According to CNN, during the summer of 2016, the U.S. intelligence caught on tape a conversation between Russian government officials saying that they had “derogatory” information on the then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and his campaign. CNN quoted one congressional source and two former U.S. spies in the explosive article.
Russians Contemplating Possible Leverage over Trump
One of the sources said that the Russians may have compromising financial information about the Trump campaign, and that the intercepted talks were about the possibility of having leverage over Trump and his close aides. U.S. spies said the communications revealed that Moscow thought it could use the information to influence the nascent administration.
However, sources added that the information the U.S. spies came across could have been exaggerated or even false since the Kremlin led a disinformation campaign on all fronts during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Yet, the new details suggest that Russia was planning to influence the U.S. election even if the contents of the communications were false. The sources did not tell CNN which campaign aide was targeted by the Russians.
One of the officials said the intelligence report detailing the communications censored the names of the American officials. But from the context of the discussions, it was quite clear that the Russian operatives were talking about Trump’s associates. All sources declined to provide more details citing the classified nature of the communications.
One source added that Russia may have been overconfident about its ability to influence the U.S. election. It is not the first time, U.S. spies intercept the communications of Russian operatives bragging about their relationship with Trump aides such as Michael Flynn and former campaign chair Paul Manafort on the campaign trail.
White House Dismisses Revelations
A spokesman for the president dismissed the latest revelations as a “yet another round of false and unverified claims made by anonymous sources to smear the President.” The spokesperson said that a recent analysis of the president’s financial situation over the last decade showed he had no connection to Russia.
The White House added that Trump’s rivals have “no limit” to which they would go to smear the presidency, including illegal leaks of classified info to the press. These moves represent a national security risk as they put the country in the harm’s way.
The FBI declined to confirm the recent disclosures, while Flynn and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) have yet to reply to a request for comment.
Manafort dismissed reports that he benefited from illegal finances as false, and he denied of having any shady connections with Russia before joining the Trump campaign. Manafort agreed to testify before a congressional panel about the alleged Trump camp-Russia collusion.
The FBI started an investigation into the collusion which is now overseen by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is also a former FBI chief. Mueller is looking for evidence that there was a coordination between Trump’s campaign aides and Russia. FBI agents are now reviewing the financial operations of several of Trump’s close aides.
Nevertheless, the US counterintelligence was looking into the Russian connection long before the FBI stepped in. The public learned that Russia may hold derogatory information about Trump from a former British spy who created a dossier. The former British intel officer Christopher Steele shared some of the information he had with the agency last summer.
CNN acknowledged that it hasn’t been able to verify the recent revelations or the information in Steele’s dossier.
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