Trump Associates Communicated With Russian Intelligence Officials Before Election
A number of associates linked to President Trump’s campaign and business interests are part of the federal inquiry into communications with Russian government officials who sought to meddle in the November election, a U.S. official said Wednesday.
The extent and purpose of those alleged contacts continue to be weighed, including whether the associates were aware they were communicating with Russian intelligence officials or those working on behalf of the Russian government, said the official who is not authorized to comment publicly. The official added that there was no evidence of collusion to tilt the election.
TheNew York Times reported Wednesday that phone records and intercepted calls show Trump campaign officials spoke last year with people in Russian intelligence.
Though national security adviser Michael Flynn was fired this week for lying about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States, the official said the course of the months-long inquiry — which has amassed intercepts of telephone calls, business records and subject interviews — has not been significantly altered.
Flynn was interviewed by FBI agents following last month’s inauguration after public statements by top administration officials, including Vice President Pence, about Flynn’s pre-inaugural discussions with the Russian ambassador did not track the contents of the intercepted telephone calls. The administration officials had strongly refuted claims that Flynn had discussed sanctions imposed against Russia by the Obama administration.
The transcripts of the calls proved otherwise, prompting then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates to alert White House counsel Donald McGahn that Flynn could be vulnerable to blackmail as a result of his misrepresentations to senior officials.
Amid the renewed questions and investigations about contacts between his associates and Russia over last year’s election, President Trump on Wednesday denounced “conspiracy theories” about his relationship with the Russians and said “illegal” news leaks brought down Flynn.
“It’s a criminal act, and it’s been going on for a long time — before me, but now it’s really going on,” Trump said during a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Though aides said Trump demanded Flynn’s resignation Monday over lying about his talk with the Russian ambassador, the president praised his former aide as “a wonderful man” who has been treated “very unfairly” by what he called the “fake media, in many cases.”
Trump’s comments came as congressional Democrats, and some Republicans, served notice that the Russia story is not going away, especially in light of Flynn’s resignation and reports that Trump campaign aides had contacts with Russian operatives during the election in which Russian hackers were accused of sabotaging the Democrats.
“It is now readily apparent that Gen. Flynn’s resignation is not the end of the story but only the beginning,” said Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer of New York.
Schumer called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia inquiry, saying the former Alabama Republican senator’s close ties to Trump and the campaign disqualified him.
During confirmation hearings last month, Sessions said he was not aware of conflicts that would force his recusal and a close aide to the attorney general said Wednesday that position had not changed. The aide, who is not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, said the attorney general’s oversight of the inquiry would be re-evaluated if developments warranted.
In a morning tweet storm, Trump denounced the media and critics over Russia.
“The fake news media is going crazy with their conspiracy theories and blind hatred,” Trump said. “@MSNBC & @CNN are unwatchable. @foxandfriends is great!”
In another tweet, Trump accused his critics of scandal-mongering out of deference to defeated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
“This Russian connection non-sense is merely an attempt to cover-up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign,” Trump wrote.
Trump complained about news leaks in a third tweet: “Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?).Just like Russia.”
He added, “The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy. Very un-American!”
(h/t USA Today)