The CIA has reportedly been working to prevent the possibility of the Kremlin blackmailing US President Donald Trump by deliberately making public everything regarding the president’s ties with Russia.
A report Wednesday by Israeli website Walla news’s veteran diplomatic correspondent Oren Nahari cited an Israeli official, who said a senior member of the US intelligence community told him the agency suspects that Russia has information on Trump that can be used to pressure the US leader. As a countermeasure, US intelligence operatives are quickly leaking everything they learn about ties between Russia and the Trump administration so that the information can’t be used as leverage against the president.
The report came two days after Trump’s National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned over revelations that during the transition period before the new administration took office he discussed US sanctions strategy with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, then denied having done so to White House leaders.
In January, days before Trump was due to be sworn in, US media reported that spy chiefs had informed Trump that Russian operatives were claiming to possess deeply compromising personal and financial information about him. Trump denounced the CNN report at the time as a “political witch hunt” and declared it “fake news.”
On Wednesday, Trump himself tweeted a scathing rebuke of the intelligence community, saying, “Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?).Just like Russia.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2017
Further indications of interactions between members of Trump’s team and Russian figures were raised Tuesday when The New York Times revealed that intercepted phone calls and records from last year show that members of Trump’s presidential campaign had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials in the year before the 2016 election.
The intercepted communications were uncovered around the same time intelligence agencies discovered evidence that Russia was trying to influence the election campaign by hacking into the Democratic National Convention, according to the report. The intelligence agencies sought to determine whether the Russians had received cooperation from the Trump campaign, with three of the officials interviewed saying no evidence pointing to such a scenario was found.
The Times reported that the Russians made contact with Paul Manafort, who briefly served as Trump’s campaign chairman. In late August, Manafort resigned from that job following disclosures by The Associated Press about his firm’s covert lobbying on behalf of Ukraine’s former pro-Russia governing party.
The New York Times earlier on Tuesday reported that the FBI had interviewed Flynn on his phone calls with the Russian ambassador days into his job and that Trump had known about a possible problem over three weeks ago.
Trump asked Flynn to resign on Monday after the retired army general admitted having misled US Vice President Mike Pence on whether his discussions in December with the Russian ambassador involved US sanctions on Moscow.
Pence insisted in television interviews in mid-January that Flynn hadn’t spoken about sanctions with Kislyak. But last week, it came to light that transcripts of those calls show the topic was broached.
It appears Trump left his vice president in the dark for weeks.
Flynn is the third Trump aide to step back amid questions about his ties to Russia since the mogul began his improbable White House bid.
His departure follows those of Manafort and Carter Page, an early foreign policy adviser to the candidate.
In January, intelligence chiefs presented America’s incoming 45th president, as well as outgoing president Barack Obama, with a two-page synopsis on the potential embarrassment, according to CNN and The New York Times, which cited multiple unnamed US officials with direct knowledge of the meeting.
CNN gave no details of the allegations, but media outlet Buzzfeed published, without corroborating its contents, a 35-page dossier of memos on which the synopsis is ostensibly based, which had been circulating in Washington for months.
The memos describe sex videos involving prostitutes filmed during a 2013 visit by Trump to a luxury Moscow hotel, supposedly as a potential means for Russia to blackmail him. They also suggest Russian officials proposed lucrative deals in order to win influence over the Republican real estate magnate.
The dossier was originally compiled by a former British MI6 intelligence operative hired by other US presidential contenders to do political “opposition research” on Trump in the middle of last year, according to CNN.
The classified two-page synopsis also included allegations that there was a regular flow of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and Russian government intermediaries.
Agencies contributed to this report.