The two US agencies offered Deripaska assistance in getting visas for the United States in exchange for information on Russian organized crime and, later, on possible Russian aid to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, The New York Times reported, citing current and former officials and associates of Deripaska.
The move aimed to measure the possibility of flipping several of Russia’s wealthiest men, most of whom have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Justice Department official Bruce Ohr, who has been frequently attacked by Trump on Twitter recently, and former British spy Christopher Steele are believed to have played a role in the effort to recruit Russian oligarchs.
In one encounter, FBI agents showed up unannounced and uninvited at a home Deripaska has in New York and questioned him about whether Paul Manafort, a former business partner of his who later became chairman of Trump’s campaign, had worked as a liaison between Russia and the Trump campaign.
During the interrogation, Deripaska described the theories about Manafort’s role on the campaign as “preposterous,” dismissing any potential connections between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
The anonymous officials told the Times they were afraid that disclosing the attempt could undercut national security, however, they also said they did not want the secret nature of the program to let Trump and his Republican allies “cherry-pick facts and present them, sheared of context, to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation” into the alleged Russian interference.
Trump and the key members of his team have been under investigation for allegedly “colluding” with Moscow during the 2016 campaign.
Russia has time and again denied the allegations on interfering in other countries’ democratic process, dismissing them as part of a “Russophobia” campaign run by the West.