President Donald Trump was warned by senior FBI agents that Russia would try to infiltrate his campaign but ignored their request to notify them of any suspicious foreign contacts, NBC News reports.
Senior FBI officials who gave counterintelligence briefings to both Trump and Hillary Clinton last summer, shortly after both parties’ conventions, warned both candidates that Russia would try to infiltrate or spy on their campaigns.
Both candidates were asked to alert the FBI about any “suspicious overtures to their campaigns.”
But NBC News notes that “the situation was complicated by the fact that the FBI had already become aware of contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russia, and was beginning to investigate further. Former CIA Director John Brennan has said he told the FBI about a pattern of contacts the CIA observed between members of the Trump team and Russians, and former FBI Director James Comey said the bureau then began investigating in July 2016.”
The White House claims that Trump was unaware of the contacts between Russia and his campaign at the time and it’s unclear if Trump passed the warning along to other campaign officials.
But at the time, at least seven Trump campaign officials had already been in contact with Russian officials or people linked to the Kremlin.
In May 2016, Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian banker linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin at an NRA event shortly after the banker said he wanted to relay a message to the campaign from Putin.
That same month, foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos told campaign officials he had been discussing setting up a meeting with Putin and Trump with a Kremlin-linked professor.
In June 2016, Trump Jr. hosted a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer who had promised him “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The meeting was also attended by now-White House adviser Jared Kushner and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
In July 2016, Manafort offered private Trump campaign briefings to his former business partner, a Russian oligarch tied to Putin.
Manafort left the campaign in August, shortly before Trump received the warning.
But the contact didn’t stop there.
After the warning, Don Jr. had conversations with Wikileaks, which is accused by US intelligence agencies of acting as a Russian agent.
That same month, then-Senator Jeff Sessions met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Sessions was running the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team at the time and later failed to disclose that meeting with Kislyak, as well as a number of others.
Former FBI counterintelligence agents and supervisor Frank Montoya told NBC News that 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.”
“If I give you a defensive briefing and the illicit behavior continues, I’m not going to just scratch my head over that, especially if I see continued interference,” Montoya said. “If we’re telling these guys stuff and they are not acting on it, then we’re going to keep that as evidence.”
Former FBI counterintelligence head Frank Figliuzzi explained that briefings like the one Trump got “provide an opportunity for investigative subjects to be transparent with the bureau and to come back if such contacts are occurring because of admonishments by the bureau.”
But if they don’t do that, he explained, “a couple of factors could be at play: They didn’t spread the message to the rest of the team or there is some form of guilty conscience that prohibits them.”