Russian government officials discussed having compromising financial information about then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and certain top aides, according to two former U.S. intelligence officials and a congressional source.
The sources, who spoke to CNN in a report published early Tuesday, said communications intercepted last year by U.S. intelligence operatives indicate that the Russians believed the intelligence would give them the power to influence the Trump administration “through the derogatory information.”
However, the sources warned that the Russian officials may have “exaggerated or even made up” the claims as part of its disinformation campaign.
Still, even if the Russian claims are false it would offer more evidence that Moscow was looking not only for ways to influence the outcome of the election but also what dirt it could dig up on the Trump administration. The sources did not identify which Trump aides were discussed in the U.S. intelligence report about the Russian communications.
The White House issued a statement to CNN, attacking the use of unnamed sources.
"This is yet another round of false and unverified claims made by anonymous sources to smear the president,” the statement reads. “The reality is, a review of the president's income from the last ten years showed he had virtually no financial ties at all.”
Trump took to his personal Twitter account Tuesday morning to reiterate a common defense against this and any allegations of wrongdoing: that it’s “Fake News,” a message that resonates with his core base of conservative supporters who believe the mainstream media churns out false information aimed at taking down the president.
Though Trump himself haslauded anonymous leaks, his attitude toward a common journalistic practice changed after he took office.
Russian officials have reportedly bragged to each other about fostering relationships with Trump aides during the president’s campaign. These aides include Michael Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor who was forced to resign in February for not fully disclosing his communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. But Flynn and Manafort have denied any wrongdoings in connection to the investigations into illicit interactions with the Russians.
An FBI investigation into Russian interference that was recently passed to Special Counsel Robert Mueller includes looking into any coordination between Trump presidential campaign associates and Russian officials.
U.S. counterintelligence officials have been looking since last summer into allegations that Russians helped orchestrate a campaign to help Trump win the election through strategic leaks that compromised Trump’s Democratic Party rival Hillary Clinton.