Intercepted phone calls allegedly show that US President Donald Trump’s election campaign had multiple communications with senior Russian intelligence officials before the US election, The New York Times reported.
Citing US law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, The Times said alleged contact between Trump associates and Russia was discovered during a concurrent investigation into Russian cyberattacks that targeted Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
Three of the US sources interviewed by The Times said that despite the frequent contact, there was no evidence that the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia on the cyberattacks. What concerned the American officials, however, was how often Trump associates were allegedly communicating during an unprecedented election in which Trump repeatedly showered praise on Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
Trump infamously made a direct appeal to Russia in July, urging the Kremlin to dig up damaging information on Clinton.
The Times’ Michael Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti, and Matt Apuzzo reported that the supposed communications between people in Trump’s orbit and Russia ran deep on both sides. They allegedly included other associates of Trump’s outside of the campaign. And on the Russian side, people within that country’s government — in addition to intelligence officials — were also involved, The Times’ anonymous sources said.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager was the only named American official mentioned in intercepted communications cited by The Times. Manafort once advised a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine. He left the Trump campaign in August.
In an interview with The Times, Manafort denied allegations that he knowingly communicated with Russia during the campaign: “I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today,” Manafort told the newspaper.
Though Trump has often spoken highly of Putin and Russia, he has, in fits and starts, attempted to moderate his language on the subjects. He conceded in January to US intelligence findings that Russia indeed tried to influence the election. That same month, he commented on his chances of getting along with Putin, saying “There’s a good chance I won’t.”
The report follows a litany of information leaked by anonymous sources within the US government since the November election that suggests untoward liaisons between Russia and Trump’s associates, which culminated in the resignation of his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, on Monday evening.
Top congressional Republicans have called for further investigations into Flynn and any other possible connections between the Kremlin and the US president.
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