“Colossal Scandal”: Trump Campaign’s Talks with Russia
Reports on Tuesday revealed that Trump’s campaign aides were in contact with Russian officials.
Four American officials reported that there were call logs and intercepted communications as part of the F.B.I.’s investigation into the connections between US and Russian officials, as well as the hacking of the Democratic National Committee (D.N.C.). The F.B.I. inquiry is also trying to assess the unsubstantiated Russian dossier that includes damaging information that Russia can use to blackmail Trump.
The New York Times report was released after Michael Flynn, the national security adviser, resigned over his secret conversations with the Russian ambassador to Washington, Sergey Ivanovich Kislyak. Trump was aware that Flynn had misled vice-president Mike Pence and other White House aides about the nature of those conversations, but he waited three weeks before expelling him. The reason was explained by White House spokesman Sean Spicer who said on Tuesday: “The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation and a series of other questionable incidents is what led the president to ask General Flynn for his resignation."
The report says that American intelligence and law enforcement agencies have phone records and intercepted calls as proof that Trump’s presidential campaign members had contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials during last year, before the presidential election.
While they said that they had seen no evidence that the Trump campaign was working with the Russians on the hacking into the Democratic National Committee or other ways to influence the election, they did emphasise how alarmed they were with the amount of contact that was taking place. The officials noted that it wasn’t just Trump’s campaign officials but also other Trump associates who were involved in the intercepted communications. Among them, were the campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his then-adviser Michael Flynn. On the side of Russia, there were intelligence services and government officials, but their names will remain anonymous since the investigation is ongoing.
The officials didn’t disclose any other information regarding the nature of the calls or whether they had anything to do with Trump himself.
A January report released from American intelligence agencies had concluded that the Russian government had intervened in the election to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances and promote Trump. They had also hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems but they didn’t release their information. The Intelligence agencies confirmed that the Russians gave the Democrats’ documents to WikiLeaks. In an interview to Time magazine, Trump doubted Russia’s involvement saying “I don’t believe they interfered,” suggesting that hackers could come from China, or “it could be some guy in his home in New Jersey.”
A CNN article titled "Trump aides were in constant touch with senior Russian officials during campaign,” also notes that both “the frequency of the communications during early summer and the proximity to Trump of those involved ‘raised a red flag’ with US intelligence and law enforcement.” It was exactly the frequency of the communications and the level of the Trump advisers involved that looked suspicious to officials. Their concerns were increased when they heard Russian officials before and after the election discuss their belief that they had special access to Trump.
In an interview, Manafort had called the allegations “boggling” and said that he had absolutely no contact with Russians: "That is 100% not true, at least as far as me," he said. "I cannot believe that they are including me in anything like that. I have not been involved in any of these activities." He also clarified that he didn’t "remember talking to any Russian officials, ever. Certainly during the time we're talking about."
The F.B.I and US intelligence continue their investigations to determine the reason for the communications. The main concern was whether Trump associates were cooperating with Russian intelligence to release damaging information about Hillary Clinton’s campaign. But this remains unclear and unsubstantiated.
Both the White House and F.B.I. declined to comment. The press secretary Sean Spicer had said on Tuesday that no one from Trump’s campaign had any contact with Russian officials before the election: “There’s nothing that would conclude [sic] me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period.” However, Sergei A. Ryabkov, the deputy Russian foreign minister, had said two days after the elections that “there were contacts” during the campaign between Russian officials and Trump’s team. The Trump team denied this, saying “This is not accurate.”
But more pressure is piling on Republican officials and Trump’s team as the suspicions of possible Russian connections to Trump’s team are starting to solidify. Kellyanne Conway or Sean Spicer would find it very difficult to continue covering for Trump’s or his aides’ naughty missteps. And the Democrats would never let it go, since the Trump campaign’s Russian connections were never mentioned before the elections. As Hillary Clinton’s former spokesman Brian Fallon said: “This is a colossal scandal.”