FBI suspects Russia tried to infiltrate Trump campaign through advisers — report

The FBI believes Russia attempted to infiltrate Donald Trump’s campaign for president through some of his advisers, including Carter Page, CNN reported Friday, quoting government sources.

Intelligence gathered by the FBI in the summer of 2016 pointed to such efforts, though it was unclear if Page was at all aware of the attempts, according to CNN.

Page is among the Trump associates under scrutiny as the FBI and congressional committees investigate whether his presidential campaign had ties to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that the FBI obtained a secret court order last summer to monitor the communications of Page, an adviser to then-candidate Trump.

Page was a little known investment banker when Trump announced him as a member of his foreign policy advisory team early last year. Trump aides insist the president has no relationship with Page and did not have any dealings with him during the campaign.

Page’s relationship with Russia began to draw scrutiny during the campaign after he visited Moscow in July 2016 for a speech at the New Economic School. While Page said he was traveling in a personal capacity, the school cited his role in the Trump campaign in advertising the speech.

Page was sharply critical of the US in his remarks, saying Washington has a “hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change.”

Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak, center, arrives before US President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of the US Congress in Washington, DC, February 28, 2017 (AFP/Brendan Smialowski)

Days later, Page talked with Russia’s ambassador to the US at an event on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention. Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke with the Russian envoy at the same event, a conversation he failed to reveal when asked about contacts with the Russians during his Senate confirmation hearings.

In 2013 Page is known to have met with a Russia intelligence operative in New York, though he has denied knowing that the man was a spy.

The US House Intelligence Committee on Friday said it has requested FBI director James Comey and others to testify as part of its Russia probe, one of the investigation’s first steps since its leader stepped down.

The committee said in a statement that it had sent letters Thursday to Comey and National Security Agency director Mike Rogers inviting them to appear at a closed-door hearing on May 2.

It also asked several senior national security figures in the previous administration to appear for an open hearing after May 2: former CIA director John Brennan, former director of national intelligence James Clapper and ex-deputy attorney general Sally Yates.

FBI Director James Comey at the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Russian actions during the 2016 election campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on March 20, 2017. (AFP/Nicholas Kamm)

Comey and Rogers testified in an open hearing late last month. At the time, Comey confirmed that the FBI was investigating whether Trump’s associates coordinated with Russian officials in an effort to sway the 2016 presidential election.

The FBI is conducting a counterintelligence investigation exploring how Russia covertly sought to influence the American presidential election on Trump’s behalf. Such investigations are heavily classified and the committee asked Comey and Rogers to return to testify in a closed session.

The invitations come two weeks after House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes stepped aside as the Republican leader of the House investigation into Russian interference in November’s presidential election, after being criticized for compromising the probe in visits to Trump’s White House.

Nunes faced criticism from Democrats for seeking to turn the investigation away from Russia and toward Trump’s allegations that Barack Obama’s administration had abused its powers by spying on Trump and his advisors.

The probe is now headed by Mike Conaway, a seven-term Republican congressman from Texas tasked with restoring credibility to the bipartisan House investigation.

President Donald Trump gestures as he speaks at the Treasury Department in Washington, Friday, April 21, 2017. (AP /Alex Brandon)

“Back on track,” tweeted congressman Adam Schiff, the panel’s top Democrat, noting he sent the letters along with Conaway.

Nunes’s actions had cast a cloud over the investigation into Russian interference in last year’s presidential campaign and whether any Trump aides or associates collaborated with Moscow.

Two watchdog groups, Democracy 21 and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington have asked the House Ethics Committee to investigate whether Nunes disclosed classified information from intelligence reports.

In January, US intelligence chiefs said Russian President Vladimir Putin had masterminded the hacking and disinformation campaign that aimed to damage Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton and tip the vote in favor of the real estate magnate.

Trump has repeatedly called that charge “fake news.”