- CNN reports that the U.S. government extracted a high-level Kremlin source in 2017, partially out of concerns that President Trump and his administration had mishandled classified information in the past.
- The report also says that U.S. officials were concerned about media reports that had revealed details about the Russian mole.
- The author of the story is Jim Sciutto, a former Obama administration official who has been heavily critical of Trump at CNN.
CNN reported Monday that in the early months of the Trump presidency in 2017, the CIA extracted a high-level Russian government official working as a mole deep inside the Kremlin.
Jim Sciutto, a former Obama administration official, reports for CNN that the unnamed Russian official provided information to the U.S. government about Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that the person was considered an unparalleled source of information.
The report adds new details about how U.S. intelligence agencies gathered information regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 election. One of Sciutto’s anonymous sources also provided a potential bombshell about the intelligence community’s rationale for conducting the extraction.
According to the report, U.S. intelligence officials made the move out of concerns that President Donald Trump would disclose sensitive details about the person and the operation to Russia. The decision was made shortly after Trump had an Oval Office meeting with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in May 2017. Trump disclosed sensitive information about military operations in Syria during that meeting.
But the CNN story also provides contradictory information about the decision to carry out the extraction. The White House and CIA are also disputing the report.
“CNN’s narrative that the Central Intelligence Agency makes life-or-death decisions based on anything other than objective analysis and sound collection is simply false,” CIA public affairs director Brittany Bramell told CNN.
“Misguided speculation that the President’s handling of our nation’s most sensitive intelligence—which he has access to each and every day—drove an alleged exfiltration operation is inaccurate.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that “CNN’s reporting is not only incorrect, it has the potential to put lives in danger.”
Sciutto’s story is fuzzy about what Trump knew about the Russian asset.
According to the report, Trump was not made aware of the high-level source until after the extraction occurred. Sciutto also reported that the Obama administration had concerns about the safety of the source and considered removing the person from Russia. Another catalyst for the extraction was speculation in press reports about the existence of a Kremlin mole.
“A US official said before the secret operation there was media speculation about the existence of such a covert source, and such coverage or public speculation poses risks to the safety of anyone a foreign government suspects may be involved,” the story reads.
Sciutto reports that the government source did not identify the news reporting that speculated about the Russian source. NBC News did report on Dec. 14, 2016 that assets working on behalf of the U.S. provided information that Putin had personally directed cyber attacks against Democrats during the 2016 campaign.
While the CNN report says that officials were concerned about leaks from Trump, at least one official working on the Russia probe was worried about leaks from the intelligence community itself.
A day after the NBC News report was published, FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok wrote to FBI attorney Lisa Page about concerns that government officials were leaking for political reasons.
“Think our sisters have begun leaking like mad. Scorned and worried and political, they’re kicking in to overdrive,” Strzok wrote in a text message.
Little else was reported about the Kremlin asset until May 24, when The New York Times reported that a “key informant” had provided information that led the CIA to conclude that Putin had ordered the hacking operation.
That story appeared in response to Trump granting Attorney General William Barr authority to declassify documents related to the Russia probe. Former intelligence community officials, including former CIA Director John Brennan, claimed that Barr would potentially disclose the identity of high-level covert sources. (RELATED: Ex-CIA Officials Fume About Declassification Order, Ignoring Previous Leaks Of Secret Sources And Methods)
According to Sciutto, Obama administration officials expressed concerns about the safety of the mole and others working inside Russia. The concerns mounted after the U.S. intelligence community released an assessment of the Russian hacking operation in early January 2017.
Sciutto is one of CNN’s most openly anti-Trump reporters. He was one of the CNN journalists who wrote the story that spurred the publication of the infamous and unverified Steele dossier.
He also published an inaccurate report on July 27, 2018 that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen claimed to have been present in June 2016 when Donald Trump Jr. told his father about an upcoming meeting with a group of Russians at Trump Tower.
If accurate, that story would have undercut the Trumps’ denials that the president knew about the infamous meeting before it occurred. Cohen lawyer Lanny Davis admitted after the CNN report was published that he was a source for the story, and that he had unwittingly provided false information about what Cohen had witnessed.
CNN has yet to retract the story.
Sciutto was one of four CNN journalists who published the Jan. 10, 2017 story that led to the publication of the unverified Steele dossier. CNN reported that U.S. intelligence officials briefed then-President-Elect Trump four days earlier about salacious allegations that the Russian government had compromising material on him. It was later revealed that the information came from a dossier written by former British spy Christopher Steele.
BuzzFeed published Steele’s entire 35-page report hours after CNN published its story about the Trump briefing. It was also later revealed that then-FBI Director James Comey was who briefed Trump about the dossier. A Justice Department inspector general’s report released last month revealed that FBI officials sought to use the Jan. 6, 2017 briefing to gather information from Trump for the bureau’s ongoing Trump-Russia probe.
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