Members of Donald Trump’s campaign had repeated contact with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, it has been reported.
Four current and former U.S. officials told the New York Times that they had intercepted phone calls and records and found evidence of repeated communication last year, around the same time Russia published fake news to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The officials did not conclude on whether there was evidence of Trump’s team colluding with Russian officials on the hacking or other efforts to disrupt the election.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman for several months last year, was the only advisor named in the intercepted calls. They declined to name anyone else.
Manafort told the Times:
This is absurd. 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.
He added: “It’s not like these people wear badges that say, ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer.’”
Officials emphasised that communication between representatives of foreign governments and campaign staff are not unusual. However, these communications stood out because of their frequency and the level that advisors to Trump were involved.
The FBI’s discovery is just part of a quest to unveil the extent to which the Trump team communicated with Russian officials last year.
Trump is already under pressure by recent revelations that he was aware his national security advisor, Michael Flynn, had misled officials about secret communications with Russian officials ‘weeks’ before he was forced to resign.
Flynn left his post on Monday after less than one month in office after reports that he could be vulnerable to blackmail by Moscow.
Regarding the more recent revelation on communication ties between Trump’s campaign advisors and Russian intelligence, the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies continue to try to determine what the motive for the communications were.
The White House has yet to respond to the allegations.