The New York Times has reported that four American officials, former as well as current, say that Donald Trump’s campaign officials had “repeated contacts” with Russian Intelligence officers in the year before the 2016 presidential election on the evidence of “phone records and intercepted calls.”
Three of the four officials said that the United States law enforcement and intelligence agencies were able to intercept the calls at about the time they were getting evidence of Russian meddling in the election by “hacking into the Democratic National Committee,” revealed the New York Times.
However, NYT says that “The officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence of such cooperation.”
The intercepted evidence caused alarm among the law enforcement and intelligence agencies partly because of the volume of contact that was happening while Donald Trump was showering praise on Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. Mr. Trump is known to have said at a campaign event that he hoped that Russian Intelligence hacked Hillary Clinton’s emails and made them public, said the NYT report.
The NYT goes on to say that according to the officials, who did not want to be named because the ongoing investigation was classified, the intercepts were not only that of Trump’s campaign aides but of his other “associates” as well. As for the Russian involvement, the contacts “included members of the government outside of the intelligence services.”
The only name revealed by the officials to NYT is Paul Manafort, “Trump’s campaign chairman for several months last year and had worked as a political consultant in Ukraine,” while they refused to name other Trump associates in contact with Russian officials.
According to the officials, the intercepted communications and call logs add to a larger collection of intelligence being investigated by the FBI in regards to the “links between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government,” in addition to investigating the DNC hacking, reports NYT.
“This is absurd,” Manafort said. “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,” as reported by the NYT.
Manafort went on to say, “It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer,” says NYT.
The NYT explains that it is not uncommon for businessmen to inadvertently come in contact with intelligence officials in countries like Russia and Ukraine where the intelligence community is “deeply embedded in society,” and, like Manafort, this may have been the case with “several of Mr. Trump’s associates.” The law enforcement officials did not volunteer information on “what extent the contacts might have been about business,” said NYT.
Information on the details such as the nature of discussion on the intercepted calls, the identity of the participating Russian officials and the number of “Trump advisers” in contact with the Russians were not given by the officials to NYT. “It is also unclear whether the conversations had anything to do with Mr. Trump himself,” said the New York Times.
The intercepts are different from “the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, and Sergey I. Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States,” says the NYT report. In the calls, which resulted in Flynn resigning on Monday night, the discussions were about the Obama administration’s sanctions “imposed on Russia in December,” NYT added.
While the FBI and White House refrained from commenting, Sean Spicer, press secretary, supported Trump’s “previous comments that nobody from his campaign had contact with Russian officials before the election,” said the NYT report.
“There’s nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period,” Mr. Spicer said answering a question posed to him, reports NYT.
“The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation and a series of other questionable incidents is what led the president to ask General Flynn for his resignation,” Spicer also said in reference to Flynn’s resignation.