Records of phone calls as well as intercepted calls are showing that there were members of Trump’s 2016 campaign and other associates of Trump had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year prior to the election – according to 4 current and former American officials.
U.S. law enforcement and intelligence intercepted the communications around the same time that they were finding evidence that Russia was attempting to disrupt the election for president by the hacking into the DNC, three of the officials said. The intelligence agencies then wanted to learn whether the Trump campaign was conspiring with Russians on the hacking or other effects to influence the election.
But, the intercepts does alarm American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part due to the amount of contact was occurring while Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian President Putin. Then was one point last summer, where Trump said at an event in the campaign that he hoped Russian intelligence had stolen Hillary Clinton’s emails and would make them public.
The officials said that one adviser picked up on the calls was Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman for several months last year and who also worked as a political consultant in Russia and Ukraine. The officials would not identify the other Trump associates on the calls.
TROVE OF INFORMATION
The call logs and intercepted communications are part of a trove of information that the F.B.I. is studying as it investigates the links between Mr. Trump’s associates and the Russian government, as well as the D.N.C. hack, according to federal law enforcement officials. As part of its inquiry, the F.B.I. has obtained banking and travel records and conducted interviews, the officials said.
Manafort, who has not been charged with any crimes, dismissed the accounts of the American officials in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “This is absurd,” he said. “I have no idea what this is referring to. 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.”
Several of Trump’s associates, like Manafort, have done business in Russia, and it is not unusual for American businessmen to come in contact with foreign intelligence officials, sometimes unknowingly, in countries like Russia and Ukraine, where the spy facilities are deeply embedded in society. Law enforcement officials did not say to what degree the contacts may have been about business.
CALLS ARE DIFFERENT
The captured calls are different from the wiretapped conversations last year between Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. During those calls, which led to Mr. Flynn’s resignation on Monday night, the two men discussed sanctions that the Obama administration executed on Russia in December.
NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY
The National Security Agency, which monitors the communications of foreign intelligence services, originally captured the communications between Trump’s associates and Russians as part of routine foreign surveillance. After that, the F.B.I. asked the N.S.A. to collect as much information as possible about the Russian operators on the phone calls, and to search through troves of previous intercepted communications that had not been analyzed.
FOUR OTHER PEOPLE
The F.B.I. has closely examined at least four other people close to Mr. Trump, although it is unclear if their calls were intercepted. They are:
- Carter Page, a businessman and former foreign policy adviser to the campaign;
- Roger Stone, a longtime Republican operative;
All of the men have strongly denied they had any improper contacts with Russian officials.
As part of the inquiry, the F.B.I. is also trying to assess the credibility of information contained in a dossier that was given to the bureau last year by a former British intelligence operative. The dossier contained a bundle of scandalous claims about connections between Mr. Trump, his associates and the Russian government. It also included unconfirmed claims that the Russians had embarrassing videos that could be used to blackmail Mr. Trump.
Senior F.B.I. officials believe that the former British intelligence officer who compiled the dossier, Christopher Steele, has a credible track record, and he briefed F.B.I. investigators last year about how he obtained the information. One American law enforcement official said that F.B.I. agents had made contact with some of Mr. Steele’s sources
The F.B.I.’s investigation into Manafort began last spring as an extension of a criminal investigation into his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and for the country’s former president, Viktor F. Yanukovych. The investigation has fixated on why he was in such close contact with Russian and Ukrainian intelligence officials.
The bureau did not have enough evidence to obtain a warrant for a wiretap of Mr. Manafort’s communications, but it had the N.S.A. closely analysing the communications of Ukrainian officials he had met.
The F.B.I. investigation is proceeding at the same time that separate investigations into Russian interference in the election are gaining momentum on Capitol Hill. Those investigations, by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, are examining not only the Russian hacking but also any contacts that Mr. Trump’s team had with Russian officials during the campaign.
On Tuesday, top Republican lawmakers said that Mr. Flynn should be one focus of the investigation, and that he should be called to testify before Congress. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said that the news surrounding Mr. Flynn in recent days underscored “how many questions still remain unanswered to the American people more than three months after Election Day, including who was aware of what, and when.”
Mr. Warner said that Mr. Flynn’s resignation would not stop the committee “from continuing to investigate General Flynn, or any other campaign official who may have had inappropriate and improper contacts with Russian officials prior to the election”.