The FBI and DOJ were trying to flip Russian oligarchs since at least 2014. The efforts of both agencies focused largely on Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire and longtime associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The New York Times reports that several sources spoke about the failed mission. Initially, the FBI and Justice Department were attempting to gather information about Russian organized crime.
The investigation was part of a “clandestine American effort to gauge the possibility of gaining cooperation from roughly a half-dozen of Russia’s richest men, nearly all of whom, like Mr. Deripaska, depend on President Vladimir V. Putin to maintain their wealth,” an official told The Times.
It wasn’t until Donald Trump was well into his 2016 Presidential election campaign that both agencies started to focus on possible Russian hacking and collusion.
It should be noted that the Justice Departments Bruce Ohr, a regular target of Donald Trump, and former British spy Christopher Steele were both involved in the effort to recruit Russian oligarchs.
Donald Trump has long claimed that the FBI, DOJ and other members of the “deep state” set out with the sole purpose of undermining his presidency. In reality, it now appears that investigations into Russian organized crime naturally led to a further examination of Trump’s administration.
Interestingly, Christopher Steele, in attempting to recruit Mr. Deripaska, claimed that he may not be a “tool” of Mr. Putin, suggesting that the Russian oligarch could, indeed, be turned into a U.S. asset.
Deripaska is the owner of a massive fortune attributed largely to his company Basic Element, whic owns interests in aluminum, energy, construction, agriculture and more. Many of the Russian oligarch’s interests have come under intense attack by Donald Trump’s tariffs.