New York Times: Trump campaign aides had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence

- WASHINGTON — The New York Times reported Tuesday night that phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.

The article cited “four current and former American officials” for the information. The Times said three of the officials disclosed that American 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. The Times, however, reported that the officials interviewed in recent weeks said that, so far, they had seen no evidence that the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.

President Trump tweeted after the report, “This Russian connection nonsense is merely an attempt to cover up the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton’s losing campaign,” Trump tweeted, citing the Democratic presidential nominee he defeated in the November election. “Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia” He continued, “The "The real scandal here is that classified information is illegally given out by 'intelligence' like candy. Very un-American!"

Shortly after the Times report was released, CNN filed a similar report. It follows below: High-level advisers close to then-presidential nominee Donald Trump were in constant communication during the campaign with Russians known to US intelligence, multiple current and former intelligence, law enforcement and administration officials tell CNN.

President-elect Trump and then-President Barack Obama were both briefed on details of the extensive communications between suspected Russian operatives and people associated with the Trump campaign and the Trump business, according to US officials familiar with the matter.

Both the frequency of the communications and the proximity to Trump of those involved “raised a red flag” with US intelligence and law enforcement, according to these officials. The communications were intercepted during routine intelligence collection targeting Russian officials and other Russian nationals known to US intelligence.

Officials emphasized that communications between campaign staff and representatives of foreign governments are not unusual. However, these communications stood out to investigators due to the frequency and the level of the Trump advisers involved. Investigators have not reached a judgment on the intent of those conversations.  Adding to US investigators’ concerns were intercepted communications between Russian officials before and after the election discussing their belief that they had special access to Trump, two law enforcement officials tell CNN. These officials cautioned the Russians could have been exaggerating their access.  

The extensive contacts drew concerns of US intelligence and law enforcement officials in part because it came at a time of Russian cyberactivities targeting mostly Democratic Party political organizations.  Post-election intelligence briefings on Russian meddling in the US elections included details of those communications, which included people involved in Trump’s businesses.

The communications were gathered as part of routine US intelligence collection and not because people close to Trump were being targeted.  The FBI and US intelligence agencies continue to try to determine what the motive for the communications were. One concern was whether Trump associates were coordinating with Russian intelligence operatives the release of damaging information about the Hillary Clinton campaign.
“If that were the case, then that would escalate things,” one official briefed on the investigation said.

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