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Trump aides in contact with Russian officials

February 15, 2017

Top US officials have confirmed that members of US President Donald Trump's campaign were in constant contact with Russian operatives. Communications were intercepted through routine intel gathering on Russian personnel.

Symbolbild US-Wahl - Donald Trump & Wladimir Putin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Thew & A. Druzhinin/Ria Novosti/Kremlin Pool

Members of Donald Trump's presidential campaign had repeated contact with senior Russian intelligence officials before he won the White House, "The New York Times" reported on Tuesday, citing law enforcement officials.

The latest details follow the resignation of Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn over separate conversations he held with a senior Russian ambassador.

The communications between Russia and the Trump campaign had been intercepted through routine intelligence gathering on Russian officials and nationals known to US intelligence, the Times reported its sources as saying.

Russia is accused of trying to influence the US elections by hacking into Democratic emails at about the same time. The Times reported that US "law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee."

Prior to Trump's inauguration, then-President Barack Obama and Trump were briefed on communications between apparent Russian intelligence members and associates of Trump's campaign and businesses. US intelligence and law enforcement had grown alarmed because of the amount of contact that occurred while Trump spoke favorably about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The nature of the reported calls has not been disclosed.

The intercepted calls are separate from the recorded conversations last year between former national security adviser Flynn and Russia's ambassador to the US, Sergei I. Kislyak.

The two men were said to have discussed sanctions that the Obama administration imposed on Russia in December. As a private citizen at the time, Flynn's actions may have breached US law on negotiating with foreign powers.

Tweeting on Tuesday afternoon, Trump indicated that his main concern was the fact that information was being leaked to newspapers.

Flynn admitted that he had misled the administration with "incomplete information" about the calls with Kislyak, and was asked to resign on Monday.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Tuesday that Trump had known for weeks that Flynn had misled the administration, specifically Vice President Mike Pence, but did not immediately force him out.

Spicer said there was no evidence of wrongdoing but that "the level of trust between the president and General Flynn had eroded to the point where he felt he had to make a change."

smm,rc/kl,jm (AFP, Reuters)