'Trump dossier' on Russia links now part of special counsel's probe

WASHINGTON, Oct 4 (Reuters) - The special counsel investigating whether Russia tried to sway the 2016 U.S. election has taken over FBI inquiries into a former British spy's dossier of allegations of Russian financial and personal links to President Donald Trump's campaign and associates, sources familiar with the inquiry told Reuters.

A report compiled by former MI6 officer Christopher Steele identified Russian businessmen and others whom U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded are Russian intelligence officers or working on behalf of the Russian government.

A spokesman for special counsel Robert Mueller declined comment. The FBI also declined comment.

RELATED: Key players in Trump-Russia allegations

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Key players in Trump-Russia connection allegations

Paul Manafort

Paul Manafort signed on as Donald Trump's campaign manager in March 2016. A longtime Republican strategist and beltway operative, Manafort had previously served as an adviser to former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich -- a pro-Russia leader who was violently ousted in 2014. Manafort resigned from his campaign position in August 2016 amid questions over his lobbying history in Ukraine for an administration supportive of Russia. The former campaign manager reportedly remained in Trump's circle during the post-election transition period.

Michael Flynn

Gen. Michael Flynn was named President Trump's national security adviser in November of 2016. Flynn reportedly met and spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December, at one point discussing sanctions. Flynn originally told Vice President Pence he did not discuss sanctions -- a point the Department of Justice said made the national security adviser subject to blackmail. Flynn resigned from his position in February.

Sergey Kislyak

Outgoing Russian ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak is the Russian official U.S. attorney general Jeff Sessions -- communication Sessions denied during his Senate committee hearing testimony.

Roger Stone

Stone is a longtime Republican political consultant who served as a campaign adviser to Trump who continued to talk with the then-GOP candidate after stepping away from his adviser role. Stone claimed last year that he had knowledge of the planned WikiLeaks release of emails pertaining to Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee. Stone recently admitted to speaking via direct message with "Guccifer 2.0" -- an online entity U.S. officials believe is tied to Russia. Stone says the correspondence was “completely innocuous.”

Jeff Sessions

Former U.S. senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama joined Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser in February 2016. Sessions was nominated to be U.S. attorney general by President Trump and was then confirmed by the Senate. Reports then emerged that Sessions had spoken twice with Sergey Kislyak while he was senator -- a fact that he left out of his Senate hearing testimony. Instead, he said in writing that he had not communicated with any Russian officials during the campaign season. Sessions defended himself saying he had spoken with Kislyak specifically in a senate capacity.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

The American intelligence community accused Putin in Jan. 2017 of ordering a campaign to undermine trust in the American electoral process, developing a clear preference for Trump as president. "We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the US presidential election. Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency. We further assess Putin and the Russian Government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump," the report read.

James Comey

Comey publicly confirmed in March an FBI inquiry into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. “The F.B.I., as part of our counterintelligence effort, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 president election,” Comey stated.

Carter Page

Page worked for Merrill Lynch as an investment banker out of their Moscow office for three years before joining Trump's campaign as a foreign policy adviser. During his time with Merrill Lynch, Page advised transactions for two major Russian entities. Page has called Washington "hypocritical" for focusing on corruption and democratization in addressing U.S. relations with Russia. While Page is someone Trump camp has seemingly tried to distance itself from, Page recently said he has made frequent visits to Trump Tower.

J.D. Gordon

Before Gordon joined the Trump campaign as a national security adviser in March 2016, he served as a Pentagon spokesman from 2005 through 2009. Like others involved in Trump-Russia allegations, Gordon met with ambassador Kislyak in July at the Republican National Convention, but has since denied any wrongdoing in their conversation. He advocated for and worked to revise the RNC language on and position toward Ukraine relations, so it was more friendly toward Russia's dealings in the country.

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Three sources with knowledge of Mueller's probe said his investigators have assumed control of multiple inquiries into allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the election to benefit Trump, a Republican.

Russia has repeatedly denied any meddling in the election.

Two officials familiar with the investigations said that both Mueller's team and the Senate Intelligence Committee are seeking any evidence that former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort or others who had financial dealings with Russia might have helped Kremlin intelligence agencies target email hacking and social media postings undermining Trump's election opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

On Wednesday, the Senate panel's chairman Richard Burr told reporters that the issue of whether Trump's campaign colluded with Russia remains an open question.

"We have not come to any determination on collusion," Burr said.

Trump, who has called allegations of campaign collusion with Moscow a hoax, has faced questions about the matter since he took office in January.

Trump was told by former FBI director James Comey that Steele's report contained salacious material about the businessman-turned-president.

Burr said on Wednesday that the Senate panel had made several attempts to contact Steele and to meet him and "those offers have gone unaccepted."

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"The committee cannot really decide the credibility of the dossier without understanding things like who paid for it, who are your sources and sub-sources," Burr said.

Burr said the panel wanted to finish its investigation by the end of the year.

Although several news organizations, including Reuters, were briefed on Steele's dossier before the election in November, most decided not to report on the material because its inflammatory and sometimes salacious content could not be verified.

In a report published in January four U.S. intelligence agencies said they took the dossier's allegations seriously.

Separately, three Russian businessmen, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven and German Khan have sued Washington investigations firm Fusion GPS and its founder, Glenn Simpson, with allegations that they were libeled in Steele's dossier.

A spokeswoman for Simpson and Fusion GPS declined to comment on the lawsuit filed on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington.

The lawsuit said that Steele's reports were "gravely damaging" to the businessmen because they accused them "of criminal conduct and alleged cooperation with the 'Kremlin' to influence the 2016 presidential election."

RELATED: Former British spy compiled dossier on Trump-Russia ties

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Former British spy compiled dossier on Trump-Russia ties
A man enters the building housing the offices of Orbis Business Intelligence where former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele works, in central London, Britain January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
A camera man stands outside the building housing the offices of Orbis Business Intelligence where former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele works, in central London, Britain January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
A police car drives past an address which has been linked by local media to former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, who has been named as the author of an intelligence dossier on President-elect Donald Trump, in Wokingham, Britain, January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
People stand outside the building housing the offices of Orbis Buiness Intelligence (C) where former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele works, in central London, Britain, January 12, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 12: Journalists gather outside the headquarters of Orbis Business Intelligence, the company run by former intelligence officer Christopher Steele, on January 12, 2017 in London, England. Mr Steele has been named as the man who compiled the intelligence dossier on US President-elect Donald Trump, alleging that Russian security forces have compromising recordings that could be used to blackmail him. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
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The information on Trump collected by Steele, whom officials say was one of MI6's most respected Russia hands, was laid out last year in political "opposition research" initially financed by supporters of one of Trump's Republican primary election opponents. After Trump won the Republican nomination in July, backers of Clinton picked up the support of Steele's work.

The lawsuit said the dossier's allegations are false in implying an improper "ongoing" relationship between the businessmen, the Alfa Group financial company in which they were investors and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that a Russian government official acted as middleman in such contacts. (Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Additional reporting by John Walcott; editing by Grant McCool)

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