- Members of Trump’s presidential campaign team had at least 18 calls and emails with Russian officials or people connected to the Kremlin in April-November 2016, according to a report citing former and current US officials.
- Undisclosed Russian contacts are part of the record being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the US presidential election.
- Six of the undisclosed contacts were phone calls between Michael Flynn and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
- Flynn and Kislyak discussed a back channel between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin bypassing the US national security bureaucracy.
- Cited officials say they have seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion but the revelation of the number of contacts with Russia could put further pressure on Trump’s team.
- One of the contacts was by Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and politician, whose daughter is also Putin’s god-daughter.
Members of Donald Trump’s election campaign had at least 18 calls and emails with Russian officials or other persons with ties to the Kremlin during the last seven months of the 2016 US presidential race, claims a report citing former and current US officials.
The report comes against the backdrop of yesterday’s appointment of a Special Counsel, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to lead the FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US elections, and US President Trump decrying it as “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician” in US history.
In January 2017, the US intelligence community voiced its conclusions that Russian President Vladimir Putin had ordered hackers to use cybercrime in order to sway the 2016 US vote in favor of Donald Trump, to the detriment of his rival Hillary Clinton.
Also in January, a leaked dossier authored by a former MI6 agent alleged that Moscow had compromising materials on Trump that could be used to blackmail him.
The FBI, as well as the intelligence committees of both houses of the US Congress, is presently investigating whether Trump’s associates were in contact with Russian officials during the 2016 US Presidential Elections campaign.
However, critics have argued the firing may be an attempt to hinder the FBI’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia, and Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections.
Before Comey was fired, US federal prosecutors had issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn as part of the Russia probe.
Based on an alleged memo written by Comey, reports have claimed that Trump asked the then FBI Director to end the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s connections with Russia.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has mocked the United States, declaring it was “developing political schizophrenia” in the wake of Trump’s meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador in Washington, D.C., Sergey Kislyak during which the US President allegedly revealed classified information, as he himself has confirmed.
‘Back Channel’ with Putin
Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and persons with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former US officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.
The undisclosed Russian contacts of the Trump campaign form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the US presidential election and the possible collusion of the Trump team with Moscow.
Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s Ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.
According to the report, conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the November 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The back channel was supposed to bypass the US national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn was fired in February as US President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, less than a month after his appointment, over his undisclosed contacts with the Russian Ambassador in Washington, D.C., Sergei Kislyak.
Former officials have revealed that the administration of former US President Barack Obama warned his successor Donald Trump against appointing Michael Flynn as his national security adviser over Flynn’s alleges ties to Russia.
Flynn recently offered to testify on the possible Russian connections of the Trump campaign in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
Reports have claimed that the US and UK intelligence had concerns about Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia even before his appointment as National Security Adviser by Trump.
After he resigned from the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in 2014, Flynn became a contributor to RT, formerly known as Russia Today, the English-language mouthpiece of the Kremlin, widely considered as one of its overarching propaganda tools.
In summer 2015, Flynn met Trump for the first time after being invited to do so by his team.
The same year he received about USD 45,000 for attending RT’s gala dinner in Moscow, where he sat next to Putin. Flynn also accepted USD 11,250 from two Russian firms for speaking engagements in Washington. One of them was Kaspersky Lab, a cybersecurity company with ties to the Kremlin.
No Collusion Evidence
Even though in January, the Trump White House at first denied any Trump team contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign, since then it or advisers to the campaign have confirmed four meetings between Kislyak and Trump advisers during that time.
The people who described the contacts to Reuters said they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far.
However, Reuters points out that the disclosure could increase the pressure on Trump and his aides to provide the FBI and Congress with a full account of interactions with Russian officials and others with links to the Kremlin during and immediately after the 2016 election.
Reuters notes that the White House did not respond to requests for comment. Flynn’s lawyer declined to comment. In Moscow, a Russian foreign ministry official declined to comment on the contacts, while a spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington said: “We do not comment on our daily contacts with the local interlocutors.”
The 18 calls and electronic messages between the Trump team and Russian officials are reported to have taken place between April and November 2016.
According to the cited sources, the discussions focused on mending US-Russian economic relations strained by sanctions imposed on Moscow for its involvement in Ukraine, cooperating in fighting Islamic State in Syria, and containing a more assertive China.
People with knowledge of the ongoing investigations are also cited as saying that members of the Senate and House intelligence committees had gone to the CIA and the National Security Agency to review transcripts and other documents related to contacts between Trump campaign advisers and associates and Russian officials and others with links to Putin.
Father of Putin’s God-daughter
In addition to the six phone calls involving Kislyak, the communications described to Reuters involved another 12 calls, emails or text messages between Russian officials or people considered to be close to Putin and Trump campaign advisers.
One of those contacts was by Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch and politician, according to one person with detailed knowledge of the exchange and two others familiar with the issue.
It was not clear with whom Medvedchuk was in contact within the Trump campaign but the themes included US-Russia cooperation, the sources said. Putin is godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter.
Medvedchuk denied having any contact with anyone in the Trump campaign.
“I am not acquainted with any of Donald Trump’s close associates, therefore no such conversation could have taken place,” he said in an email to Reuters.
IVeterans of previous election campaigns are cited as saying that some contact with foreign officials during a campaign was not unusual, but the number of interactions between Trump aides and Russian officials and others with links to Putin was exceptional.
“It’s rare to have that many phone calls to foreign officials, especially to a country we consider an adversary or a hostile power,” Richard Armitage, a Republican and former deputy secretary of state, told Reuters.