Fresh leaks from inside the White House claim that senior members of Donald Trump’s campaign team were in constant contact with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election — directly contradicting statements made by the president and his team.
Trump and his supporters are attempting to deflect attention from the crisis by criticizing the volume of leaks coming out of Washington, but unless they rapidly stem the tide, these disclosures could begin to undermine Trump’s presidency.
According to four current and former officials speaking to the New York Times, U.S. intelligence agents spotted the communications at the same time they were investigating Russian attempts to interfere with the outcome of the November presidential election.
The report has been backed up by sources speaking to CNN, who added that both Trump and former President Barack Obama were briefed last month on the communications between Russian operatives and members of Trump’s campaign team.
While communications of this type are not unusual, the frequency of the calls “raised a red flag,” officials said.
The agencies attempted to establish if there was any connection between the communications and the election interference, but so far they have found no direct link. Trump himself did, however, call on Russian hackers to find and release Hillary Clinton’s emails during a campaign event last summer.
The latest development in the controversy surrounding alleged links between the Trump administration and the Russian government comes just one day after National Security Adviser Michael Flynn tendered his resignation once it was revealed he had discussed sanctions with Russia’s U.S. ambassador before taking office and mischaracterized that info to Vice President Mike Pence.
a senior official resigned in disgrace during the administration’s first month, and 24 hours later it’s not even the top story anymore
Trump’s team has consistently played down its links to the Russian government. Just days after the election, Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy Russian foreign minister, said “there were contacts,” adding: “obviously, we know most of the people from his entourage.” Trump’s transition team denied Ryabkov’s statement at the time, calling it “not accurate.”
One of the people said to have been on the calls was Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign manager from June to August 2016. Manafort denied the claim, calling it “absurd.”
Last month Trump said that nobody in his campaign had been in touch with the Russians. Asked on Tuesday — before the New York Times report was published — if the president would stand by these comments, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said: “There’s nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period.”
On Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also denied any contact between Russian intelligence officials and the Trump campaign team, pointing to the anonymous nature of the sources and saying the reports “are not based on any facts, do not point to actual facts.”
The allegations are likely to increase pressure on Trump and his team to explain any links to Russia.
The revelation that U.S. investigators have confirmed at least some of the information contained in a dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele will be worrying for the Trump camp. The investigation is continuing, seeking to establish if the more scandalous aspects of the dossier — that Russia has compromising video footage of Trump that could be used to blackmail him — are true.
Trump has remained almost largely silent on this week’s stories about Russia, but he tweeted Tuesday denouncing the leaks coming from Washington. On Tuesday evening, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway echoed Trump’s concerns on Fox News: “If people are running to the media to leak and not providing that information to the proper authorities, that should concern all of us. This is not a partisan issue. It’s dangerous stuff.”
“Death by a thousand leaks”
Trump’s concern over leaks is a departure from the view he expressed during his election campaign. “I love WikiLeaks,” Trump said during a rally in Pennsylvania last October while reading from an leaked Hillary Clinton email. “It’s amazing how nothing is secret today when you talk about the internet.”
On Tuesday, “Fox & Friends” conducted an interview with right-wing pundit Laura Ingraham, who described the controversies hitting the White House this week as “death by a thousand leaks” — adding that “the Left smells blood.”
In an interview with right-wing website the Daily Caller, Flynn said leaking information to reporters was a crime. “You call them leaks. It’s a criminal act. This is a crime. It’s not just a wink and a nod.”