Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigative team recently questioned at least two “Russian oligarchs” who entered the U.S.
At least one of them had his electronic devices searched shortly after his private jet landed in New York. A second Russian oligarch was also questioned during his recent trip to the U.S., although it is not clear if he was searched.
Who reported this?
The information comes from CNN, which quoted multiple anonymous sources and did not name the Russians who were questioned.
Investigators are conducting the searches to attempt to find out if wealthy Russians made direct or indirect donations to President Donald Trump's campaign and inauguration, according to the report.
The news comes after other mainstream news outlets announced that Mueller is continuing his investigation, but Trump is not considered a criminal target. That announcement was based on information Mueller shared with Trump's attorneys.
According to CNN, the actions show that Mueller’s team is intensifying its effort to unearth evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Campaign finance laws prohibit foreign nationals from donating to U.S. political campaigns.
The report states:
“The approach to Russian oligarchs in recent weeks may reflect that Mueller's team has already obtained records or documents that it has legal jurisdiction over and can get easily, one source said, and now it's a 'wish list' to see what other information they can obtain from Russians entering the U.S. or through their voluntary cooperation.
The sources did not share the names of the oligarchs but did describe the details of their interactions with the special counsel's team.”
The investigation is going as far as looking into investments Russians may have made to companies or think tanks linked to political action committees that donated to the Trump campaign and inauguration. Another avenue being explored is whether Russia funneled money through Americans with citizenship.
Are these common tactics?
Aggressive surprise tactics are sometimes used by prosecutors and investigators, a former federal prosecutor told CNN.
"Prosecutors and investigators like the element of surprise when you can get more instinctive (and often truthful) responses," said Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor.
Goldman said Mueller's team is obtaining search warrants to access electronic devices and the element of surprise is crucial "because you don't want anyone to wipe their phone."
Last week, Ted Malloch, an informal Trump campaign adviser, said he was stopped by FBI agents following an international trip. Agents took his cellphone and questioned him about “Republican political operative Roger Stone and WikiLeaks.”
Malloch is scheduled to make an April 13 appearance before Mueller's grand jury.