The U.S. is probing whether Russian state-run news agency Sputnik is acting as an undeclared foreign agent in violation of U.S. law, according to a report published Monday, APA reports quoting Anadolu Agency.
Andrew Feinberg, Sputnik's former White House correspondent, was interviewed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Justice Department for more than two hours on Sept. 1 as part of the probe, Yahoo News reported.
Feinberg reportedly turned over a thumb drive containing thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents that Yahoo said could help make a case that the news agency was part of what U.S. officials have characterized as an "influence campaign" aimed at ensuring Donald Trump won last year's Nov. 8 presidential election.
Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), persons operating on behalf of a foreign government in a political capacity must publicly disclose their relationships to foreign governments.
The Justice Department did not respond to multiple inquiries from Anadolu Agency seeking comment on this story.
It is unclear if the FBI and Justice Department investigation is part of special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of alleged Russian interference in last year's presidential race and the Trump campaign's potential collusion.
"We are not confirming whether specific matters are or are not part of our ongoing investigation,” a spokesman for Mueller's investigation told Yahoo.
Mindia Gavasheli, Sputnik's editor in chief, told Yahoo neither she nor anyone at Sputnik was aware of the FBI's probe, saying it is due to an "atmosphere of hysteria".
Her agency, as well as RT, formerly known as Russia Today, were assessed to be part of a Russian “state-run propaganda machine” by U.S. intelligence agencies in January.
Under FARA, media organizations that engage in "bona fide news or journalistic activities" are exempted as long as they are "not owned, directed, supervised, controlled, subsidized, or financed, and none of its policies are determined by any foreign principal".
Feinberg said the investigators focused their questions on how Sputnik develops its editorial direction, on where its instructions come from, and whether he knew where its funding comes from.