Dems seize on torrent of Russia-Trump reports, though connections unclear

As Hillary Clinton fends off a slew of bad headlines over the renewed FBI probe into her private email server, Democrats are seizing on a torrent of fresh reports and claims raising connections between Republican rival Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin’s Russia – though those connections are still unclear.

NBC News first reported Monday that the FBI conducted a preliminary inquiry into former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's foreign business connections in the country. A law enforcement source confirmed to Fox News that while no indictments are pending against Manafort, he and three other members of the Trump campaign were being looked at by a joint intelligence task force for connections to Russian interests.

The inquiry came a day after Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid wrote to FBI Director James Comey alleging Comey had “explosive” information about links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

“The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public,” Reid wrote. “There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information.”

Clinton Campaign Manager Robby Mook followed up, calling on Comey to respond to questions about the report.

Manafort shot back Tuesday morning, calling the NBC report “an outrageous smear” driven by Reid and Clinton.

“It is an attempt by them to take the focus off of the FBI's announcement of last Friday on the FBI's renewed interest in the Clinton email scandal and the WikiLeaks release of DNC and Clinton campaign emails,” he said in a statement.

“There is nothing of my business activities to investigate. There is no FBI investigation and NBC even admitted that there is no [c]riminal investigation,” he said.

Manafort resigned in August after the New York Times reported that handwritten ledgers showed $12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments to him from ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s pro-Russian party between 2007 and 2012. Manafort denied receiving any such payments.

Meanwhile a Mother Jones report Monday cited a former senior intelligence official for a Western nation who specialized in Russian counterintelligence, who reportedly warned the FBI that the Russian government has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” Donald Trump for at least five years.

In reports and memos sent to the FBI, the former spy told Mother Jones that Moscow has “compromised” Trump and has the ability to blackmail him. The spy also said that the Kremlin has information on Clinton based on bugged and intercepted phone calls.

Additionally, Slate reported that computer scientists had found a link between servers at the Trump Organization and a bank in Moscow. The Clinton campaign said the report had found a "secret hotline" which "may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trump's ties to Russia."

However, a New York Times report found that while there had indeed been a wide-ranging probe into the Trump campaign by the FBI, the agency had not found any conclusive or direct link between Trump and the Russian government.

The Times reported that during the investigation, the FBI had looked for financial connections with Russian figures, scrutinized advisers close to Trump, looked for a link between the campaign and those involved in hacking Democratic computers, and even chased a possible lead for a link between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank. Yet officials found no direct link.

Democrats have frequently pushed the narrative that there is a connection between the Republican nominee and the Russian government, evidenced by the leaks of emails from Democratic National Committee staff and Clinton Campaign Chairman John Podesta – which Democrats say were hacked by Russian agents in order to benefit the Trump campaign.

Hillary Clinton frequently criticizes what she says is a cozy relationship between Trump and Putin. Trump has denied this claim, saying while he would like to get along with Russia, he has no business connections in the country and doesn’t know Putin.

Democrats also seized on a CNBC report that claimed Comey had opposed formally naming Russia as a body interfering with the election, saying that it was too close to Election Day. Consequently, the document put out by the Department of Homeland Security naming Russia did not include the FBI’s name.

Democrats blasted Comey over the report, asking why he had election timing concerns about the Russian connection, but not about announcing to Congress the reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

Hillary Clinton tweeted the story late Monday, saying simply: “Incredible.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the report “raises serious questions about a very disturbing double standard.”

“Did Director Comey have concerns about the political fallout of naming Russia as meddling in the United States election because it involved a candidate running for president or his confidants?  We need to know what in the world is going on here,” Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in a statement.

However, a law enforcement source told Fox News that Comey’s reluctance was for fear of tipping off the Russians to their multiagency investigation by revealing their “sources and methods.”

Fox News’ Jennifer Griffin contributed to this report.