By Marshall Cohen, CNN
President Donald Trump questioned on Thursday why the FBI never warned his campaign that Russians might try to infiltrate his team, despite being briefed on the matter in August 2016.
In a tweet, Trump echoed recent comments from conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who lambasted the FBI and claimed that the bureau never raised the issue with Trump or his campaign.
“RUSH LIMBAUGH: ‘If the FBI was so concerned, and if they weren’t targeting Trump, they should have told Trump. If they were really concerned about the Russians infiltrating a campaign (hoax), then why not try to stop it? Why not tell Trump? Because they were pushing this scam,’” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Trump has pressed this point throughout the past week. During a Memorial Day weekend full of tweets about the Russia probe, Trump wrote, “why didn’t the crooked highest levels of the FBI or ‘Justice’ contact me to tell me of the phony Russia problem?”
But these claims ignore the fact that Trump was personally warned in August 2016 by senior US intelligence officials that foreign adversaries — including Russia — would likely attempt to infiltrate his team or gather intelligence about his campaign, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The security briefing included information about potential interference by foreign actors, including Russia, according to sources familiar with a memo that detailed the August 2016 briefing. In October 2017, senior Justice Department officials gave lawmakers from both parties a readout on the 2016 briefing after Republicans demanded to see documents about the Russia investigation and related matters.
A warning of this nature would likely also mention potential activities by China. Trump has repeatedly said, during the campaign and as President, that multiple countries tried to influence the election.
Trump was also told that the Russian government was trying to meddle in the election and that Russia played a direct role in hacks against the Democratic National Committee, NBC News reported in October 2016. Internal DNC emails were published by WikiLeaks about one month before Trump received the briefing.
James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence whose office prepared the sensitive campaign-season briefings, confirmed that both candidates were informed about Russia’s role in the hacks.
“Not knowing exactly what the FBI concerns were or what they knew, what the predicate was, it’s kind of hard to say,” Clapper said Sunday on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” “But, subsequently, certainly, particularly when we became more aware of the Russian cyber intrusions, both campaigns were advised of that.”
CNN previously reported that Trump got the briefing on August 17, 2016. As is customary, the same information was offered to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton after she had secured the nomination.
Before the briefings, both parties said the other nominee should not learn the nation’s secrets. Democrats said Trump could not be trusted; Republicans said Clinton mishandled classified material.
The purpose of these defensive briefings is to ensure that both campaigns know the threats from foreign intelligence services, and have the tools to protect themselves, according to CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell.
With Trump, the situation was unique because the FBI was conducting a counterintelligence investigation into his campaign while it was warning him about Russia.
“They likely would not be so specific as to outline the things they are seeing, because they don’t want to blow their investigation,” Campbell said. “But it is incumbent upon the intelligence community to provide both candidates with a baseline level of what the threat is and how to protect against those threats. ”
These initial briefings are meant to establish a working relationship, and officials from both campaigns would likely be told to reach out to the FBI if they sensed anything suspicious, Campbell added.