Yahoo News is reporting that U.S. intelligence officials are trying to establish whether a businessman identified by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as a foreign policy adviser has held private discussions with senior Russian officials on bilateral issues, including U.S. sanctions.
In a report published September 23, the news outlet cited "multiple sources who have been briefed on the issue" as saying that the individual under scrutiny is Carter Page, a former Moscow-based investment banker whom Trump identified in March as part of his foreign policy team.
Yahoo News cited an unidentified "Western intelligence source" as saying that U.S. officials have received intelligence reports that during his trip to Moscow in July, Page met with Igor Sechin, chairman of state-owned Rosneft and one of President Vladimir Putin's closest allies.
Sechin is among numerous Russian officials and businesspeople sanctioned by Washington and the EU over Moscow's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and subsequent backing of armed separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Yahoo News cited the same Western intelligence source as saying that U.S. intelligence officials have received reports that Page has also met with Igor Diveikin, a right-hand man of Vyacheslav Volodin, Putin's first deputy chief of staff and a key architect of Russia's political landscape during Putin's third term.
The report said Page, who previously worked for Merrill Lynch in Moscow, declined to comment when reached by Yahoo News.
Page raised eyebrows in U.S. political circles in July with a lecture he delivered to students and businesspeople in Moscow in which he accused "Washington and other Western capitals" of impeding other nations' "potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption, and regime change" -- criticisms that echo those frequently voiced by the Kremlin.
Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks in August called Page an "informal foreign policy adviser" who "does not speak for Mr. Trump or the campaign."
The Yahoo News report cited Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller as saying this week that Page "has no role" in the campaign and that "we are not aware of any of his activities, past or present."
Page said in an interview with Bloomberg in March that he had investments in state-owned Russian energy giant Gazprom, which has also been hit by U.S. and EU sanctions.
He currently heads Global Energy Capital, a New York-based investment firm that says it focuses on the energy sector in emerging markets.
Trump has said he will improve battered bilateral ties with Russia if he is elected to the White House and has spoken positively about Putin. He said earlier this month that the Russian president has been more of a leader for his country than Obama has been for the United States.
Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival in the November 8 election, has accused him of being too sympathetic to Putin. Her campaign has also suggested that hackers, alleged to be Russian, who have stolen and published e-mails of Democratic National Committee staff, are working on behalf of the Kremlin to improve Trump's electoral chances.
Both Trump and the Kremlin have dismissed these suggestions as baseless.
The Yahoo News report was published a day after leading Democrats on the congressional intelligence committees accused Russia of trying to influence the U.S. election via computer hacking and called on Putin to "order a halt to this activity."
Based on reporting by Yahoo News, The Washington Post, and Reuters