The FBI is investigating whether Kremlin-funded news agency Sputnik is violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by serving as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Russian government, Yahoo News reported Monday.
This probe is based in part on thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents dictating how specific stories should be shaped that were turned over to the FBI by the news agency’s former White House correspondent, Andrew Feinberg. Feinberg told Yahoo he also recently sat down for a two-hour interview with an FBI agent and Justice Department lawyer to discuss how stories were assigned and edited, as well as the site’s funding.
“They wanted to know where did my orders come from and if I ever got any direction from Moscow,” Feinberg told Yahoo. “They were interested in examples of how I was steered towards covering certain issues.”
It was unclear if Feinberg’s questioners were working on behalf of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to the report. That sprawling probe focuses in part on the use of Russian social media bots and Kremlin-funded news sites to propagate false news stories that boosted Donald Trump’s campaign and spread misinformation about his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
Sputnik’s U.S. editor in chief, Mindia Gavasheli, told Yahoo that he was unaware of any federal investigation into his news operation and denied any wrongdoing.
“Any assertion that we are not a news organization is simply false,” Gavasheli told the site. “This is the first time I’m hearing about it, and I don’t think anyone at Sputnik was contacted, so thank you for letting us know.”