In the final hours of Barack Obama’s presidency, some White House officials reportedly raced to spread and preserve information about possible communications between associates of then-candidate Donald Trump and Russians.
The New York Times, citing former American officials, reported that these officials were concerned that the information they were gaining on the Russian meddling in the election and the possible campaign contact could be compromised with the new administration, and they wanted to set up any future investigation with the information.
According to The Times, after Obama asked for an investigation into Russian tampering into the elections, officials found some “damning” evidence.
A former intelligence official confirmed to Fox News that the Obama administration was determined to keep the Russian issue alive and data on Moscow’s election interference was circulated broadly.
The usual intelligence practice is to circulate assessments privately, but such was the gravity of Russia’s actions that there were two versions – one for the public to digest and the other classified, the former official said.
The New York Times reported that intelligence agencies pushed forward as much “raw” intelligence they could analyze. The intelligence reports were also reportedly labeled a low classification level, so they would be accessible to more government workers — and some European allies.
The Obama officials reportedly wanted to make sure that as many individuals — with the proper clearances — could see the intelligence. One of the tactics reportedly used was that officials asked pointed questions during intelligence briefings. The report said the answers to those questions are archived.
Congressional staffers have said they are unaware of any evidence that materials related to Russia are not being preserved.
But Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said last week: “There is real concern that some in the administration may try to cover up its ties to Russia by deleting emails, texts and other records that could shine a light on those connections. These records are likely to be the subject of executive branch as well as congressional investigations and must be preserved.”
The Times report was released the same day that allegations emerged that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had two conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during last year’s presidential campaign.
The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. investigators had examined contacts between Sessions and Russian officials and that the Justice Department was “wringing its hands” about how to proceed in the matter.
The Journal also reported that Sessions did not know that his communications were under investigation.
Reports about the meetings appeared to contradict a statement Sessions made during his confirmation hearing to become attorney general.
Sessions was asked by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., how he would respond “if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign.”When contacted by Fox News late Wednesday, Sessions said, “I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign. I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
Earlier this year, the FBI interviewed Michael Flynn, then Trump’s national security adviser, about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. after the election. Flynn was fired after it was revealed that he misled Vice President Pence and other White House officials about the nature of his discussions with the envoy.
Trump, for his part, has denied that his campaign had any contact with Russian officials. The Times report pointed out that Trump has accused Obama officials with playing up the Russia story.
“The only new piece of information that has come to light is that political appointees in the Obama administration have sought to create a false narrative to make an excuse for their own defeat in the election,” Sean Spicer, the current White House spokesman, said, according to The Times. “There continues to be no there, there.”
The intelligence community has assessed that Russia’s hacking of Democratic groups and operatives was carried out to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump has denied having any knowledge that aides were in touch with Russian intelligence agents during the election.