Kremlin officials discussed having potentially “derogatory” information about Donald Trump and his top campaign aides that they hoped to use as leverage in conversations interrupted by US intelligence agencies during the 2016 election, according to a report on Tuesday.
The US intelligence agents said the monitored conversations suggested to them that the Russians believed “they had the ability to influence the administration through the derogatory information,” CNN reported citing sources in the US spy community.
But the sources warned that the Russian officials’ claims “could have been exaggerated or even made up” as part of a ploy to sow disinformation during the election, CNN reported.
The report said the sources would not say which campaign associates were talked about, and one source said the US names intercepted in the surveillance were masked but the conversations were focused on Trump’s team.
They also said the Russians had financial information they hoped to use against the campaign.
A White House spokesperson shrugged off the allegations as attempts to “smear the President.”
“The reality is, a review of the President’s income from the last ten years showed he had virtually no financial ties at all. There appears to be no limit to which the President’s political opponents will go to perpetuate this false narrative, including illegally leaking classified material. All this does is play into the hands of our adversaries and put our country at risk,” the statement said.
A number of Trump campaign associates are being investigated for their contacts with Russian officials during the campaign, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former adviser Carter Page.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a top White House adviser, is also being investigated for discussions he had with a Russian ambassador before the inauguration about creating a secret back channel to President Vladimir Putin, according to reports.
Trump has refused to release copies of his tax returns that critics say would show whether he has any financial connections in Russia.
The president said he can’t release the forms because he is under audit.
Along with several congressional panels probing Russia’s interference in the election and any links to the Trump campaign, the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller also have ongoing investigations.