World News: Trump team ‘had repeated pre-election contact with Russian intelligence officials’
US agencies are reportedly probing "whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians" on the hacking of the Democrats.
Members of Donald Trump’s campaign team had repeated contact with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the presidential election, it has been reported.
US intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time they discovered evidence Russia had hacked into the Democratic National Committee, according to the New York Times.
Citing four US officials, the newspaper said intelligence agencies were investigating “whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election”.
Mr Trump’s ex-campaign chief Paul Manafort was named as one of the aides who reportedly had contact with Moscow officials.
Mr Manafort, who is also a former political consultant in Russia and Ukraine, dismissed the claims as “absurd”.
“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 told the New York Times.
“It’s not like these people wear badges that say ‘I’m a Russian intelligence officer'”.
The Kremlin responded to the allegations by saying they are “not based on any facts”.
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The reports come amid calls for an independent investigation over allegations Mr Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn discussed sanctions with Russia’s ambassador to the US before he was appointed by the President.
General Flynn resigned on Monday, less than a month into the job, as he admitted he gave Vice President Mike Pence “incomplete information” about his phone call with Sergey Kislyak on 29 December.
US Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer has called for law enforcement officials to question Mr Trump and his staff over “potential criminal action”.
He said: “There are potential violations of law here by General Flynn and potentially others.
“Any attempt to lie or mislead must be countered by the full force of the law.
“(The) resignation raises more questions than it answers. And the American people deserve to know the truth.”
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said the President had been “very concerned” General Flynn misled Mr Pence and others.
Mr Spicer said the retired army lieutenant forgot “crucial details” about the call and had also caused a “series of other questionable instances”.
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The press secretary confirmed the phone call was queried by Justice Department officials on 26 January, the same day General Flynn was reportedly interviewed by the FBI.
In the aftermath of the scandal, Mr Trump claimed the “real story” was the alleged leaks coming out of Washington – and he questioned if they would continue as he deals with issues such as North Korea.