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Exclusive: Feds chased suspected foreign link to Trump's 2016 campaign cash for three years

October 14, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

For more than three years, federal prosecutors investigated whether money flowing through an Egyptian state-owned bank could have backed millions of dollars Donald Trump donated to his own campaign days before he won the 2016 election, multiple sources familiar with the investigation told CNN.

Washington (CNN)For more than three years, federal prosecutors investigated whether money flowing through an Egyptian state-owned bank could have backed millions of dollars Donald Trump donated to his own campaign days before he won the 2016 election, multiple sources familiar with the investigation told CNN.

The investigation was kept so secret that at one point investigators locked down an entire floor of a federal courthouse in Washington, DC, so Mueller's team could fight for the Egyptian bank's records in closed-door court proceedings following a grand jury subpoena.

But multiple sources said there was sufficient information to justify the subpoena and keep the criminal campaign finance investigation open after the Mueller probe ended.

CNN learned of the Egypt investigation from more than a dozen sources familiar with the effort, as well as through hints in public records, including newly released court documents and Mueller witness interview summaries, called 302s, that CNN and Buzzfeed obtained through lawsuits.

In a court filing last month, the Justice Department confirmed that when the special counsel's office shut down in 2019, Mueller transferred an ongoing foreign campaign contribution investigation to prosecutors in Washington.

Some of CNN's sources have confirmed that the case, which Mueller cryptically called a "foreign campaign contribution" probe, was in fact the Egypt investigation.

The probe was confirmed this week by a Justice Department senior official who responded to CNN's queries: "The case was first looked at by the Special Counsel investigators who failed to bring a case, and then it was looked at by the US attorney's office, and career prosecutors in the national security section, who also were unable to bring a case.

Part of what drew investigators' initial interest in the matter was intelligence, including from an informant, that suggested there could have been money from an Egyptian bank that ended up backing Trump's last-minute injection of $10 million into his 2016 campaign, according to two of the sources.

As aggressive as Mueller's office was -- charging multiple Trump advisers for obstruction, gaining cooperators, indicting Russians for election-related malfeasance and documenting attempts by the President to obstruct justice -- the special counsel has faced criticism, including from one of its own prosecutors, for not taking bold enough investigative steps to gain access to the President's finances.

After Trump's election win, the FBI began working with prosecutors in the DC US attorney's office to investigate the Egypt matter, according to a person familiar with the office.

According to a recent book by Andrew Weissmann, one of Mueller's senior prosecutors, the special counsel's office consisted of three principal teams: one focused on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, another on Russia's election interference, and a third on the President's attempts to obstruct justice.

Mueller's team tried to understand both the $10 million contribution Trump gave to his campaign 11 days before the 2016 election and the Trump campaign's ties to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, according to sources and redacted interview records released from the Mueller investigation.

By summer 2017, Mueller's office was handling the Egypt investigation gingerly, with the team of prosecutors and FBI personnel often working without sharing full details with the other teams in the office, according to multiple accounts of the office's dynamics.

One official familiar with the work said some investigators believed the Egypt inquiry presented a more direct avenue for Mueller's team to examine Trump's finances, in part because it did not have an obvious tie to Russia.

Mueller's team repeatedly asked witnesses questions about Trump foreign policy campaign adviser Walid Phares and his ties to Egypt, after intelligence pointed them toward him.

The FBI has not made public records that show Mueller's team interviewing Phares, though the former Trump adviser has said he spoke to investigators.

The bank had handed over almost 1,000 pages of documents to prosecutors, translated into English, according to redacted court records that were eventually released after the Mueller investigation concluded.

In late March 2019, shortly after Mueller's investigation concluded, Howell, overseeing final court proceedings in the Egyptian bank's subpoena case,  asked a prosecutor point-blank if the investigation was over.

Another prosecutor in the office told the judge the investigation, even after Mueller, was "very much a live issue" requiring "a great deal of resources, time and attention by the government," according to a transcript of a late March 2019 court hearing.

At one point, prosecutors wanted to subpoena Trump's bank records, according to sources briefed on the investigation.

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