WASHINGTON – High-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to U.S. intelligence, multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials tell CNN.
President-elect Trump and then-President Barack Obama were both briefed on details of the extensive communications between suspected Russian operatives and people associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump business, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.
Both the frequency of the communications and the proximity to Trump of those involved “raised a red flag” with U.S. intelligence and law enforcement, according to these officials. The communications were intercepted during routine intelligence collection targeting Russian officials and other Russian nationals known to U.S. intelligence.
Officials emphasized that communications between campaign staff and representatives of foreign governments are not unusual. However, these communications stood out to investigators due to the frequency and the level of the Trump advisers involved. Investigators have not reached a judgment on the intent of those conversations.
Adding to U.S. investigators’ concerns were intercepted communications between Russian officials before and after the election discussing their belief that they had special access to Trump, two law enforcement officials tell CNN. These officials cautioned the Russians could have been exaggerating their access.
CNN has reached out to the White House for comment.
The extensive contacts drew concerns of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials in part because it came at a time of Russian cyberactivities targeting mostly Democratic Party political organizations.
Post-election intelligence briefings on Russian meddling in the U.S. elections included details of those communications, which included people involved in Trump’s businesses.
The communications were gathered as part of routine U.S. intelligence collection and not because people close to Trump were being targeted.
The FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies continue to try to determine what the motive for the communications were.
One concern was whether Trump associates were coordinating with Russian intelligence operatives the release of damaging information about the Hillary Clinton campaign.
“If that were the case, then that would escalate things,” one official briefed on the investigation said.