FBI investigations as a rule are closely guarded affairs. They often only make sense long afterward, when – or if –charging documents are filed in court. Some general principles, though, usually apply.

Schemes are often disrupted and trails uncovered when lower level charges are brokered in exchange for information, and investigators working along a mostly linear path from smaller players toward headline-grabbing targets.

But with at least three former insiders in investigators’ crosshairs for apparently unrelated transgressions – and a fourth potentially inside the White House – that’s not how the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election appears to be playing out.

“It may not play out. It may take years to play out. We may not know things during this administration about the ultimate findings of any investigation. Potentially we could be talking about learning about this in some future administration,” says Ed McAndrew, a former cybercrime lawyer at the Justice Department and co-chairman of the privacy and data security group at Ballard Spahr.

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