WASHINGTON ― U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have confirmed that President Donald Trump’s campaign aides and associates had constant contact with Russian intelligence officials before the election, directly contradicting public statements made by top administration officials.
On Jan. 15, shortly before Trump took office, Vice President Mike Pence repeatedly said on television that there were zero contacts between the campaign and Russian officials.
“Just to button up one question, did any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign have any contact with the Russians who were trying to meddle in the election?” CBS “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson asked.
“Of course not,” Pence replied.
Pence also answered “of course not” when asked a similar question that day by “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, adding, “All the contact by the Trump campaign and associates were with the American people.”
Trump himself also denied these interactions, according to NBC News on Jan. 11:
Trump did not specifically address questions regarding whether members of his staff were in contact with Russian officials during the campaign. When NBC News repeated that question to Trump afterwards as the president-elect approached the elevator to exit the room, he answered “No.”
On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer seemed to stand by those earlier denials.
“There’s nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period,” Spicer said.
But on Tuesday night, multiple news outlets reported that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies had obtained phone records and intercepted calls that showed Trump associates and campaign aides repeatedly talking to Russian officials in the year before the election.
It’s not clear what they were discussing, and so far, there is no evidence that they were actively colluding to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. But according to CNN, U.S. investigators were concerned that Russian officials were bragging about their special access to Trump ― although the Russians could have been exaggerating about that matter.
It’s also possible that both Spicer and Pence were in the dark about the intelligence and law enforcement findings when they made their comments. But Trump was not; both he and President Barack Obama were briefed on the extensive contact between the Russian operatives and the Trump aides. It’s not clear when those briefings took place.
Pence has been left to uncomfortably defend other Trump administration officials before. He repeatedly told the press that former national security adviser Michael Flynn did not discuss sanctions with Russian officials before the inauguration, though that, too, turned out to be false.
Flynn resigned Monday night after evidence piled up that he’d had such discussions. Pence was reportedly particularly upset by the whole affair, since he was left with egg on his face. Additionally, Flynn then blamed his faulty memory rather than fully apologize to Pence.
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