US spies last summer gathered that Russian intelligence officials were discussing how Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort could be used to influence Donald Trump, reports the New York Times. Russians claimed connections to Flynn, a Trump adviser, and discussed using their connections to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, a close ally of Vladimir Putin who'd worked closely with Manafort, to sway Trump's campaign chairman, three current and former US officials tell the Times. The intelligence—which didn't reveal direct attempts by Russians to influence either Flynn or Manafort—was passed to the FBI, as was intelligence showing communication between Russian officials and Trump advisers, sources say. It underscores, as the Times puts it, the "increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign."
Trump advisers, including Flynn, spoke with Russian officials or individuals with Russian ties in 18 phone calls and emails in the seven months before the 2016 election, reports Reuters, citing current and former US officials. Former CIA director John Brennan has said he was aware of intelligence showing contact between Russian officials and Trump advisers, adding it "raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals." However, Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser on Trump's campaign who says he plans to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, claims Brennan offers a "biased viewpoint." Trump, Manafort, and Flynn have denied any collusion with Russia.