Trump Aides Were In Frequent Contact With Russian Officials During Campaign

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Members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign were in contact with high-ranking Russian intelligence officials before the election, The New York Times and CNN reported Tuesday evening.

Law enforcement officials in the US in collected phone records around the time they suspected that Russia was attempting to influence the election by leaking emails from the Democratic National Committee, former and current US officials told the Times. The communications were especially concerning because they took place as Trump was speaking positively of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

During a news conference in Florida
last year, Trump even went so far as saying “Russia: If you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” referring to the scandal involving Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
This is probably just the beginning. Officials told the Times the FBI has even more information on Trump's aides -- such as banking and travel records -- to determine the amount of communication they had with Russia.

US officials told CNN that while it isn’t unusual for foreign governments to have communications with campaign representatives, the contact was troublesome because of how often it occurred and the level of the Trump aides who participated.

One adviser named in the Times report was Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who told the paper, “This is absurd.”

“I have no idea what this is referring to,” Manafort added. “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.”

No other current or former members of Trump’s administration were named by the Times as participating in the communications. It is also not clear if Trump himself was involved in the phone calls.

Former Press Secretary for Hillary Clinton Brian Fallon reacted to the news on social media, commenting that ”everything we suspected during the campaign is proving true. This is a colossal scandal.”

No judgement has been made about the communications, according to CNN. However, the news comes less than a day after National Security Adviser Michael Flynn announced his resignation after reports that he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his contact with a Russian official.

Additionally, BuzzFeed and CNN reported last month about the existence of a 35-page, unverified dossier that alleged Trump’s campaign had been in regular contact with Russian officials who had compromising information on him.

Former President Barack Obama declassified a report in January revealing that U.S. officials believe Putin ordered a cyber effort to help Trump get elected. The campaign included leaking emails from the DNC and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

Trump is set to hold a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday in Washington. However, it isn’t clear Trump will take questions about the reports. Trump was criticized on Monday for not addressing the Flynn scandal during a press conference held with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
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