Mark Warner: 'It is a very real question' whether Trump acted as a Russian agent

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said it’s worth asking whether President Trump acted as an agent for the Russian government during his presidential campaign — wittingly or unwittingly.

Warner, the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning that whether Trump ever worked on behalf of Moscow is “the defining question” of both the committee’s investigation and the probe led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., at a business summit in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 6, 2018. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“I’m not going to talk about what we may have been briefed in ‘the Gang of Eight’ when these investigations opened, but I do think it’s curious that throughout that whole summer when these investigations started, you had Vladimir Putin policies almost being parroted by Donald Trump,” Warner said.

The Intelligence Committee’s initial findings released last summer show that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an “extensive and sophisticated” influence campaign to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton and undermine the American public’s belief in the democratic process.

“You had Trump say only nice things about Putin. He never spoke ill about Russia,” Warner told Tapper. “Republican campaign doctrines softened on Russia and decreased their willingness to defend Ukraine.”

Russia’s tactics during the U.S. elections were honed throughout similar misinformation campaigns against other democracies, such as Ukraine — where the Kremlin has fomented distrust for democratic institutions and fanned the flames of bigotry. Former President Barack Obama would denounce the aggression of Putin’s regime, as seen during the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in early 2014. But Trump has disregarded the conclusions of his own intelligence agencies to avoid condemning Putin.

When asked whether he thinks Trump ever acted wittingly or unwittingly as a Russian agent, Warner cited the reports that the president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort had shared internal polling data with a Russian businessman who is connected to Russian intelligence. Warner said the recipient has ties to Putin and Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

“Why would you turn over that information? And what’s curious, Jake, is it would be that kind of information that would inform the Russians later in the campaign when they launched their social media efforts where they created these fake identities,” Warner said.

He continued that there was “clear-cut proof” that many of these efforts were aimed at suppressing African-American voters.

“Did they use that polling data to guide the Russian social media efforts to suppress African-American vote? We don’t know the answer to that yet. I would hope Mueller has got more indication, but that is a very real question.”

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