Email pointed Trump campaign to WikiLeaks documents

Correction: This story has been corrected to say the date of the email was September 14, 2016, not September 4, 2016....

Posted: Dec 9, 2017 4:56 PM
Updated: Dec 9, 2017 4:56 PM

Correction: This story has been corrected to say the date of the email was September 14, 2016, not September 4, 2016. The story also changed the headline and removed a tweet from Donald Trump Jr., who posted a message about WikiLeaks on September 4, 2016.

Candidate Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and others in the Trump Organization received an email in September 2016 offering a decryption key and website address for hacked WikiLeaks documents, according to an email provided to congressional investigators.

The September 4 email was sent during the final stretch of the 2016 race

Congressional investigators are uncertain who the sender is

The September 14 email was sent during the final stretch of the 2016 presidential race.

CNN originally reported the email was released September 4 -- 10 days earlier -- based on accounts from two sources who had seen the email. The new details appear to show that the sender was relying on publicly available information. The new information indicates that the communication is less significant than CNN initially reported.

After this story was published, The Washington Post obtained a copy of the email Friday afternoon and reported that the email urged Trump and his campaign to download archives that WikiLeaks had made public a day earlier. The story suggested that the individual may simply have been trying to flag the campaign to already public documents.

CNN has now obtained a copy of the email, which lists September 14 as the date sent and contains a decryption key that matches what WikiLeaks had tweeted out the day before.

The email came two months after the hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee were made public and one month before WikiLeaks began leaking the contents of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's hacked emails. It arrived about a week before WikiLeaks itself messaged Trump Jr. and began an exchange of direct messages on Twitter.

Trump Jr. told investigators he had no recollection of the September email.

Sources said Thursday that congressional investigators were trying to ascertain whether the individual who sent the September email is legitimate and whether it shows additional efforts by WikiLeaks to connect with Trump's son and others on the Trump campaign. The email also indicated that the Trump campaign could access records from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose hacked emails were made public by a Russian front group the day before the email was sent to the Trump campaign.

The email, which was described to CNN by multiple sources and verified by Trump Jr.'s attorney, came from someone who listed his name as "Mike Erickson." It was addressed to Trump, Trump Jr., Trump Jr.'s personal assistant and others, and turned over to Congress as part of the documents provided by the Trump Organization.

Congressional investigators are uncertain who the sender is, and CNN was unable to make contact with the individual. It's not clear whether the email was a legitimate effort to provide the hacked documents to the Trump campaign.

The individual was able to obtain the email addresses for Trump Jr. and his personal assistant, as well as an email that congressional investigators believe was for then-candidate Trump, although he rarely uses email.

Trump Jr. was asked about the WikiLeaks email Wednesday when he was questioned in the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors, several sources familiar with the exchange told CNN.

Trump Jr.'s attorney, Alan Futerfas, told CNN that his client said he had no recollection of the email and took no action on it. The White House did not respond to requests for comment, and efforts to reach WikiLeaks for comment were unsuccessful.

In a statement Friday morning, Futerfas said that Trump Jr. did not know who Erickson was and reiterated the email was not responded to.

"We understand that the media reported 12 hours prior to this email that the DNC emails had been hacked or leaked," Futerfas said. "We do not know who Mike Erickson is. We have no idea who he is. We never responded to the email."

The attorney went on to criticize "outrageous" leaks coming out of the House Intelligence Committee.

After CNN's story published, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tweeted that it was "not clear what this has to do with @WikiLeaks."

"Many enthusiastic readers emailed around archives of our publications during the election," Assange said.

The use of a website and decryption key as a means to provide information aligns with past WikiLeaks practices. The idea is that WikiLeaks posts a data file on the Internet, but it is encrypted and impossible to open without the key.

In 2010, for instance, Assange posted a "poison pill" on the Internet in the form of a 1.4-gigabyte file that contained damaging information, possibly about the US government. The file was encrypted, but Assange said a few trusted associates had the key to unlock it in the event that he was imprisoned or WikiLeaks was destroyed.

Last month, Trump Jr. released messages he exchanged on Twitter with WikiLeaks starting in September 2016, including about an anti-Trump PAC's password and a request from Trump Jr. and his father to push out links about the WikiLeaks' Podesta email release.

It's unclear whether the September 14 email has any links to the younger Trump's direct message exchanges.

In Wednesday's hearing, Trump Jr. downplayed his message exchanges with WikiLeaks over Twitter. He claimed that talking to WikiLeaks was equivalent to speaking with news organizations like CNN or NBC, according to multiple sources familiar with the testimony.

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