They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what US intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. US intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, after the election.
The institute is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin's office.
The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.
It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage US voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.
A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the US electoral system's legitimacy and damage Clinton's reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.
The current and former US officials spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the Russian documents' classified status. They declined to discuss how the United States obtained them. US intelligence agencies also declined to comment on them.
Putin has denied interfering in the US election. Putin's spokesman and the Russian institute did not respond to requests for comment.
Trump has said Russia's activities had no impact on the outcome of the race. Ongoing congressional and FBI investigations into Russian interference have so far produced no public evidence that Trump associates colluded with the Russian effort to change the outcome of the election.
Four of the officials said the approach outlined in the June strategy paper was a broadening of an effort the Putin administration launched in March 2016. That month the Kremlin instructed state-backed media outlets, including international platforms Russia Today and Sputnik news agency, to start producing positive reports on Trump's quest for the US presidency, the officials said.