Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and other Trump associates repeatedly contacted with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, the New York Times reports.
US law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee, three of the officials said, according to the Times.
The intelligence agencies then sought to learn whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election, the newspaper said.
“Surely, these are grounds to call Trump’s election as president into question?
The officials interviewed in recent weeks said they had seen no evidence of such cooperation so far, it said.
However, the intercepts alarmed US intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr Trump was speaking glowingly about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The intercepted calls are different from the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael Flynn, Mr Trump’s former national security adviser, and Sergei Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, the Times said.
Michael Flynn had earlier assured Vice-President Mike Pence that he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy.
During those calls, the two men discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in December.
Mr Flynn misled the White House about those calls and was asked to resign on Monday night.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request from Reuters for comment on the Times story.
On the Russian side, the contacts also included members of the Russian government outside of the intelligence services, the officials reportedly said.
All of the current and former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the continuing investigation is classified.
The officials said that one of the advisers picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort, who was Mr Trump’s campaign chairman for several months in 2016 and had worked as a political consultant in Russia and the Ukraine.
The officials declined to identify the other Trump associates on the calls.
Unsanctioned, unofficial contact with another country may be construed as treasonous?
The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a larger trove of information that the FBI is sifting through as it investigates the links between Mr Trump’s associates and the Russian government, as well as the DNC hack, according to federal law enforcement officials.
As part of its inquiry, the FBI has obtained banking and travel records and conducted interviews, the officials said.
Mr Manafort, who has not been charged with any crimes, dismissed the accounts of the US officials in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
“This is absurd,” he told the Times. “I have no idea what this is referring to. I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today.”
“It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer’,” he added.
More to come
Source: The New Daily 16/02/2017