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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.

“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.

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Committee Vice Chairman and ranking member Senator Mark Warner addresses U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) (L) takes note of the “I Voted” sticker worn by Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) to mark his participation in New York primary elections, at a Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington September 9, 2014.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Sen Mark Warner, (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, looks over his papers before delivering a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate about the future of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) speaks with reporters at the U.S. Capitol after delivering a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate December 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. Warner, the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, spoke on speculation that special counsel Robert Mueller may be fired.

(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), accompanied by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), gives an update on the ongoing investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election at the Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) speaks at Ralph Northam’s election night rally on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, November 7, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) speaks to reporters ahead of the weekly party luncheons on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., August 1, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) meets with Christopher Wray, who U.S. President Donald Trump has nominated to be FBI Director, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 13, 2017.

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Senate Intelligence Committee ranking member Mark Warner (D0VA) asks questions during former FBI Director James Comey’s appearance before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2017.

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Committee Vice Chairman and ranking member Senator Mark Warner (L) and Chairman Richard Burr (R) listen as U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2017.

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Committee Vice Chairman and ranking member Senator Mark Warner questions U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 13, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) (from L), Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) arrive for a procedural vote on defense spending authorization legislation at the U.S. Capitol in Washington December 11, 2014.

(REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (L) and ranking member Senator Mark Warner (R) speak about former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn following a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 23, 2017.

(REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), accompanied by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), vice chairman of the committee, speaks at a news conference to discuss their probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., March 29, 2017.

(REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein)

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) listens to Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) speaking to the media following the emergency caucus meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.

(REUTERS/Yuri Gripas)

Sen Mark Warner, (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, looks over his papers as he walks to the Senate Chamber to deliver a speech about the future of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (L) and U.S. Senator Mark Warner wait to take pictures with phones of U.S. President Barack Obama as he disembarks from Air Force One at Air Force Station Palam in New Delhi January 25, 2015. In a fresh bid to make India an enduring strategic partner, Obama landed in New Delhi on Sunday for a highly symbolic visit and to nurture friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who a year ago was persona non grata in Washington. Obama is visiting India for three days to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations and meet with Indian leaders. Pelosi and Warner accompanied Obama to India aboard Air Force One.

(REUTERS/Jim Bourg)

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), (C), chats with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), (L), who is attending his first Finance Committee hearing and Sen. Robert P. Casey, Jr. prior to U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew testifying on President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2015 Budget, on Capitol Hill, in Washington, March 5, 2014. Obama is sending a $3.9 trillion budget to Congress, seeking new spending for economic growth, higher taxes on the wealthy and looking to resolve immigration issues.

(REUTERS/Mike Theiler)

Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) speaks at a news conference to discuss the committee’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S., March 29, 2017.

REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

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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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