Trump advisers had at least 18 contacts with Russians, say sources

Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described by sources were phone calls between Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Trump advisers.
Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described by sources were phone calls between Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Trump advisers. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON • Mr Michael Flynn and other advisers to US President Donald Trump's campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and e-mails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, according to current and former US officials familiar with the exchanges.

The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the records now being reviewed by Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the US election and contacts between Mr Trump's campaign and Russia.

Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described by sources were phone calls between Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Trump advisers, including Mr Flynn, Mr Trump's first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.

Conversations between Mr Flynn and Mr Kislyak accelerated after the Nov 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the US national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current US officials said.

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In January, the Trump White House initially denied any contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. The White House and advisers to the campaign have since confirmed four meetings between Mr Kislyak and Trump advisers during that time.

The people who described the contacts said they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far. But the disclosure could increase the pressure on Mr 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 election.

The 18 calls and electronic messages took place between April and November 2016 as hackers engaged in what US intelligence concluded in January was part of a Kremlin campaign to discredit the vote and influence the outcome of the election in favour of Mr Trump over former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2017, with the headline 'Trump advisers had at least 18 contacts with Russians, say sources'. Print Edition | Subscribe