Top Russian officials last summer discussed how to gain influence over Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump through his advisers, according to intelligence data reported Wednesday by The New York Times.
The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, who headed the Trump campaign at the time, and Michael Flynn, who was advising Trump on national security issues, according to the report.
The Russians "appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump's opinions on Russia," the Times reported, citing "three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence."
"The current and former officials agreed to discuss the intelligence only on the condition of anonymity because much of it remains highly classified, and they could be prosecuted for disclosing it," according to the report.
However, Manafort told the Times in a statement: "If there ever was any effort by Russians to influence me, I was unaware, and they would have failed.
"I did not collude with the Russians to influence the elections."
In addition, the White House, FBI, and CIA declined to comment.
Flynn's lawyer also did not respond to an email seeking comment.
According to the report, some of the Russians bragged of their ties to Flynn, while others discussed "leveraging their ties" to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, with whom Manafort worked for more than a decade.
U.S. intelligence officials obtained the data as they began to investigate Moscow's meddling in the presidential election, the sources told the Times.
"The information collected last summer was considered credible enough for intelligence agencies to pass to the FBI, which during that period opened a counterintelligence investigation that is continuing," according to the report.
"It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence" Flynn or Manafort, the newspaper wrote.
Both former aides have denied working with the Russian government in its efforts.
Manafort headed the Trump campaign last May, but he had worked for political organizations and people who supported Moscow in Ukraine, the Times reported.
These included Yanukovych, who was a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Manafort left the campaign in August over his ties to Ukraine.
Flynn, who later became Trump's national security adviser, was fired in February over concerns over misleading statements about his dealings with Moscow to Vice President Mike Pence.
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