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Russian officials discussed election as early as mid-2015, says former U.S. official

Electronic intercepts picked up Russian officials discussing the 2016 U.S. presidential election -- and how they could influence it -- as early as mid-2015, a former U.S. official familiar with the intelligence told CBS News Wednesday.

Hillary Clinton's name came up often in chatter, as Russians believed she would be the Democratic presidential nominee. Now-President Trump's name also surfaced in 2015, the former official said. His name came up in the context of him being a potential presidential candidate and that they knew Mr. Trump and as well as Trump associates. 

The former official said that in the spring of 2016, the Russian conversation pivoted to helping the Trump campaign.

The development comes after Mr. Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., released an email chain in which he welcomed a promise of information said to be damaging to Clinton. 

"This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump -- helped along by Aras and Emin," publicist Rob Goldstone wrote on June 3, 2016, at 10:36 a.m. The email continues, "I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first."

Shortly after that at 10:53 a.m., the eldest Trump son responded, "Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?" 

The White House and Mr. Trump have defended Trump Jr.'s decision to take a June 9 meeting that Goldstone arranged with a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.

"I think many people would have held that meeting," Mr. Trump told Reuters in an interview Wednesday. 

President Trump defends his son over Russia emails 06:06

Russian President Vladimir Putin has denied any interference in the 2016 election, a matter the president said he raised in their meeting at the G-20 in Hamburg, Germany, last week.

The Senate and House intelligence committees, along with the FBI, are investigating Russian election meddling, as well as any ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. 

CBS News' Andy Triay contributed to this report. 

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