Top Russian officials discussed how to influence Trump aides last summer

The New York Times reports: American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.

The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.

Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.

The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign. [Continue reading…]

CNN reports: Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose meetings he had last year with Russian officials when he applied for his security clearance, the Justice Department told CNN Wednesday.

Sessions, who met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at least two times last year, didn’t note those interactions on the form, which requires him to list “any contact” he or his family had with a “foreign government” or its “representatives” over the past seven years, officials said.

The new information from the Justice Department is the latest example of Sessions failing to disclose contacts he had with Russian officials. He has come under withering criticism from Democrats following revelations that he did not disclose the same contacts with Kislyak during his Senate confirmation hearings earlier this year. [Continue reading…]

ABC News reports: Even with the Senate Intelligence Committee focused this week on its investigation of Russia’s alleged meddling in last year’s presidential election, the committee met behind closed doors today for a classified briefing from senior FBI and Homeland Security officials over another alleged threat emanating from Moscow: a major software company whose products are used widely across the United States.

The visit from FBI and Homeland Security officials has long been planned. But congressional sources told ABC News that in recent days the agenda expanded to specifically include an update on U.S. intelligence about Kaspersky Lab, a Moscow-based firm that has become one of the world’s largest and most respected cybersecurity firms.

Current and former U.S. officials worry that state-sponsored hackers could try to exploit Kaspersky Lab’s anti-virus software to steal and manipulate users’ files, read private emails or attack critical infrastructure in the U.S. And they point to Kaspersky Lab executives with previous ties to Russian intelligence and military agencies. [Continue reading…]

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