06:03 - Source: CNN
Feds chased suspected foreign link to Trump's 2016 campaign cash for 3 years

Story highlights

For more than three years, federal investigators chased a suspected foreign link to Donald Trump's $10 million donation to his 2016 campaign.

The mystery case went as far as the Supreme Court before officials finally concluded this summer they had reached a dead end.

Washington CNN  — 

CNN revealed on Wednesday the existence of a years-long investigation into whether money flowing through an Egyptian state-owned bank could have backed a donation Donald Trump made to his own campaign in 2016.

The story – based on more than a dozen sources as well as close reads of records the Justice Department released from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and court proceedings – discloses an investigation that was closed this summer without charges.

Federal prosecutors closed the investigation into the Egyptian bank and Trump’s campaign contribution without bringing any charges. But the existence of the three-year probe – which included a subpoena fight that went all the way to the Supreme Court – provides a new understanding of law enforcement’s suspicions of foreign interference in the 2016 election and highlights unresolved questions as Donald Trump seeks a second term in office.

Here are five major points in the story:

1. The investigation was kept ultra-secretive

Federal prosecutors pursued records from an Egyptian bank and looked at the events surrounding Trump’s decision to give $10 million to his own campaign days before the 2016 election. It’s the type of investigation that, politics aside, could have national security and diplomatic implications if revealed in real time.

For that, and other reasons, prosecutors took extraordinary measures to keep the probe under wraps. They shut down an entire floor of a federal courthouse for one hearing, asked a federal judge to bar the subpoena recipient from revealing themselves and disguised the company – now known to be the Egyptian bank – in records, calling its owner Country A in some court filings.

The Mueller report didn’t include details about the investigation, either. Even the team that worked on the case has gone unacknowledged in recent books describing inner workings of the Mueller probe. The strict confidentiality persisted for even a year after Mueller’s probe concluded, as prosecutors pursued the case until its closure.

Secrecy is a standard feature of many federal investigations. Only in the current political climate have investigations like Mueller’s and the DOJ examination of the FBI’s early Russia investigation become so closely tracked, witness interview by witness interview.

2. This was a serious, sustained investigation

Court records and sources have made clear prosecutors had justification for their subpoena to the bank, and they initially had intelligence that led them to look into Egyptian bank records and pursue questions about Trump’s $10 million campaign contribution. The length of the investigation – and the fact it began before Mueller, outlasted Mueller, and lingered in the DC US Attorney’s Office into this year – speaks to its seriousness.

3. Key part of Mueller probe remained hidden, until now

The special counsel’s investigation is often shorthanded as the Russia probe. But it was more than that. Mueller’s mandate allowed him to take on related criminal investigations, which in this case included another probe of potential foreign influence connected to the campaign.

When he testified to Congress in 2019, Mueller said he set out to determine “whether a foreign adversary had interfered in the presidential election.” That was generally assumed to refer to Russia. But this probe shows he was able to take on another pursuit regarding possible foreign interference in the 2016 election.

Mueller’s team was divided into three principal teams: one focused on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, another on Russia’s election interference, and a third on whether the President obstructed justice. But there was a fourth team, CNN has learned: one partly dedicated to investigating the Egypt matter.

Ultimately, this investigation raised major questions about other foreign powers’ possible attempts to influence the Trump campaign in 2016, and the Trump campaign’s connections with Egypt. And its questions about Trump and his contacts persisted under the radar for more than three years, while public attention focused on Trump’s odd affinity for Vladimir Putin.

A spokesman for the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi declined to comment. A Trump 2020 campaign adviser said Trump has never received money from Egypt.

4. CNN’s report solves the mystery of the Mueller grand jury subpoena

In 2018, reporters at Politico and CNN first noticed a sealed case quietly proceeding through federal courts in Washington, DC. It was shrouded in mystery and became one of the most perplexing parts of the Mueller probe. The only real information that could be gleaned was that it involved the special counsel’s office battling for a grand jury subpoena of “Country A,” and a wholly owned corporate entity.

Now, it’s clear that the case was about Egypt and one of its national banks, and that it captured a key dispute in a major investigation related to foreign influence in the 2016 Trump campaign.

The grand jury subpoena case wasn’t a typical one-off dispute. The court records show it was one of prosecutors’ most important pursuits – and involved the only time during Mueller’s two-year investigation that a case went to the Supreme Court, fleshing out legal arguments about international cooperation and trust along the way.

In late March 2019, one prosecutor told the judge the standoff over records from the bank “goes to the core of the question of this investigation.”

5. Unanswered questions remain

According to CNN’s reporting and the Justice Department’s own admission in response to the reporting, prosecutors did not bring any charges to prove a connection between Trump’s $10 million campaign contribution and any foreign influence.

This pinpoints one of the toughest lessons of the Mueller investigation: That sometimes, prosecutors can’t get to the bottom of legitimate suspicions and important questions. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been resolved.

Neither Mueller’s office nor subsequent prosecutors ever gained a complete understanding of the President’s financial ties, nor did they find an illegal connection between his campaign and Egypt, Russia or other foreign officials. No charges were brought related to the Egypt probe, and even before the case’s closure, a US Attorney in Washington, DC, determined prosecutors hadn’t met the standard to seek additional records related to Trump’s finances.

On the Egypt side, prosecutors were left with what a federal judge called in February 2019 records with “glaring unexplained gaps,” according to court hearing transcripts.

In the murkiness of national security, foreign influence and complex financial investigations, cold cases can exist. Sometimes they end inconclusively. In the case of this President, who has refused to release his tax returns, there’s still a lack of public understanding of his sprawling financial empire and wealth.