(Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Paul Tait) —- POLITICS | Wed Feb 15, 2017
Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing four current and former U.S. officials.
U.S. 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.
The officials interviewed in recent weeks said they had seen no evidence of such cooperation so far, it said.
However, the intercepts alarmed U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Trump was speaking glowingly about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The intercepted calls are different from the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, and Sergei I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, the Times said.
During those calls, the two men discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in December. 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.
The Times reported that the officials said the intercepted communications were not limited to Trump campaign officials, and included other Trump associates.
On the Russian side, the contacts also included members of the Russian government outside the intelligence services, the officials told the Times. All of the current and former officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the continuing investigation is classified, the newspaper reported.
The officials said one of the advisers picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort, who was Trump’s campaign chairman for several months last year and had worked as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine, the Times said. The officials declined to identify the other Trump associates on the calls.
Manafort, who has not been charged with any crimes, dismissed the accounts of the U.S. officials in a telephone interview with the Times on Tuesday.
Several of Trump’s associates, like Manafort, have done business in Russia. It is not unusual for U.S. businessmen to come in contact with foreign intelligence officials, sometimes unwittingly, in countries like Russia and Ukraine, where the spy services are deeply embedded in society, according to the Times.
Law enforcement officials did not say to what extent the contacts may have been about business, the Times said.
Officials would not disclose many details, including what was discussed on the calls, which Russian intelligence officials were on the calls, and how many of Trump’s advisers were talking to the Russians. It is also unclear whether the conversations had anything to do with Trump himself, the Times said.
(Writing by Eric Beech; Editing by Paul Tait)