.
Intelligence officials briefed Congress on the possibility of ties between specific Russians and Trump’s aides. They placed attention on what cybersecurity experts say appears to be a hidden computer back-channel between the Trump campaign and the Alfa Bank- one of Russia’s largest banks whose owners have ties to Mr. Putin.
F.B.I. agents spent weeks on the data showing an unusual stream of queries and responses between a Trump server and Alfa Bank. But the F.B.I. eventually came to the conclusion that an innocuous explanation, such as marketing spam, could explain the communications.
Investigators have become ever more confident, after looking at reams of evidence that they have uncovered, that Russia’s aim is not to support Trump’s presidential campaign- as many Democrats have declared time and time again. Rather, the F.B.I. believes Russia’s goal is to disrupt the American political system and undermine the western nation’s standing in the world.
Trump’s critics say the DNC hackings represented an intensification of Cold War operations as relations with Mr. Putin’s Russia have turned sour.
Intelligence officials say the Russians have become highly skilled at exploiting computer system vulnerabilities put in place by the functional openness of and robustness of the Internet.
Election officials in numerous states report what appeared to them to be electronic intrusions that came from Russia, and while many people doubt that any hack perpetrated on election day could change the outcome, F.B.I. agencies across every sector of government have been set on high on alert for any potential disruptions that could adversely affect the voting process.
This investigation has treated the issue as a counter-intelligence operation just as it has treated it as a criminal issue, although agents are focusing on whether anyone in the U.S. was involved. The officials have declined to talk about any specific targets of their investigation, even when anonymity is promised.
As with the investigation into Clinton’s emails, the F.B.I. has received intense partisan flak. Supporters of Clinton and Trump are passionately calling for these investigations- and have even been providing leads for the F.B.I. to follow.
Mr. Reid said Trump’s campaign “has employed many individuals with significant and distressing ties to Russia and to the Kremlin.” Although he cited no salient evidence and has offered no names to follow up on, though he referred to one of Trump’s earlier advisers, one Mr. Carter Page.
Page drew attention this summer over a speech wherein which he criticized the U.S. for its “hypocritical focus on democratization, corruption, inequality, and regime change” in parts of the former Soviet Union. This is hardly a reason to suspect him of a conflict of interest issue with the American public, and the F.B.I’s non-responsive posture to Reid’s accusation reflects this.
Page responded by denying any wrongdoing and called Reid’s accusations “a witch hunt.”
Democrats also accused Republican strategist and unpaid Trump advisor, Roger Stone, of coordinating Russian hackers with WikiLeaks releases, which have made public the emails of the DNC and John Podesta. Stone boasted about his contact with Julian Assange and seemed to have predicted the hacking of Podesta’s email account, although he later denied any prior knowledge.
Stone mocked the accusations and those proffered by Michael Morell, a onetime C.I.A. director and current Clinton supporter, who called Mr. Trump “an unknowing Russian agent.” In an article published on the British conservative news magazine Breitbart, Stone denied having had any links to Russia, and referred to the accusations as “the new McCarthyism.”