- Donald Trump was reportedly warned last year by senior FBI officials that Russia would try to infiltrate his campaign team.
- The FBI’s warning came at least one month after the FBI had already opened an investigation into Russia’s election interference and whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Moscow to undermine Hillary Clinton.
- The revelation sheds new light on what Trump knew about Russian meddling and raises questions about why his campaign team did not report the many overtures it received from Russia-linked entities to the FBI as requested.
Senior FBI officials warned Donald Trump last year that Russia would likely try to spy on and infiltrate his presidential campaign team and that he should report any suspicious overtures to the bureau, NBC News reported on Monday.
A similar counterintelligence briefing was given to the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton.
Trump has repeatedly called the Russia investigation a “Democratic hoax” and “witch hunt” aimed at delegitimizing his election victory. He has also alleged that former President Barack Obama “did nothing” about Russia’s election interference prior to Election Day.
The revelation that he was briefed by the FBI, however, sheds new light on what Trump knew about Russian meddling and raises questions about why his campaign team did not report the many overtures it received from Russia-linked entities to the FBI as requested.
Trump would have been told, “If you see these kinds of contacts please let us know about them so we can keep you updated on the threat picture,” Frank Montoya, a former FBI counterintelligence agent and supervisor who retired in 2016, told NBC.
By the time Trump and Clinton started receiving their classified intelligence briefings in August 2016, Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman had already met with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower on the promise of obtaining “dirt” on Clinton; then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort had offered “private briefings” about the campaign to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska; and campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos had made repeated efforts to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Several campaign officials had also received an email with the subject line “Russian backdoor overture” in May 2016 from an intermediary on behalf of Aleksander Torshin, the deputy head of Russia’s central bank and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner vetoed a Trump-Torshin meeting, but Trump Jr. was introduced to him at an NRA event in May 2016.
There is no evidence to date that the Trump campaign reported any of those overtures or interactions to the FBI. But the bureau had already become aware of the campaign’s contacts with Russians by the time Trump was briefed – an investigation into those contacts, and Russia’s election interference more broadly, was opened in July 2016, according to former FBI Director James Comey’s congressional testimony in March.
The Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia-linked entities continued even after Trump was warned about Russia espionage by the FBI.
WikiLeaks, which published stolen Democratic National Committee emails and was called a “hostile intelligence service” by CIA Director Mike Pompeo earlier this year, began sending private messages to Donald Trump Jr. in September 2016. Trump Jr. responded at least three times, though it is not clear whether he deleted any messages before sharing them with federal and congressional investigators.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a top Trump campaign surrogate who also led his foreign policy team, met with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak in his Senate office in September. He did not disclose that meeting to Congress during his confirmation hearings.
White House communications director Hope Hicks was still targeted by Russia even after Trump won the election, according to the New York Times. She was told by FBI officials in January that Russian nationals emailing her were not who they said they were.
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