Russian officials spoke of having potentially “derogatory” information about Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign, CNN reported on Tuesday, citing two former intel officials and a source in Congress.
The Russian government officials, whose conversations were intercepted by American intelligence, discussed embarrassing information that was apparently financial. The Russians believed “they had the ability to influence the administration through derogatory information,” one unnamed source said.
But another noted that what the Russian officials discussed “could have been exaggerated or even made up.”
Whether true or not, the conversations indicated to US intelligence that Moscow was eager to find ways to influence the election.
In a response to CNN a White House spokesperson said: “This is yet another round of false and unverified claims made by anonymous sources to smear the president. The reality is, a review of the president’s income from the last ten years showed he had virtually no financial ties at all. There appears to be no limit to which the president’s political opponents will go to perpetuate this false narrative, including illegally leaking classified material. All this does is play into the hands of our adversaries and put our country at risk.”
Earlier this month CNN reported that Russian conversations intercepted by the US during the presidential campaign indicated that Moscow saw Trump associate Michael Flynn as an ally who could help influence the Republican nominee.
Sources told the news network that Russian officials were heard boasting of the close relationship they had developed with Flynn, who would eventually be chosen by Trump to serve as his national security adviser — but who was fired from the post only weeks into the new administration’s term.
An Obama administration official told CNN, “This was a five-alarm fire from early on, the way the Russians were talking about him.”
It was recently reported that Barack Obama personally warned Trump against naming Flynn as national security adviser, just two days after the November 8 election.
On May 8 former acting attorney general Sally Yates testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the White House was warned in January that Flynn was vulnerable to Russian blackmail.
Yates confirmed reports that she had told the White House, six days into Trump’s administration, that Flynn, a former military intelligence chief, had not been honest with Vice President Mike Pence about his discussions with the Russian ambassador to Washington, leaving him vulnerable to leverage from Moscow.
It nevertheless took 18 days before the president, pressed by Pence and others, dismissed the retired army lieutenant-general, who had advised him on security issues throughout the 2016 presidential campaign.
Media reports said Trump told Russian diplomats earlier this month his firing of “nut job” James Comey had eased the pressure on him, even as the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation had moved into the White House.
The New York Times reported that the president had told Russian officials he felt the dismissal of his FBI director had relieved “great pressure” on him.
Comey has agreed to testify at an open hearing of the Senate intelligence committee at an undetermined date after Memorial Day.
AP contributed to this report.