Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the timing of nearly $2 million in contributions to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign by three American donors with “significant Russian business connections,” ABC News reports.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC News the contributions could be of interest to investigators—even if they were not directed by a foreigner (which would make those donations illegal).
“Obviously, if there were those that had associations with the Kremlin that were contributing, that would be of keen concern,” Schiff said.
As ABC notes, the Center for Responsive Politics revealed two large donors to Trump’s campaign were born in the former Soviet Union, and a third “heads the subsidiary of a large Russian private equity firm.” The three persons of interest reportedly began donating to the Republican National Committee just as Trump became the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. They also donated a total of $1.25 million to Trump’s inaugural fund.
One of those donors, Andrew Intrater—who donated $285k to Trump’s Inauguration fund—is the head of Columbus Nova, a subsidiary of of Renova Group, the massive conglomerate owned by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who frequently meets with Russian president Vladimir Putin. The other two men reportedly being probed by Mueller, Ukrainian-born billionaire Leonard Blavatnik and Russian-born oil executive Simon Kukes, also have ties to Vekeselberg.
Schiff told ABC News following the money from Trump’s donors to people with ties to Russia could be key to Mueller’s investigation.
“The oligarchs are really part and parcel of service to the Kremlin,” Schiff said. “They can be called upon at basically Putin’s will to do what he needs done. It gives them some distance from the Kremlin, it gives them some plausible deniability.”
The news comes as Mueller will reportedly begin interviewing White House staffers this week. The special counsel is investigating Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election and possible conclusion with the Trump campaign. He is also reportedly looking at potential financial crimes committed by current or former Trump aides, as well as whether Trump committed obstruction of justice with his firing of former FBI Director James Comey.