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.”
Bipartisan congressional negotiators have reached a critical agreement on a spending bill that if approved by the House and Senate would fund the government through the end of September, senior aides from both parties told CNN.
The plan would add billions of dollars for the Pentagon and border security but would not provide any money for President Donald Trump’s promised border wall with Mexico.
Votes in both chambers are expected by the end of the week.
The suspect in Monday’s train explosion in St. Petersburg, Russia, which killed 11 people and injured dozens, has been identified by Kyrgyz security services, according to several news agencies.
The suspect, named as Akbarjon Djalilov, is a Kyrgyzstan national.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that US sanctions against Russia will remain in place until Moscow “reverses the actions” it has taken in Ukraine.
The comments are notable given President Donald Trump’s reluctance at times to criticize Russia over its actions in Crimea, though he did declare last month that the territory was “taken” by Russia. As a candidate, Trump hinted he might recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and sources have previously told CNN that Ukraine-related sanctions were on the table for review as part of Trump’s interest in pursuing warmer ties with Moscow.
“We do not, and will not, accept Russian efforts to change the borders of territory of Ukraine,” Tillerson said at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
Earlier Friday, Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis criticized Russian actions in overseas comments aimed at reassuring US allies.
Mattis, appearing with his British counterpart in London, also called out the Putin regime for “mucking around” in other people’s elections — a claim that comes as federal and congressional investigators are probing alleged Russian meddling in the US elections last November.
The Senate intelligence committee has asked 20 people to be questioned in its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the panel’s chairman said Wednesday.
“This one is one of the biggest investigations the Hill has seen in my time here,” Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, said at a news conference with committee vice-chairman Mark Warner.
Burr and Warner say they have 20 witnesses they plan to interview and have scheduled interviews with five of them so far. The committee leaders said that they are happy that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort have agreed to testify, but they have not yet decided when they will bring them in.
The Senate investigation has garnered increased intention as the House investigation has stalled along partisan lines related to its chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, and his communication with the White House related to the incidental collection of the president and his aides.
Democrats have called on Nunes to step down from his post, while most Republicans in the chamber say they support Nunes.
The panel will hold its first public hearing Thursday.
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says Chairman Devin Nunes’ announcement that Trump’s communications may have been collected throws “great doubt into the ability of both the chairman and the committee to conduct the investigation the way it ought to be conducted.”
“If the chairman is going to continue to go to the White House instead of his own committee, there is no way we can continue to conduct this investigation,” Rep. Adam Schiff said.
The conversations were “incidentally” collected as part of intelligence sweeps focusing on other people, Nunes said, and implied that Trump was not the target of the surveillance operation.
FBI Chief James Comey said publicly for the first time that his agency is investigating alleged links between Russia and the Trump campaign and whether any crimes may have been committed during last year’s election campaign.
“That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts,” Comey said in his opening statement to a dramatic hearing before the House Intelligence Committee.