Remember, the investigation into the president’s team for possible connections to Russia is not where the still unfolding issues over the 2016 election end.
The FBI is now reported to be investigating the Russian government sponsored news agency known as Sputnik. To be sure, it’s unclear whether or not federal concerns over Sputnik are connected to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible Trump team collaboration in those efforts. A spokesperson for Mueller’s office told Yahoo News that they would not confirm “whether specific matters are or are not part of our ongoing investigation.”
The issue with Sputnik is that it may be violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act and operating as a covert propaganda arm for the Russian government.
Andrew Feinberg, who was fired from his role as Sputnik’s White House correspondent in May, has told Yahoo News that he was questioned earlier this month, on September 1, by an FBI agent and a lawyer from the Justice Department. Feinberg also turned over a thumb drive “containing thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents,” and this material could help the federal government build its case against Sputnik News.
Feinberg told Yahoo News that federal investigators wanted to know how big of a role Moscow plays in what Sputnik covers — a role that Feinberg says is significant.
‘They wanted to know where did my orders come from and if I ever got any direction from Moscow. They were interested in examples of how I was steered towards covering certain issues.’
He added that his supervisors “would say ‘Moscow wants this or Moscow wants that.'”
Former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa called the FBI looking into Sputnik “incredibly significant,” telling Yahoo:
‘The FBI has since the 1970s taken pains not to be perceived in any way as infringing on First Amendment activity. But this tells me they have good information and intelligence that these organizations have been acting on behalf of the Kremlin.’
Concerns over Sputnik — and its “sister” news organization, RT — are not new. RT, for example, was among those who most passionately pushed the story of the various crops of emails stolen from key Democratic operatives as they came out. Sputnik and RT were both pinned down as part of Russia’s “state-run propaganda machine” in a U.S. intelligence report that came out earlier this year.
Feinberg isn’t even the only former Sputnik employee to interact with the FBI. The FBI reportedly reached out to Feinberg following their receipt of a letter from former Sputnik staffer Joseph John Fionda detailing allegations that Sputnik operates much more as a propaganda organization than as a legitimate news organization.
Contacted by Yahoo News, Sputnik’s U.S. Editor-in-Chief Mindia Gavasheli unsurprisingly denied that their operations aren’t legitimate, adding that he was previously unaware of the FBI probe.
Gavasheli told Yahoo:
‘Any assertion that we are not a news organization is simply false… I think [the investigation] tells about the atmosphere of hysteria that we are witnessing now. Anything being related to Russia right now is being considered a spycraft of some sort.’
The president has been infamously slow to address the threat of Russian meddling in our electoral processes, adding to the suspicion that he’s in on it. Even still, the brunt of the federal government’s law enforcement agencies have not been slow as Trump has.
Depending on the outcome of the FBI’s inquiry, members of Sputnik’s leadership could face fines and/or criminal charges. In addition, Sputnik reports would have to be explicitly presented as propaganda from here on out.
Featured Image via AFP/ Getty Images