CNN — Russian government officials discussed having potentially “derogatory” information about then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and some of his top aides in conversations intercepted by US intelligence during the 2016 election, according to two former intelligence officials and a congressional source.
One source described the information as financial in nature and said the discussion centered on whether the Russians had leverage over Trump’s inner circle. The source said the intercepted communications suggested to US intelligence that Russians believed “they had the ability to influence the administration through the derogatory information.”
But the sources, privy to the descriptions of the communications written by US intelligence, cautioned the Russian claims to one another “could have been exaggerated or even made up” as part of a disinformation campaign that the Russians did during the election.
The details of the communication shed new light on information US intelligence received about Russian claims of influence. The contents of the conversations made clear to US officials that Russia was considering ways to influence the election — even if their claims turned out to be false.
None of the sources would say which specific Trump aides were discussed. One of the officials said the intelligence report masked the American names but it was clear the conversations revolved around the Trump campaign team. Another source would not give more specifics, citing the classified nature of the information.
“The Russians could be overstating their belief to influence,” said one of the sources.
As CNN first reported, the US intercepted discussions of Russian officials bragging about cultivating relationships with Trump campaign aides during the campaign, including Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, to influence Trump. Following CNN’s report, The New York Times said Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort was also discussed.
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