WASHINGTON - Senior Russian intelligence and political officials discussed how to influence Donald Trump through his advisers, according to information gathered by American spies last summer, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.
Citing three current and former U.S. officials familiar with the intelligence, the newspaper said the conversations focused on Paul Manafort, then the Trump presidential campaign chairman, and Michael Flynn, a retired general who was then advising Trump.
U.S. congressional committees and a special counsel named by the Justice Department this month are investigating whether there was Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
The controversy has engulfed Trump’s young administration since he fired FBI Director James Comey two weeks ago amid the agency’s investigation of possible Russia ties. Moscow has repeatedly denied the allegations and Trump denies any collusion.
The New York Times report was the latest indication of the depth of concerns within the U.S. intelligence community about Russian efforts to tip November’s election toward Trump as he battled Democrat Hillary Clinton.
On Tuesday, former CIA Director John Brennan told lawmakers he had noticed contacts between associates of Trump’s campaign and Russia during the campaign and grew concerned Moscow had sought to lure Americans down “a treasonous path.”
According to the Times, some Russians boasted about how well they knew Flynn, who was subsequently named Trump’s national security adviser before being dismissed less than a month after the Republican took office.
Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Manafort, who was dismissed from Trump’s campaign, the newspaper reported.
The intelligence was among the clues, including information about direct communications between Trump’s advisers and Russian officials, U.S. officials received last year as they began looking into Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow, the newspaper said.
Former aide to testify
Separately, ABC News reported that Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign, would testify June 6 before the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee. ABC News said Page himself told it about the scheduled testimony.
Page was not immediately available to comment. A spokesman for the committee declined to confirm or deny whether Page would testify before the committee or, if he did so, whether he would appear in public.
On Wednesday morning, the top Democrat on the committee said it would subpoena Flynn in its probe into alleged Russian meddling in the presidential election after he declined to appear before the panel.
“We will be following up with subpoenas, and those subpoenas will be designed to maximize our chance of getting the information that we need,” Representative Adam Schiff told journalists at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
The leaders of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee said on Tuesday they would subpoena two of Flynn’s businesses after he declined to hand over documents in its separate Russia probe.
Flynn, a retired general, is a key witness in the Russia investigations because of his ties to Moscow.
He was fired from his position at the White House in February, after less than a month on the job, for failing to disclose the content of talks with Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and misleading Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations.
Reason for concern
On Tuesday, Brennan, the former CIA director, testified to the House intelligence panel that he had noticed enough contact between Trump associates and Russia during the 2016 campaign to justify an investigation by the FBI.
Brennan’s confirmation of contacts between Russian officials and members of Trump’s team, increased the pressure on investigators to determine whether the Trump camp colluded with the Russians.
Schiff said the House panel had invited its first group of witnesses to testify, it is obtaining documents, and assessing who will cooperate voluntarily, and who will have to be subpoenaed.
He also told reporters the committee was trying to obtain an audio recording of any conversation between Trump and Comey, or Comey’s notes on his meeting with the Republican president in January.
Schiff declined to comment specifically on what financial information the committee was obtaining, but speaking in general terms, he noted that one tactic Russians use to influence foreign nationals is financial entanglement.