The latest revelations, first reported by NBC News tonight (Dec. 14), bring the investigation one step closer to Trump and key members of his campaign.
Two senior officials with direct access to the information said intelligence officials now believe with a “high level of confidence” that the hacking effort was directed from the highest levels of the Kremlin.
It seems inconceivable that Putin would have a direct hand in the effort without the involvement or knowledge of top officials in Trump’s campaign and possibly the president-elect himself.
Money & Power reported last month that a senior Russian diplomat confirmed on Russian television that key members of Trump’s campaign were in touch with Russian officials during the election.
“Obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. “… I cannot say that all of them but quite a few have been staying in touch with Russian representatives.”
The contacts “were on a sufficient, responsible level,” Ryabkov said in an interview with the state-run Interfax news agency.
Two top Trump Campaign advisers, Michael Flynn and Carter Page have ties to the Russian dictator.
Flynn has been courted and groomed by Margarita Simonyan the Editor-in-Chief of RT (formally known as Russia Today), the Russian government propaganda network.
In 2015, RT served as one of the Kremlin’s primary tools to deny its invasion of eastern Ukraine and its role in the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Flynn took part in a paid speaking event in Russia at about the same time and became a semi-regular guest on RT.
He attended RT’s 10 anniversary gala and sat just a few seats away from Putin, attesting to his importance as an intelligence asset to the Russian propaganda effort.
He has appeared on RT programs numerous times arguing for better relations between the U.S. and Russia. He’s been an advocate for Russia on news programs in the United States.
Flynn is also a vocal critic of China and has also argued in favor of keeping Russia’s client, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in power, which is directly contrary to U.S. policy.
His views reflect to varying degrees talking points that are in line with the Kremlin.
Page is the founder and managing partner Global Energy Capital, an investment fund with years of experience investing in Russia and the energy sector, according to Politico.
Page, 44, told The New York Times he had been sending policy memos to the campaign and is advising Trump on “energy policy and Russia.”
The financier is reportedly under investigation by U.S. intelligence for purported back-channel ties to Russian leaders, according to reports.
During the election campaign, Putin had a number of goals he hoped to accomplish through the hacking effort, a high-level intelligence source told NBC.
At its center was a “vendetta” against Clinton, who favored a tough-line on Russia for its annexation of Crimea, incursion in Ukraine and role in Syria propping up Bashar Al Assad’s regime.
She wrote in her 2014 memoir, “Hard Choices,” published before her presidential campaign, that Russia was not to be trusted. “Strength and resolve were the only language Putin would understand,” she cautioned President Obama, according to Foreign Policy magazine.
As the campaign picked up, Putin reportedly broadened the mission of the hacking campaign to discredit American democracy and create an image that the U.S. was incapable of being a “credible global leader,” the official said. Those same themes were echoed throughout Trump’s campaign.
Russian chess master Gary Kasparov told CNN in October that he was “absolutely” certain Putin was interfering in the election.
He also said the Russian government likely has Trump campaign emails as well. But had refrained from releasing them.
“I don’t believe for a second that Trump was clean and they couldn’t find anything,” he said. “More likely, they had plenty but they decided to use it privately to good effect, whether we are talking about debts or blackmail.”
U.S intelligence officials have reached the same conclusion, although Republican National Committee officials have adamantly denied being hacked.
Ultimately, the CIA has assessed, the Russian government wanted to elect Trump, who has proved to be a valuable Russian asset since the election.
Officials believed “only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities,” according to NBC>
That was an intelligence judgment based on an understanding of the Russian system of government, which Putin controls with absolute authority.
Michael McFaul, ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014 told NBC:
“It is most certainly consistent with the Putin that I have watched and used to work with when I was an ambassador and in the government. He has had a vendetta against Hillary Clinton, that has been known for a long time because of what she said about his elections back in the parliamentary elections of 2011. He wants to discredit American democracy and make us weaker in terms of leading the liberal democratic order. And most certainly he likes President-elect Trump’s views on Russia,”
Whether links can be established between the Trump campaign and Putin’s propaganda effort remain to be seen. But given that the hacking effort received attention from the highest levels of the Kremlin, it seems inconceivable that Trump, or those close to him were unaware of the effort.
This is a developing story. Follow Money & Power on Twitter for the latest updates.