Reuters is reporting that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and other Trump campaign advisers “were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race.”
That news stands in contrast to what Trump transition team chair-turned-Vice President Mike Pence said in January, when he repeatedly denied during TV interviews that there was any communication between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
In late February, CNN reported that the FBI “rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign.” According to CNN, FBI Director James Comey denied White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’ request because “the alleged communications between Trump associates and Russians known to US intelligence are the subject of an ongoing investigation.” Comey publicly confirmed that investigation in March.
Comey was fired by Trump last week amid an investigation into the Trump campaign’s communications with Russia. Trump later admitted he fired Comey in part because of frustrations about the ongoing investigation. That apparent obstruction of justice has led to calls for Trump’s impeachment and the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the matter.
Six of the communications involved calls between Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak and Trump advisers, including Flynn. Flynn lost his job as Trump’s national security adviser after officials leaked news that Flynn lied to administration officials about his pre-inauguration communications with Kislyak — including discussions of sanctions placed on Russia by the Obama administration in response to Russia’s meddling in the election on behalf of Trump.
Flynn wasn’t the only one who lied about his communications with Kislyak — so did Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who promised to recuse himself from any Russia-Trump campaign-related investigations after Justice Department officials leaked news that Sessions didn’t tell the truth during his confirmation hearing. Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior White House adviser, didn’t disclose his December meeting with Kislyak on his security clearance form.
According to Reuters, during the transition period, Flynn and Kislyak discussed “establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and [Putin] that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations.”
The White House didn’t comment, but Reuters said the Russian embassy in D.C. issued a statement saying, “We do not comment on our daily contacts with the local interlocutors.”
From the time of the campaign through early March, Trump officials issued at least 20 separate denials of communications with Russia. On January 16, Trump told reporters, “I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.” A month later, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said despite Flynn’s transition-period contacts with Kislyak, he wasn’t aware of any Trump associates being in contact with Russian officials during the campaign. On February 20, Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Trump-Russia “is a non-story because to the best of our knowledge, no contacts took place, so it’s hard to make a comment on something that never happened.”
Meanwhile, Time Magazine reports this:
As they dig into the viralizing of such stories, congressional investigations are probing not just Russia’s role but whether Moscow had help from the Trump campaign. Sources familiar with the investigations say they are probing two Trump-linked organizations: Cambridge Analytica, a data-analytics company hired by the campaign that is partly owned by deep-pocketed Trump backer Robert Mercer; and Breitbart News, the right-wing website formerly run by Trump’s top political adviser Stephen Bannon.
The congressional investigators are looking at ties between those companies and right-wing web personalities based in Eastern Europe who the U.S. believes are Russian fronts, a source familiar with the investigations tells TIME. “Nobody can prove it yet,” the source says. In March, McClatchy newspapers reported that FBI counterintelligence investigators were probing whether far-right sites like Breitbart News and Infowars had coordinated with Russian botnets to blitz social media with anti-Clinton stories, mixing fact and fiction when Trump was doing poorly in the campaign.
Does not look like this is going away.