WASHINGTON • The CIA told senior lawmakers in classified briefings last summer that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Mr Donald Trump as president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after his victory months later, said former government officials.
The briefings indicate that intelligence officials had evidence of Russia's intentions to help Mr Trump much earlier in the presidential campaign than previously thought.
The briefings also reveal a critical split last summer between the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), where a number of senior officials continued to believe through last autumn that Russia's cyber attacks were aimed primarily at disrupting the US political system and not at getting Mr Trump elected, according to interviews.
The former officials said that in late August, then CIA director John O. Brennan was so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia's election meddling that he began a series of urgent individual briefings for eight top Congress members.
It is unclear what new intelligence might have prompted the classified briefings. But with concerns growing internally and publicly at the time about a significant Russian breach of the Democratic National Committee, the CIA began seeing signs of possible links to the Trump campaign, the officials said. By the campaign's final weeks, Congress and the intelligence agencies were racing to understand the scope of the Russia threat.
In an Aug 25 briefing for Mr Harry Reid, then the Senate's top Democrat, Mr Brennan indicated that Russia's hackings appeared aimed at helping Mr Trump win the election, according to two former officials with knowledge of the meeting. The officials said Mr Brennan also indicated that unnamed Trump advisers might be working with the Russians to interfere in the election.
The FBI and two congressional committees are investigating that claim, focusing on possible communications and financial dealings between Russian affiliates and a handful of former Trump advisers. No proof of collusion has emerged publicly.
Mr Trump has rejected any suggestion of a Russian connection as "ridiculous" and "fake news".
The CIA and FBI declined to comment for this article, as did Mr Brennan and senior lawmakers who were part of the summer briefings.
Earlier this week, Mr Trump sought to divert attention from the Russia probe, saying "the real story" was a "crooked scheme against us" by then President Barack Obama's team to mine US intelligence reports for information about him during last year's presidential campaign.
In an interview broadcast on BBC on Monday evening, Mr Brennan chided Mr Trump for making an unsubstantiated allegation against the former president. Mr Trump, he said, has "a solemn obligation" to provide information "that is accurate, that is measured and that is not just a spontaneous or impulsive number of words".
While other officials have said there is no convincing evidence so far of collusion between Mr Trump's campaign and Russian officials who meddled in last year's election, Mr Brennan said "it would be premature at this time to make any determination, or rule anything out".
At the same time, he agreed with Mr Trump about the seriousness of leaks to the news media in recent weeks. "These leaks are appalling," he said. "They need to stop."